Bristol Refugee Rights

“Basics” shouldn’t just be a supermarket brand

Earlier this week I went to see a former Home Office colleague of mine who is now volunteering with Bristol Refugee Rights, a charity that offers advice and support to asylum seekers and refugees. It was a profound reminder about the difficulties that some people face, but also how offering some of the basics in life, especially with a smile, can make a whole world of difference.

I met people in the IT room taking a MS Word exam as they prepared for work, and others who were destitute and grateful for a hot meal and a parcel of food from the Fareshare food bank. There is a crèche, a ‘free shop’ with donated clothes and shoes, and lots of advice from a range of expert volunteers. It isn’t rocket science, but it is constantly on the verge of closing.

Fareshare Food Bank at Bristol Refugee Rights

Fareshare Food Bank at Bristol Refugee Rights

Bristol Refugee Rights could be regarded as a good example of “big society” – a group of passionate local volunteers offering a few hours per week for free, to support people in their community. My overwhelming feeling though was that it highlighted our systemic failure to meet basic human needs – the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiology and safety). I’m not drawing a direct comparison, but it was much the same feeling I had when I volunteered for Crisis and saw the positive effect on homeless people of a few days of warm food, showers and a safe place to sleep.

Some will say that we shouldn’t be responsible for picking up the bill for people from all over the world (BRR has recorded 62 languages being spoken at the centre) when we can’t look after our own. I cannot begin to describe how annoyed and disappointed this kind of sentiment makes me. I met one man who arrived from persecution in Iraq, fleeing his family, after having been accused of helping western interests. His spoken English was perfect, and he is clearly skilled and able to play a valuable role in our society. Given the opportunity, I believe everyone in the room would be more than willing to become a productive part of the economy.

We ARE jointly responsible. We MUST recognize our moral obligation to help. We CAN afford to do more.

There was something about shaking his hand that made it impossible to think differently, and I am sure that if more people were able to share a cup of tea and chat about what they have in common, rather than comment through ignorance , our society would be a more tolerant and supportive place.

If you would like to help Bristol Refugee Rights, please click here.

p.s. here is my former boss and amazing friend Dammy, policing the “Earn a bike” scheme – one of the most popular services that BRR offers. The project is delivered for them by Bristol Bike Project: http://www.thebristolbikeproject.org/our-workshops/earn-a-bike/ It turns out that the opportunity to own a bike has become more popular than ever due to the requirement for asylum seekers to sign on in Patchway, rather than Trinity. The bus fare, for many, is prohibitive and often means they will go without food rather than miss an appointment with the Home Office.

A picture of a volunteer running the earn a bike scheme

The opportunity to get a bike is the most hotly contested service there.

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