Our Visiting Members tell us supporting an asylum seeker can involve many different experiences and emotions. Here is what some of them say. Please note all names have been changed.
‘I began to understand what the expression ‘in limbo’ really means’
‘I felt a mixture of excitement and worry when I met my client for the first time. After the training I felt well prepared and positive. But of course I was anxious too. When we were introduced by my backup, I was surprised. He was young, but seemed confident and spoke very good English. How could I possibly help someone like this? What could I offer him? As it turned out, in the early days there were many practical things to do, such as helping him with essentials such as bedding and cooking equipment and accompanying him to register with a local GP practice. Filling in various forms was another important area. We started to meet weekly in a café in Southampton. We would chat and learn a bit about each other. He began to trust me and touch on the terrible experiences that he had endured. Beneath the young smiling face lay anger, depression and confusion. As we got to know each other I began to understand what the expression ‘in limbo’ really means. The weeks of waiting involved in making his fresh claim for asylum seemed endless. There were times when I felt helpless and was confused and angry on his behalf.
But I’ve always been humbled by his emotional resilience, and his ability to separate his frustrations with the system from his appreciation of my and others’ support. While a short meeting each week may not seem much, to a client it provides a moment of normality. It also offers proof that someone cares and wants to know what they think and feel.
It means there is someone there to accept their anger, sadness and frustration without judging, and to share the celebration if there is good news.’
‘There’s no Gold Standard for being a Visitor’
‘At first I found the responsibility of supporting my client almost too much. I found the deeply precarious nature of her circumstances quite overwhelming.
But soon, I managed to get beyond my fears. I learned that visiting isn’t about procedural know-how or Human Rights legislation, although these can help; it’s simply about being there. The more I visited, listened and learned, the more practical help and advice I could offer. It isn’t a process you can hurry.
There’s no Gold Standard for being a Visitor, just as there is no ‘standard issue’ asylum seeker. Everybody has their own set of hopes, fears and expectations. It’s more about building a relationship than a ‘charitable transaction’. We became friends and it’s much easier to give time and energy to a friend.’
‘He’s been on a long, long journey which is still continuing’
I remember turning up at the Multicultural Centre to meet my client for the first time. His shoulders were hunched and he looked downcast – I was worried I wouldn’t cope. However, my back-up guided us through the first meeting. He was penniless, but gradually, we managed to make his situation more secure with rent for his room and money for food, and his whole appearance changed. His shoulders straightened, his walk became more confident and he smiled. I helped him look for housing, find a dentist, get other means of support and even get a place in college.
He’s been on a long, long journey which is still continuing; after seven years he is still waiting for his case to be decided. I’ve been on a long journey too, learning about his country and culture.
I don’t think I could cope with his living conditions and the endless waiting. But I do believe that meeting regularly once a week for a coffee and chat – such a little time but valuable to him and humbling for me – has given him a sort of security in his very insecure world.’
‘They were all in danger of being put into detention’
‘When I met Dawit for the first time, he seemed a confident young man who spoke good English. But he was living with his partner and two children in state accommodation without permission. They were all in danger of being put into detention.
So the first thing that we did was find him a room to stay, and some basic bedding and cooking equipment. We also gave Dawit a weekly allowance for living expenses. That was all he had. We used to meet every week, usually at a café. Over the months he had to deal with many challenges – the months of waiting while the solicitor prepared his fresh claim, the good news that he had been granted section 4 NASS accommodation and support, but the bad news that this was in Hastings, where he knew no one.
He was separated from his children and became lonely and depressed. His claim was again refused, but eventually we heard that he had at last been granted refugee status.’