Our Mission

At GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) we offer support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire, welcoming them when they arrive, advocating for them in their daily struggles, supporting them if they face being sent back as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.

Contact Information

Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS)
The Trust Centre
Falkner St
Gloucester
GL1 4SQ

Telephone: 01452 550528
email: info@garas.org.uk
www.garas.org.uk

Director
Adele Owen

Blog from a Volunteer currently in New Zealand

June 20, 2018

Greetings from Auckland, Aotearoa! (New Zealand).   We are here for the birth of our granddaughter Cassie May, and are also making links with refugees, refugee organisations, Amnesty, the Anglican Cathedral, a Buddhist Centre, and the local Labour MP. Everyone we are meeting is so interested in what happens in UK, Gloucestershire, and how we have coordinated support for the Syrian families in Stroud. They are also very keen to tell us about, and involve us in, initiatives and refugee support here.

We were invited to an Iftar (evening breaking fast meal during Ramadan) at the Anglican Cathedral served by the senior clergy. It was very moving to hear the Muslim call to prayer in the Anglican Cathedral and to hear that the Dean and other senior clergy were equally moved.  I have been to several International Women’s Group sessions attended by refugees, former refugees and citizens, all of us from many different countries. I was made to feel most welcome. Whilst at the Group, I listened to a very informative talk by the Fire Service on home safety; heard the inspiring personal story of an Indian woman who left her country and children due to domestic abuse, and became the first female Indian policewoman here; watched a demo of how to use household products for health and beauty (lots of fun with honey and baking soda face scrubs and masks!); heard women’s moving and emotional stories of how they came to New Zealand and what their lives are like now.  

New Zealand has an annual quota of 750 refugees which is going to be doubled in stages over the next couple of years.  This is obviously very much fewer than the UK, as NZ is about the same landmass, but with only 5 million population compared with 63 million in UK.  There is a big push by Amnesty and Church people, and some politicians, to increase the number of refugees more quickly, and this month they are trialling a long planned Community Sponsorship Project with 25 refugees from several different countries who are extra to the quota and will rely more on community support – very similar to our Syrian Resettlement Progamme. 

As part of World Refugee Week, we have been asked to speak about our experience of helping to settle our Syrian families in Stroud, as well as giving general information about UK and refugees.  Amnesty also want to do a short film with us talking about these issues, which we are rather honoured to do. Now that Cassie May has arrived and we can travel a bit, we are going to take up a kind invitation to visit the Mangere Reception Centre where all refugees spend six weeks as soon as they come in to the country to receive information about living in the country, English Classes, etc., something we don’t do in the UK.  We have also been asked to visit one of the small towns that one of the new Syrian families are going to.  It will be very interesting to swap stories of how we can best help refugees to settle.  There’s a lot of good practice here, as of course there is at home in the UK.  One of the refugee women I met asked me for first impressions of NZ and what I have heard so far about refugee settlement.  I am of course very aware of how few refugees they take here, and feel sad about that, as like UK, New Zealand is a relatively rich country.  I am very impressed by the projects on offer, and also that often there is a mix of refugees, former refugees, economic migrants, and regular NZ citizens at groups/events, as well as more tailored services for refugees.  I have been told by several women, refugees, workers, mental health workers responsible for delivering Muslim Awareness training, that they experience very little prejudice/racism, and they would say that Islamophobia is not an issue in New Zealand, the women in headscarves and traditional dress told me they feel ok here in Auckland.  I expect it might be different in the smaller towns, but it’s lovely to hear that it’s not a big difficulty here.  

The new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is just about to have her baby.  I was hoping she might be in the Birth Care Centre at the same time as Rosie, so I could have talked with her about refugee issues!!!!  Joke!!!!!  She seems very good, and  positive about refugees, she knows a lot partly through her work with Oxfam. She intends to only take a few weeks off work and to have some meetings whilst on maternity leave if she is able, so I am hoping for a bit of time with her via the Labour MP we met at the Iftar, as I would like to talk to her about all the positives refugees can bring to a country, and the issues around providing the best support.

Best wishes to all from chilly Auckland!

Pammy Michell and Paul Shevlin