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
General enquiries: info@garas.org.uk
Administrative enquiries: admin@garas.org.uk
www.garas.org.uk

Director
Adele Owen

Supporting Unaccompanied Children

June 21, 2018

Year on year, more children and young people are forced to leave without their families, to make a journey to safety. For many,  the long journey to safety is extremely dangerous and they experience exploitation, violence and abuse along the way. On arriving to the UK, the process of claiming asylum is very complicated and confusing. The trauma the children and young people have suffered prior to arriving in the UK, on the journey here and again once arrived (in seeking protection as well as acclimatising to a new culture, language and way of life), all have a very large and significant impact on the young peoples  well-being. 

In Gloucestershire there are a significant number of such children who have come alone, unaccompanied from all over the world. With increasing numbers of young people arriving in Gloucester, GARAS extended their long running therapy service to establishing a  specific therapy programme for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) of which I have the privilege to be part of. Our small but busy service supports young people psychologically through 1:1 therapy sessions and groups.

For refugee week, I thought you might like to hear about one of the last groups activities, where we ran a very simple but striking activity, using ‘The Tree of Life’ exercise as a way of reclaiming our identity through using the simple but beautiful use of the tree as a visual metaphor for our lives. Through this process developed by the Dulwich Centre Foundation, one can uncover aspects of yourself shaped by the past and then actively cultivate your tree to reflect the kind of person you want to be moving forward; It can reflect back to us the paths through our past–which in turn create new horizons in our future.

This particular group hosted ten young people aged between 14 and 22. They were from Albania, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq each of who had come to the UK alone. Step by Step, week by week we worked through different aspects of our activity.  The young people were delighted to see pens, paints and crayons laid out to begin our drawing activity! The first step/week in the activity was to draw a tree. There were many beautiful trees drawn from the Afghan pine, to the Mediterranean of Cypress (national tree in Iran) alongside giant dreamed of palm trees and imagined trees hosting beautiful red flowers.

In turn, we acknowledged our roots, where we came from, our ancestors, land, language and heritage, our cultural make up, now many thousands of miles away from the young people. The young people talked about their heavy hearts, the longing of the food cooked by mothers and aunts around the fire, the stories and songs that were now only an echo in their memory. Some shared fear and concern for their remaining family and friends, challenges of acculturating to new lands and the struggle to learn English. We shared the need for roots, and the sadness we can feel when roots are denied us, ripped from under us and how to manage that deep and complicated grief. 

Some of the young people reflected on the despair of being in Calais (the unofficial refugee camp) but how it was amazing to see how makeshift schools, churches, mosques, restaurants and arriving there. How people came together to eat, to pray, to play and gave each other hope and courage for the next phase of life journey. 

The following week, we worked with the ground, the earth; where we are now, activities that they enjoy and where they find nourishment and support. Many of the young people talked about the support and stability given through attending school, their foster families, English lessons, attending GARAS or part-time work, their love of their friends and playing together in the park 

The next session gave young people a chance to think about some of their skills and values. Young people talked about the skills they had grown on their journeys; ’I learnt to cook in Calais’ said one person, “I am really caring’ said another. We talked about how these skills had developed. The young people shared openly the skills that they thought their fellow group members had too, ‘you are good at cricket’, ‘you make me laugh a lot’, they told each other and subsequently added it to their ever growing list. Young people shared that their values and sense of self had changed since their experience of leaving home and making long journeys, alone, far from everything and everyone they knew and loved. ‘I used to just play, that was how it was. Now I am more serious. I have seen too much for even an old man and I am only young but that is making me who I am and means that I will help others and always try to be kind. It gives me a strong faith’.  

The next week we concentrated on the branches, the ‘hopes and dreams, wishes for themselves and their lives’. I asked questions about the history of these hopes and how they may have come to be significant in in their lives. We thought about how some dreams had always been apparent and others emerged along the way. ‘I want to be an engineer’, ‘to be a good father and have children, like my father’, They called out. ’I want to help people like people here help me, to work for a charity perhaps’, ‘I want to get my asylum and travel, to tell people about my story so we can help more refugees’.

As the sessions grew, we came to the leaves. These represented significant people from now and/or the past, real or fictional. We shared about those special to us and for the young people, these were family and friends who had died or they no longer had contact with alongside new friends. foster families and carers and staff at GARAS. Some talked about how they continue to honour relationships with family despite not being able to be with them anymore. 

In the final part of this activity, we shared together the fruits – gifts that each young person had been given. Some remembered physical presents (e.g. from family member for Eid) others remembered acts of kindness, love and care that had been shared.  As we talked, the trunks appeared stronger,  branches grew longer, the leaves larger and the fruits more full. There was  laughter and hope. 

We sat with the wonderful trees in front of us, we spoke about how together we make a forest…a beautiful forest that can learn to weather the storms together. The young people talked about impending court cases for their asylum claims, school or college Exams, the struggles of living in supported housing without a family to take care of them. Together they created ways to support themselves and each others as they learn. day by day, to re-root, to sustain relationships to others, to work and to a soil a culture that provides familiarity and stability. We saw how the the problem is the problem not the person and how problem saturated stories are often the dominant ones which can obscure hope, dreams and choice. We learnt that life is multi storied and identity is a project which can be created and recreated with others.

Mark Twain said ‘Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Since joining GARAS I have never worked a day…We hope as part of the 20th Refugee Week, and for every week, you will join us on this journey of celebrating ‘different pasts, shared futures’ (Refugee Week, 2018) so that each young person can be fully supported and nourished to grow and shine their radiance in the world…just as all young people fully deserve. 

Dr Lucy Arnsby-Wilson

UASC Clinical Psychologist GARAS

From a VPR (Vulnerable Persons’ Resettlement) Worker

June 20, 2018

Another day, another form to fill in. I am helping a Syrian lady apply for travel documents.

This is something she has been looking forward to. She could now travel to Europe and meet her family members after many years of separation.

We completed numerous forms together in the past to ensure smoother transition to the new life in the UK. However, this form is different. Applying for it means you have to submit your Syrian passport to the Home Office.

While I carefully remind her of this procedure, her eyes change to a recognizable look of sorrow, distance and pain. She looks at me silently, then looks at her passport, an immaculately clean blue booklet. A well kept diary of past family destinations, carefully protected through her journeys to safety, together with her most precious belongings.

I hold her hand gently and she starts weeping silently… This is yet another goodbye to her previous life.

For some people, passports are merely a formality, something not to forget to take on foreign travels. Some people associate them with anxious long queues, and an expensive stamp that will allow them to embark on a foreign travel. However, to others, passports can be much more. They provide a formal sense of belonging, a proof that the land they represent still exists somewhere and that you remain part of it.

Letting your passport go is a silent farewell to a hope that you will see your homeland and your loved ones soon.

The Syrian lady wipes her tears with dignity. After a deep sigh, she hands me over her passport and whispers: “Let’s do it, this is a new beginning…”.

Danijela

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

apology

June 19, 2018

apologies to all our readers, I am fighting with posting our blog today and will attempt to sort this tomorrow!

Adele

A Day in an Advice Room on a Drop-in day

June 19, 2018

Hannah is the member of GARAS staff who helps those who have Refugee Status or other forms of Leave to Remain in assisting them to start to rebuild their lives. Here she gives a very vivid picture of a real day in her life at GARAS.

A day in an advice room at the Drop – In

Drop in sessions take place every week on Mondays 10-am – 4pm, Wednesdays 10am – 5pm, and Fridays 10am – 4pm. As I arrive, I see a client who is living in temporary accommodation. I deal with his questions and help him apply online for social housing. He’s on edge because he doesn’t want to miss his appointment with the GP. I ask him if he’s been going along to another organisation that is set up to help with some of his specific problems and advise about changing his address on his driving licence. He wants a full licence to increase his chance of getting work.

I go and see the next refugee, who’s recently been reunited with his wife here. He’s come into finish a benefit claim claim. I suggest he brings his wife in later in the week to help her open a bank account. He says she hasn’t been feeling too well.

Two clients come in, wanting to bid – apply online for social housing. One is currently in temporary accommodation. She says she’ll do it with me three times and then do it herself. It’s hard to do it online if you’re not very computer savvy. Once you know the system, it’s not too bad, but a bit of a maze. Another client comes in. He says she’s struggling to pay his rent despite being in work. He’s brought in a Housing Benefit form from the council, but given recent benefit changes it’s no longer the correct form. Having already spent 45 minutes with one client who had already started this onerous (Universal Credit) application today, I had remembered that their social landlord also offers a service to help claim the benefit within their team. I signpost him there.

Then I help some ladies who have come in, to help fill the grammar school application for the eldest child. It’s a quagmire. You fill one form, then wait for email confirmation and are told to fill out another form. The ladies ask what resources they can use to help prepare for the test and offer some suggestions. Clients want the best future for their children, just like anyone.

I briefly meet our next social work student who’s come to visit ahead of a being on placement with us. I spot our current, excellent student, passing on some advice and information about it here. I drink some water surreptitiously (it’s Ramadan and many Muslim colleagues and clients are fasting food and drink in the daylight hours) and, out of necessity, restock the loo rolls as I begin my lunch break.

I return to a client who’s been waiting to see me. The first thing she does is make a payment towards a micro loan we gave her recently. As is usual, I help her read through letters from her son’s special needs school, and help her correspond with the school on a small level.

Then I see a client who has tried to catch me earlier on in the day. He’s moved out of his poor quality accommodation and inadvertently made himself homeless out of choice. He contests the rent charge given awful difficulties he’s experienced there, and I suggest where else he live as an alternative.

Then I see the next client who’s waiting to see me. A recognised victim of trafficking who has received leave to remain and soon has to leave their home. I discuss some sensitive aspects with a colleague. Then a client returns from earlier in the day with more papers to fill for the council, following benefit changes.

I meet a medical adviser volunteer who will come in to cover for a colleague who is on sick leave unfortunately. We often have the best people come up at the time we need them most! I chat through with her a situation about a client with various challenges, struggling to understand some of the medical things going on with them. An email came in for an offer of a donation – a crib. I forward it onto a colleague who just this morning was putting in an application to a local charity for a cot for a client in need. (Turns out the crib is too small for the age of the child- but a nice try.) Donations we’re offered and receive are much appreciated. A client rings to arrange to pick up the items of cutlery and crockery she’s chosen in our cellar- little store of non-perishables.

I sign passport photos for a client’s childrens’ British passport forms. The children were born here. I’ve known their Mum for ten years, from when I first started in the job. Whilst my back is turned, her two year old scribbles in biro on the laminate floor in my room, whist the older brother is playing and Mum is busy filling out the next form – the fourth one she’s done as they’re so easy to make mistakes on. I give the tot some paper to draw on instead and later try to scrub the biro marks off the floor.

Ten minutes to go to the end of a long and busy drop in day. I check my email to see a client’s tenancy application has been approved. Next step is a question of getting a deposit together. Ideally so the client won’t have to pay back or incur debt on, but one that encourages independence. I follow up some other housing related matters.

Then finally off home and for a run, before a day of appointments and catching up on other things tomorrow. Today’s not out of the ordinary, but each day is varied and brings its own challenges, joys and delights.

Hannah