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

Action speaks louder than words

June 21, 2019

What is the hardest decision you’ve made in your life?

In my case, although I have had some tricky decisions to make, I have to confess that, so far, I’ve been very fortunate and I don’t think I’ve ever had to make a really hard decision. Certainly not one that involves issues of life and death.

Asylum seekers and refugees are people who have had to make a really huge decision. A decision that more often than not has involved life and death. It’s an action that speaks louder than words. They’ve fled conflicts, war zones, oppression, and annihilation and have found the strength in their fear to refuse to accept that this is how life should be and have made the huge decision to move for a safer life. They’ve stepped out of their situation into a boat, a lorry, a train or on foot into a chaotic storm of the unknown, risking everything. Then, unlike the endings in fairy tales, when they arrived at their place of safety, they’ve invariably found that life is anything but straightforward and easy.

On arrival they face heartache, hardship and uncertainty as they live with very limited means and in simple conditions as their future is resolved. Looking forward, they are grateful for their safety but often fearful of the future. When they look back they often struggle to cope with the experiences of their journey and can’t help but think of those they have lost or have left, aren’t safe and are now out of reach. That is a big burden to carry.

So it is so important that they have some calm, support and hope in their storm. That’s where, for the last 20 years, GARAS has stepped in.

During this refugee week and at some of the events that have already been held marking GARAS’s 20th anniversary, I’ve heard some amazing stories about individuals. Accounts of the lives of asylum seekers and refugees, from the Kindertransport children in Gloucester to the present day. Stories of how they found peace and their own voice in a new land and then made amazing contributions to society. Inspiring descriptions too of people who helped them, who took sacrificial action and played their part in enabling them to be themselves and to be valued.

GARAS relies, not just on the expertise, experience, empathy and practical advice of its amazing staff, but also on the actions and inspiring commitment of volunteers. These past few days have been a powerful reminder to me that each of us has to find our ‘voice’ on this issue and then discover our way of making a difference.

Action speaks louder than words.

Simon

Reflection from Rita

June 20, 2019

One of the joys of working together with others supporting refugees and asylum seekers across the county is that we meet lots of wonderful people. One of these is Rita Rimkiene who runs World Cafe. She has written a guest blog.

‘There is nothing celebratory about the International Refugee Day. In fact, it makes me feel sad that such day exists at all in this day and age. How cruel and selfish we have become that another persons sorrow and suffering is perceived as their misfortune instead of a collective problem.

However, I do rejoice over safe arrival of people into our city. And perhaps in a sense this week is about celebrating peace of the new land where people are resettled with an opportunity to start all over. It is always wonderful and heart warming to see families reunited, people receiving their refugee status, children can be children. I am thankful for those who escaped the atrocities of war, but I am also worried that many are stuck in the limbo and there is no clarity of the future.

Today I celebrate peace for all those that in some miraculous way ended up in our city and thinking of how can we in the comfort of this peaceful country challenge our MP’s, the Home Office, politicians and our own communities, neighbourhoods to see the suffering of others as our own and act upon it.’

Rita

Two Blog posts today!

June 19, 2019

If you haven’t already seen it, there was a fab article on Gloucestershire Live’s website posted earlier this week- have a look here . (If you’re local, the print copy of The Citizen newspaper will come out tomorrow.) The Chief City Reporter met Michael Zorek, the New Yorker who’s made a trip to Gloucester this Refugee Week to mark 80 years of the Kindertransport [his father was one of 10
boys brought to Gloucester in 1939], and in GARAS’s twentieth birthday year. The online version contains a video clip with him – worth a watch. He first got in touch with us last year, having been signposted to us by Gloucestershire archives, whose excellent online resources he had found. He was one of the main speakers at a moving event last night, featuring also the grandchildren of the couple who were house parents to Michael’s father in the Gloucester hostel where he lived for several years when he first arrived here as a teenager. Other speakers included GARAS staff and trustees, along with Barbara Winton, daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport before the Second World War began.

Tonight, I’ll be in conversation with Jon Smith on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, reflecting on last night’s event and also talking a little bit about how I got involved in working at GARAS, where I am one of the Advice Workers. Tune in live from 7pm tonight (Wednesday) or listen on catch up later – first conversation starts a little after 19:20.  Thanks.

Hannah

Whilst on holiday in Sicily……

June 19, 2019

It’s lovely in Syracuse, the temperature is 30 (it really is). The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants; there are little stalls selling ceramics and jewellery, every one is on holiday. We cut down a little back alley, mama is sat outside, cats are asleep in the corners and we come to a church.

It is open and it looks like they have an exhibition of photos. We go in.

The photos are all of smiling African boys, as we read the legend we realise they are all refugees. The exhibition tells their stories. They have fled poverty, prison persecution, crossed the deserts been tortured, imprisoned in Libya before escaping in sinking boats. We talk of GARAS with the lady in charge, and she tells about their charity, the Marist Community. She talks of Africa and we mention Syria, Afghanistan and lran. We tell of stowing away in lorries, she of rescues from boats. She talks of government reluctance and asylum refused and we agree. None of these boys have their papers, they are in an impossible limbo. They all are trying to move north. There is no work here. We leave and return to the problems of the ancient world, of Greeks and Romans, of Moors and of earth quakes, but none of it now seems quite so important. There is clearly an immigrant problem here as with all Europe.

Penny

Thoughts from a School Mental Health Nurse -now Trustee

June 18, 2019

In January 2010, I started work at a senior school in Gloucester. My role was to see students who were having problems with their mental health or mental wellbeing. This brought me into contact with a group of students that had fled their own country because they were in fear of their lives or being forced to join military organisations.

Having been a mental health nurse for over twenty years. I was only too aware of the terrible situation that people with mental health problems found themselves in. Despite this, I was totally unprepared for the dire situations that this group of students had experienced. Their situations were so far from my own limited life experiences, that it was difficult to comprehend. This was compounded by the experiences they had faced to get to this country. Young children of 14 years of age had faced brutality, were often in fear of their lives, saw others die on the journey and lived in awful conditions. All this in an effort to get to a place that they felt would be safe.

They then put all their effort into learning the language and getting an education. Finally, at the age of 18 years they then had to apply to remain in this country. This is a very difficult time for most 18 year olds but this was exponentially difficult for these students.

During my contact with these students, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by their experiences and horrified that they had experienced this at such a young age. Many of these students were clearly showing symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Due to my work with these students, I was introduced to GARAS and their fantastic work. I was so glad that an organisation existed to help the students and others needing support when they arrived in Gloucestershire. This led me to applying and becoming a Trustee for GARAS in 2018.

Michael Gibbons