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

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

A Day in an Advice Room at the Drop-in

June 19, 2018

Reflections on Teaching

June 18, 2018

A chance meeting in Sainsburys with Carol in 2016 has resulted in me helping at GARAS. I’ve been a teacher all my life with experience in primary, secondary, special schools and university. I was recently widowed and in trying to rebuild my life I wondered if anyone would take on a 76 year old to teach. After Adele confirmed that I was able to join the teaching group at GARAS I realised as I drove home that there were tears running down my face. She’d taken in another refugee.

I have found the experience extraordinary and it has made me vividly aware of my white male privilege. The unaccompanied children that I help teach for two hours a week have undertaken brutal journeys. They are such engagingly ‘normal’ boys as they struggle with the changes that all teenage boys experience and the vulnerabilities those changes bring. On on top of that they have all been forced to travel without their parents to foreign lands, through great dangers, witnessing and experiencing things that have traumatised them but they still have that shuffling uncertainty when confronted with the few girls who have joined the classes.

As a group they have the usual range of abilities from looking to gain entrance to Oxford to struggling with western script but I have experienced from them a dignity that translates into good manners, respect and a sense of fun that is heart warming.

This is a snap-shot of some of the moments that stand out:-

  • Being asked if it was permitted to handle the books at Gloucester Cathedral
  • On the same visit asking if it was permitted to write a prayer for peace
  • Being asked by an Afghan boy ‘Why did the Americans bomb us?’
  • Being shown, on a map of Africa, the route taken across the Sahara desert to Libya and then to Italy.
  • On asking why a boy had left the teaching group to lie down on a sofa ‘I have a headache’; he then showed me the raised scars in his skull, received, I was told later, from a police beating
  • Being sent a get-well card by the boys
  • Being greeted with a big smile and a hug by a boy who was attending the same school as a granddaughter
  • Seeing the pride in another boy who was at college and looking forward o being trained as a plumber-
  • Talking to another who was so angry when I first met him but who had gone to college and was about to join the police.
  • Being taught the difference between our numerals and eastern Arabic ones-our 1000 looks like 1555.

They are deserving of our admiration and respect. They have travelled with strangers, they live with strangers, they meet strangers from their own countries, they meet strangers from countries they have never heard of. I know what they have to go through to be able to live without fear of deportation is absolutely deplorable. The image of my grandchildren having to face tribunals and inquisitions in a foreign language alone leaves me angry and ashamed that this process takes place in my name.

It is a privilege for me to have been a very small part of these children’s lives. They are truly extraordinary and should be welcomed with compassion by every institution that encounters them.

Ian Parker Dodd