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Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

good-chance-dome_calais

Photo: Good Chance Theatre
A group that was founded to dramatize the plight of refugees in Calais, France, is now performing internationally.

Theater can often bring out the empathetic and compassionate side of audience members and lead to positive change in the world. As Amelia Parenteau writes at American Theatre, a play called The Jungle that grew around a refugee camp in Calais, France, may be helping viewers to see asylum seekers as people like themselves — and motivating them to take action.

“Good Chance Theatre was started by two Brits, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, when, in 2015, they passed through Calais, France, on their way to Germany and they saw the makeshift refugee camp that had formed there.

“Many theatremakers might feel the need to share the refugees’ story with the world, but first Murphy and Robertson wanted folks in the camp to have ‘a platform to express themselves,’ explained Dina Mousawi, Good Chance’s creative producer.

“So they decided to construct a theatre there in the shape of a geodesic dome, which has since become Good Chance’s signature pop-up venue; they spent seven months there in total.

“Vincent Mangado, a Théâtre du Soleil company member who joined their effort, described that first dome as a place ‘where everything could be spoken, a place of peace, a nerve center of the jungle, where you can share stories or throw a party, not just a theatre.’

“Upon returning to the U.K., Murphy and Robertson were commissioned to write a play about their experience in Calais, which grew up into the international hit The Jungle (now at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco through May 19). They traveled around the U.K., leading workshops with migrants and asylum seekers to continue gathering material. And cast members: The Jungle’s ensemble comprises of actors of 11 different nationalities, including some people Murphy and Robertson met in Calais who had since emigrated to Britain.

“The action of The Jungle is set in an Afghan restaurant that was built in Calais, and is staged with such an immersive aesthetic that audience members feel as though they are fellow diners at the restaurant. Along with the café, makeshift mosques, churches, shops, and other restaurants were constructed in Calais, despite extremely limited resources (just two water spigots and two porta-potties).

“Mousawi joined Good Chance in September 2018, though she had been doing similar work for years both on her own and with Complicité. In fact, she led the first Good Chance workshop in the dome in Calais with 35 Sudanese men in Arabic.

“Raised in Iraq, Mousawi left during the war to move to England, but returned to the Middle East during the height of the conflict in Syria, feeling called to help by making theatre. There she worked with Syrian women to produce work telling their stories, which only strengthened her conviction that theatre is for everybody, and should be radically inclusive. …

“ ‘Theatre can act as a tool for so many things, and one of the ways we use it is to encourage integration in areas where there might be tension.’ …

“To those audiences moved by The Jungle, Mousawi recommends reaching out to migrants recently arrived in your local community to see what you can do to make them feel welcome. ‘That’s what Good Chance is all about,’ she said. ‘Making people feel welcome, not alienated.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Oluwatoyin Adewumi/BBC
Tanitoluwa Adewumi playing chess.

That today’s media has a downside needs no elaboration, but think about the good that sharing stories can do! In this case, a young asylum-seeker in a New York City shelter gained attention for chess playing and, when the word got out, ended up with a home for his family.

Here’s what I first learned from the BBC. “Tanitoluwa Adewumi left his home in northern Nigeria with his family in 2017 because of the ongoing attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. He moved with his family to the United States, but is currently living in a homeless shelter with his mother Oluwatoyin, father Kayode and older brother.

“Despite the challenges, when Tanitoluwa showed an interest in playing chess, his mother made sure that he could attend the local club. He has been playing for just over a year, but hours of practice and hard work have paid off – he has just won top prize in his age category at the New York State Chess Championship.” More at the BBC.

And here’s what happened after New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spread the word. This piece was published March 23. “Tanitoluwa Adewumi, age 8, skidded around the empty apartment, laughing excitedly, then leapt onto his dad’s back. ‘I have a home!’ he said in wonderment. ‘I have a home!’

“A week ago, the boy was homeless, studying chess moves while lying on the floor of a shelter in Manhattan. Now Tani, as he is known, has a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and [more]. …

“I wrote in my column last weekend about Tani as a reminder of the principle that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. A Nigerian refugee who had learned chess only a bit more than a year earlier, he had just defeated kids from elite private schools to win the New York state chess championship for his age group. …

“A GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. …

“The family settled on one of the more modest and practical housing offers: An anonymous donor paid a year’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment near Tani’s current school. The apartment is clean, comfortable and freshly painted, without being luxurious, and the Adewumis gaze adoringly at their new kitchen.

“ ‘I want my mom’s cooking again!’ Tani mused as he explored the apartment. It was bare, but another donor had offered furniture, sheets and towels. Someone else was sending 100 chess books. …

“The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago. …

“ ‘I’m a hardworking guy,’ Mr. Adewumi explained. He has two jobs: He drives for Uber with a rented car and sells real estate through Brick & Mortar. Someone has now offered him a free car so that he can keep more of the money he makes driving, and Tani’s mom was just offered a job as a health care aide at a hospital. …

“The family was tempted by the offers of full scholarships at top private schools. But Tani and his parents decided that while he might accept such a scholarship for middle school, he would be loyal and stick with the public elementary school, P.S. 116, that taught him chess and waived his fees for the chess club. …

“ ‘God has already blessed me,’ Mr. Adewumi told me. ‘I want to release my blessing to others.’ ”

More  at the Times.

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Honduran Immigrant Detained By ICE Released After 6 Months In Custody

Photo: Getty Images
Two suburban moms learned that asylum seekers lack even the minimal protections of refugees and decided to do something to help them.

Although there are not many refugees coming through at the moment, those that do have official government status and a range of support services when they arrive. Asylum seekers have nothing, and if they don’t have someone to stay with until their case is heard, they are likely to be held in jail, unable to get working papers and start supporting themselves.

Two women in a Boston suburb decided they had to do something to help.

Betsy Levinson reported at the Concord Journal, “Helping asylum-seekers is a two-way street, say the two Concord women who founded a nonprofit in 2014 to offer housing and emotional support to a vulnerable population.

“ ‘Our guests have become our friends,’ said Sharon Carlson, who founded Dignity in Asylum (DIAS) with Andrea Hewitt. …

“The main mission of DIAS is to pay for transitional housing, since asylum-seekers are not eligible for any government support while they go through the lengthy and arduous process of gaining a work permit. …

“ ‘They are so vulnerable,’ said Carlson. ‘They fled persecution and had to escape to save their lives.’

“Without any contacts or resources in the area, they can wind up in homeless shelters or ‘sleeping in stairwells,’ Carlson said.

“Referrals to DIAS come from two sources — the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights and Political Asylum Immigration Representation. Once they get a referral, they send out an application for housing, followed by a meeting to assess the individual need.

“Though many are highly skilled professionals in their home countries, they usually end up in low-level jobs to earn enough to transition from DIAS-supported housing to independence. But [the DIAS founders have] never heard a word of complaint.

“ ‘There is such dignity, such gratitude, such optimism,’ said Hewitt. ‘We feel lucky and grateful. They are lovely people.’ …

“Guests stay free until they get on their feet, and stay connected to the organization after they become independent.

“The outpouring of support [has] been unexpected and overwhelming, the women say.

“ ‘The attitude is so welcoming,’ said Hewitt. ‘The business community has been so supportive.’ The organization has received grants from area churches and the community chest, among other funding sources. For more information, visit dignityinasylum.org.”

More at the Concord Journal, here. I have met these women. To me, they are glowing examples of both personal morality and how a truly civilized country could show compassion for people who take initiative against overwhelming danger. Asylum seekers, managing to get themselves here despite extraordinary obstacles, show the courage and spunk that is needed in society.

 

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Mohammed, a Palestinian, bakes cheese twists with his host family in London.

Here’s another example of individuals in the UK stepping up to give refugees a welcome — while providing themselves with an experience that feels more meaningful than donating money or sending “thoughts and prayers.”

Alicia Canter, Kate Lyons and Matt Fidler write at the Guardian,
“It’s a simple premise: people with a spare room in their house are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker in need of somewhere to stay.

“And it’s a popular one: before 2015, Robina Qureshi’s organisation, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), used to provide about 600 nights of shelter a year to people with nowhere to go. In the 18 months since September 2015 this has risen to 29,000 nights.

“ ‘We were getting bombarded with people. … They said, “I want to do something.” ‘ …

“There are numerous points in the asylum process that asylum seekers and refugees can find themselves becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps the most common is when they have their claim refused – at which point support payments stop and they are forced to leave their accommodation.

“People in this situation often find themselves homeless, without the right to work or receive benefits, unable to approach the local authority for help, and yet, in many cases, feeling unable to return to their home country. …

“ ‘The ones I feel really sorry for are the people who have been left destitute for years on end. People take them in and let them be human, and take them into a warm home where people care for them,’ says Qureshi.

‘What the hosts found out was that they were meeting a need in themselves – a need to give. Our society is so wealthy and our houses are stuffed full, but there’s that need to help others.’

“Mohammed, 35, from Palestine, [lives] with Joanne MacInnes, an actor and activist, in west London, and on weekends her daughters Malila, 12, and Eve, 14. …

“MacInnes has hosted six people in her house, but Mohammed is, she and her girls agree, their favourite. ‘He’s the nicest of them all,’ says Eve.

“Currently the family are trying to find Mohammed a wife. He uses his local mosque’s dating service, but says that because of his precarious immigration status he is not considered a desirable match. …

“Mohammed says he was shy when he moved in and nervous about how the family would respond to him.

“ ‘First time I come in here, I’ll never forget, Malila gave me a hug and speak with me,’ says Mohammed. ‘I was shy, Malila come in straight away, hug and speak with me and is not shy, you know. Eve is shy and Eve after two weeks spoke with me. And Joanne spoke with me. I feel family. Listen, I don’t speak English, but I hope you understand me. My dad is dead, my mother is dead [and] my sister. Joanne, Mali and Eve are my family.’ ”

More here.

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A New York Times article that was widely shared yesterday detailed how eager many Canadians are to welcome refugees. Enthusiastic, sometimes a bit bossy, they are volunteering in droves to make a difference in the lives of anxious families who have been through the mill.

It reminded me of other welcome stories I’ve been collecting. Small towns, in particular, seem to feel they could benefit from welcoming refugees.

On Nagu, a remote island on the southwest tip of Finland, migrants have found open arms.

Giles Duley writes in the Guardian, “From the start, the people of Nagu made their guests feel welcome. A Facebook group was set up, activities suggested, volunteers came forward. ‘It was exciting,’ says Mona Hemmer, a bastion of Nagu life and one of the organisers of activities for the refugees. …

“Of course, for the refugees, being busy does not erase their past or the uncertainty of their future. … Many still find it hard to sleep, aware that until their asylum applications have been processed, they have not reached the end of their journey.

“However, the warm welcome of the Nagu people has made a difference. And despite their initial reservations, the islanders now feel that it is the refugees who have brought them something.”  More.

In this Al Jazeera story by Thomas Bruckner, refugees are reviving faded Italian villages.

“The village of Riace had seen its population drop from 2,500 to 400 since the 1990s, when people moved to northern Italy for better economic opportunities.

“Domenico Lucano, Mayor of Riace, saw the flow of refugees in Italy as an opportunity. ‘We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years. [They have] saved our village,’ Lucano explained.

“The resourceful mayor first acted on this opportunity in 1998, when a boat with 218 Kurdish refugees on their way to Greece got stranded on a beach in Riace. This is when Lucano first proposed that the refugees should stay in the village and take over the homes and apartments that had been left vacant by the migrating former residents of the town.

“The mayor helped to facilitate the integration by establishing a ‘refugees welcome’ project, which is now spreading through neighbouring towns.”

Here’s a PBS story by Jason M. Breslow about a small town in Germany that wants more population. “With Goslar’s population shrinking by around 2,000 people per year as young people flee to bigger cities and older residents die, [Mayor Oliver] Junk sees refugees as key to the town’s future.

“ ‘Europeans must welcome and integrate refugees, accepting that they are not a burden but a great opportunity,’ Junk wrote in an op-ed published last month in the policy journal Europe’s World.”

The mayor has also said, “Anyone who tells me Germany is full up, or that we can’t afford them, I say think of our past, and of the future. Of course we can afford them – we’re a rich country, and we have a duty to help those in need.’ ” More from PBS.

And here’s a story closer to home. Brian MacQuarrie writes at the Boston Globe about Rutland, Vermont, and its interest in refugees.

“Mayor Christopher Louras has unveiled a plan, developed in near-secrecy, to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the onslaught of the Islamic State and are exiled in sprawling Jordanian camps. …

“Most residents appear ready to welcome the refugees, mindful of the harrowing images of Syrians desperately seeking refuge outside their ravaged country….

“ ‘The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,’ said Louras, the grandson of a Greek immigrant who fled the Ottoman Turks a century ago. ‘As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.’ ” More at the Globe.

Photo: Giles Duley/UNCHR
Volunteers from Nagu, a small island in Finland, laugh with refugees during a New Year’s Eve concert put on by local musicians.

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It seemed clear from the start that the refugee job-training company Providence Granola Project was onto something.

Now I’m realizing that related concepts can spring up independently in other places. Maybe there should be a trade group.

Check out this story about a food-delivery business in New York that hires refugees.

Autumn Spanne writes at the Guardian, “When Manal Kahi arrived in New York from Lebanon two years ago, to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, she longed for authentic hummus, but couldn’t find a restaurant or supermarket that came close to her expectations. So she started making her own, based on a recipe from her Syrian grandmother.

“The recipe was a hit with her friends, and it occurred to Kahi that there might be a successful business in it. The idea also dovetailed with her growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis. …

“She decided to start a social enterprise designed to help refugees from all over the world get established in their new country and provide New Yorkers a positive entry point for interacting with the city’s refugee community. Kahi’s efforts put the spotlight on the role business has to play in the refugee crisis, and whether there’s a need for new approaches to help recently arriving refugees integrate and become self-sustaining. …

“The result went far beyond hummus. [In January], Kahi and her brother launched Eat Offbeat, a for-profit meal delivery startup that employs recently resettled refugees from around the world as chefs who prepare traditional dishes from their countries of origin. …

“Al Janabi, who uses only her last name out of concern for the safety of family still in Iraq, was one of Eat Offbeat’s first hires. … For months, she was afraid to go anywhere alone. Her first solo trip on the subway was to the Eat Offbeat kitchen in Brooklyn. …

“ ‘I want people in the US to know that refugees have few opportunities here, but we bring our skills with us,’ she said. ‘We come in difficult circumstances.’ …

“Al Janabi and two other refugees from Nepal and Eritrea … learned basic food preparation and hygiene techniques – skills that they can use to get other jobs, or perhaps eventually open their own business, said Kahi.

“ ‘Ultimately we want to change the narrative around refugees, for New Yorkers and the rest of world to see that refugees don’t have to be a burden, they have economic value.’ ” More here.

Photo: Eva Cruz/Eat Offbeat
Potato kibbeh is one of the dishes on the Eat Offbeat menu.

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