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Posts Tagged ‘asylum’


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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A certain community organization that believes in the importance of affordable housing also believes in the importance of community. That is why it fosters numerous community-building initiatives, including the new Sankofa farm and market.

Leigh Vincola at ecoRI reports from Providence.

“If you have traveled around the city’s West End this winter, you may have noticed a number of buildings going up rather quickly. Wondering what they are and who they belong to?

“The answer is Sankofa, a Ghanaian word meaning to go back, get what is yours and make positive progress in the future. The Sankofa Initiative of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC) is doing just this.

“The initiative was born in 2011, when the WEHDC completed an extensive survey of West End residents that determined their primary concerns centered around health and food. In a predominately low-income neighborhood — 32.5 percent of households live below the poverty level — the survey determined that for many the West End is a food-insecure neighborhood. There isn’t enough access to fresh food, and particularly food that is culturally relevant to the immigrant populations that make up the community, primarily Central American, West African and Southeast Asian. …

“Sankofa is a response to these needs, and has three main elements: an affordable housing development, a large-scale community garden and a weekly World Market. The $15 million project is funded by Rhode Island Housing and work is underway on all aspects.” Read up on the amazing range of positive efforts here.

According to the market’s Facebook page, things will get going for spring with a “pop-up market May 7th, from 12pm to 4pm at Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Ave. There will be art, bath and hair products, handmade jewelry, homemade candles, fresh food, FREE seeds, henna, giant bubbles and much more.”

Photo: Sankofa Initiative
The Sankofa World Market is a local farmers market with international flavor.

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Germans who open their homes to refugees don’t necessarily think of it as that big of a  deal.

Josie Le Blond writes for UNHCR Tracks, “Wael and Ibrahim sleep in their hosts’ home offices, while Homam and Samira are sharing an artist’s home studio. Mohamad has his own room, and Mecid’s large family has been given an entire house to call their own. …

“Ibrahim, a 29-year-old Syrian seeking asylum in Europe, has slotted easily into the lives of his German hosts, Maximilian and Carolin. The couple, both journalists, offered him their spare room when they heard he was having a hard time finding accommodations in Berlin.

“ ‘I met Max when he interviewed me for an article. He invited me to stay if I had any difficulties,’ says Ibrahim, who fled fighting last summer near his home in the Syrian port city of Latakia.

“After five months moving between emergency shelters in Germany, Ibrahim was told he had to find a hostel. But an administrative problem meant he quickly found himself without a roof over his head. Ibrahim remembered Maximilian’s offer.

“What we’re doing is the least we could do.”

“ ‘It’s unbelievable, really. If it weren’t for volunteers offering their places, many people might be out on the streets,’ says Maximilian, 29. ‘What we’re doing is the least we could do. We have a three room apartment – it’s easy.’ …

“Weeks later, Maximilian and Carolin now view Ibrahim just like any other lodger. ‘At this point I don’t see Ibrahim as a refugee that is staying at our place,’ says Maximilian. ‘He’s more like a flatmate who joins us for football every Monday.’ ”

More here.

Photo: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett
Max and Carolin offered their spare room to Ibrahim, an asylum-seeker from Syria, after he struggled to find somewhere to stay in Berlin.

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Many of Suzanne’s college classmates went into careers that involve helping people. I think that for Liz, who works at the organization Facing History and Ourselves (helping classrooms and communities link the past to moral choices today), it just comes naturally. She has also been an energetically thoughtful friend, who noted a freshman Suzanne’s wistfulness over missing an Easter egg hunt and decided to create one for her. Every college year. Liz later managed the details and complexities of Suzanne’s American-Swedish wedding. (Liz said it was a piece of cake as she was used to Facing History and Ourselves events with zillions of participants.)

Now I am reading about the girls’ classmate Emily, who works for a group that assists people who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Emily weighed in at the Daily Beast last week, offering insight for Jesse Ellison in a column on an asylum seeker currently making headlines.

Writes Jesse of the hotel maid who lost DSK his job, “That she lied on her claim for asylum has been covered with partiuclar zeal. But experts and those familiar with such claims say that dishonesty is common when it comes to refugees—not because they’re intentionally trying to scam the system, but because the way such claims are processed and determined puts asylum-seekers in a position where they may feel they have no other choice.

“ ‘It’s hard for those of us who haven’t gone through those experiences to imagine what it would be like to continually relive something that caused you to flee your country,’ says Emily Arnold-Fernandez, of Asylum Access. ‘When the issue of potentially falsifying testimony comes up, it tends to paint all asylum claimants in black and white. Either you tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, 100 percent of the time, or you’re not telling the truth and you have some sort of nefarious purpose. I don’t think that the reality is that stark.’ ”

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