Last Christmas Eve I was driving round Manchester with a pregnant Chinese asylum seeker in the passenger seat.
I was driving slowly, desperately trying to avoid the potholes and bumps, for every time I hit one the lady winced. She was only one week off giving birth and I did not want it to happen in my car. She spoke very little English anyway, and I doubted whether or not she would be able to warn me!
This lady was a refused asylum seeker, one of the thousands of people denied sanctuary in the UK but not deported. She was left homeless and destitute, with no right to work or claim benefits.
Unlike most, this lady was actually eligible for support from six weeks before the baby was due, but she was still waiting for this to materialise. So, I was taking her to a generous host family who had agreed, at very short notice, to let this vulnerable lady stay with them over Christmas.
It is estimated that there are over 2,000 destitute asylum seekers in Greater Manchester alone. Some will ‘sofa-surf’ between friends; others sleep on the streets. Many rely on charity handouts, or are forced to work illegally, putting themselves at risk of exploitation.
The Boaz Trust was set up in 2004, in response to this problem. We believe that the Bible is clear on how we should treat the poor and the foreigner, and decided to name our charity after Boaz, a guy in the Old Testament who did this really well.
The Boaz Trust manages six houses in Greater Manchester, providing safe accommodation and support to 30 asylum seekers. We also manage a network of local host families who generously offer spare rooms.
This Christmas, 12 compassionate host families will be turning their spare rooms into a safe haven for those who came here seeking sanctuary but found themselves destitute and forgotten. However, with several referrals each week there are still many we are unable to help.
Hence the Boaz Trust is also running a winter night shelter. The shelter rotates around seven local churches, who each provide teams of volunteers who live out their faith as they provide a warm bed, food and friendship to the most disadvantaged people in our society.
Last Christmas, we sheltered Raza, a young Iranian man who had been forced to work for a group of Kurdish political activists. When the authorities cracked down, he was the only one in his family to escape imprisonment and fled to the UK seeking sanctuary.
Raza was refused asylum based on lack of evidence, though few think to bring evidence with them when fleeing for their lives. This young man had been sleeping on a park bench for two months before he was referred to the Boaz Trust night shelter. He was physically sick with a severe chest infection, and his mental health was deteriorating.
Raza’s health began to improve as he stayed in the shelter, and after it finished he was given a place with a Boaz host family. Here he has not only a roof over his head but also security and support.
Since being hosted, his English and his mental health have improved a good deal, and attempts are being made to find fresh evidence to support his case.
Raza says: “My life is so different now. Before I had nothing, now I have many things. I have somewhere to live and food to eat. My host family support me and show me friendship. All I can do now is sit in the house, but I dream that one day I will be able to support myself and build a life here.”
This Christmas, why don’t you offer some love and dignity to an asylum seeker in your area? You may be amazed by the difference you can make.
- Nigel Biggs is the housing manager for the Boaz Trust, a Christian charity serving destitute asylum seekers in Greater Manchester. For more information go to www.boaztrust.org.uk or call 0161 202 1056.
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