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Three Little Words

2 Aug

June 2012  people gathered on Sheffield train station to welcome back Lemlem Hussein Abdu…  The train rolled in and tears rolled down the faces of many of those who had fought so hard to bring her back to Sheffield.  We clapped as Lemlem was assisted off the train with her bags and Gina Clayton (Chair ASSIST, Vice Chair City of Sanctuary) breathed three magical words “We did it”.   Lemlem’s case is an incredibly poignant one for activists in Sheffield.  For many years Lemlem has been the face of both injustice and forbearance as she has moved through the community with kindness and humour whilst also embodying the fallibility of the UK asylum system and it’s Achilles heel of enforcing destitution upon people who cannot leave.

Lemlem was denied asylum by the UKBA, despite having nowhere else in the world to go and having made Sheffield her home.  They tried to deport her to Ethiopia no less than three times, despite the fact that Ethiopia and Lemlem’s place of birth Eritrea are different countries.  No-one in possession of the facts could fail to see that the Home Office were making an unjustified decision, cynically using the Ethiopian travel document that Lemlem had been issued to dispose of her from Britain on a technicality.  The British may be fond of a bit of bureaucracy, but generally I do not think we like a cheat and using the rule book to defeat someone in this dishonest way is certainly “not cricket”.  To understand the special significance of Lemlem’s case and those three little words, you need only look to the left or the right of Lemlem and her friends.

On Jubilee Bank Holiday on a council estate in Sheffield a 61 year old lady makes her way to a friend’s home.  Denied asylum by the UK, this lady has been destitute for the last three years.  She is a good friend of Lemlem’s and knows that Lemlem is going to report to the UKBA soon and lodge her fresh claim.  The friend and the lady discuss Lemlem’s situation, along with other people that they know – needless to say there is little good news to share.

Two women who have been brought to the UK and kept as slaves have had their cases accepted and have each been granted one year to remain in the UK.  In each case that year is about to end.  In the case of Rose*, she has been trafficked here and used as a prostitute, escaping after three years and hiding for one year before applying for asylum and eventually (after being rejected), being granted the one year…  In that time she has managed to secure a place at University, but living from day to day with her fresh claim, has no idea if she will be able to take up that offer.  She regularly volunteers to go into schools and talk to pupils about what she has gone through and the impact that her past and current situation has on her life, saying that “If I can help one young person to think before they judge someone and to understand that you do not know what that person has been through, that is enough.”  To see the look of respect and appreciation on the children and teachers faces for her honesty and her generosity in sharing her story is a powerful sight.

Laya* was brought here through family and kept as an agricultural labourer without pay or human rights for seven years.  She has made a life for herself in Sheffield and has no family nor any friends or prospects to return to in her place of origin, which she left as a teen.  Applying now for further leave to remain, she is unable to make any plans or entertain hopes for her future as she believes that returning to her home country would finish her life.  She says “This is the first time I have a life.  Growing up I didn’t have a dad – he died when I was born.  My mum died when I was little and I went to my family in the village.  We made money by selling things to people on the bus like food and water.  I came here to help my cousin – I did everything for her but she gave me no money, no home, I have to work all the time, I sleep outside with the animals…  This is the first time I have a life.  I do voluntary work, I see my friends, sometimes we cook together.  What will I do if I have to go?  Where will I go?”

A young family has been issued with removal orders for the 6th June.  The friend has been to visit them the day before the jubilee and UKBA officers have arrived demanding that the three family members, mum dad and 1 year old son come to the door shouting “Are you all here?  ARE YOU ALL HERE!”  Seeing the friend’s children they say “Who’s this?  Who is here?” and when they realise that the family have company they confer upon whether they should come back later.  Agreeing between themselves that they will come back in half an hour they leave and shortly afterwards, they all leave, dragging a few possessions in one suitcase and a bag, mother and son departing with the friend in the car, dad walking away down the road on his own.  The little one did not know what was happening and was happy to be going in a car with some friends.  His dad’s “I love you” did not sting his eyes with tears.  His little brother or sister is bulging in his mummy’s tummy, seven months gone.  What could be more fun than a trip out for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee?

Now the jubilee has arrived.  The 61 year old lady and her friend sit on a lawn and share a meal – baked beans and rice.  The friend has “out-of-date” chicken kiev’s, but the lady refrains owing to them not being halal.  They discuss their friends.  They discuss Lemlem.

“Surely they could not lock her up again?” they say.

“She has more support and a better chance than anyone…”

More chance than another friend who has been detained since before Christmas, been on hunger strike for weeks on end and has recently called from a distant Capital to say “delete the petitions and every reference to me on the internet…”  More chance than a friend who after many years waiting and three detailed interviews by the Home Office has finally received a 43 page refusal letter, with so many clauses that he cannot expect legal representation and will now have to represent himself in court.  More chance than the lady herself who has little significance to a system that simply does not accept that she is here.

So yes, we were happy for Lemlem.  We were pleased that she has been granted “Three Years to Remain”.  They are so generous.  The only sad thing is that those three little words “We did it” are so seldom heard.

Doing IT?

29 Nov

IT Club has enjoyed it’s 5th successful session, with numbers steadily rising from 8 attendees at the first session to 17 at yesterday’s…  Volunteers are growing week by week as well, with three people now committing to attend regularly to assist members  with skills using email, web based publishing sites and reading.  As the activity develops the evidence of the need for  it is mounting up -so it seems like a good time to answer the question – IT Club –  why do it..?

On 11th September 2011 RASAG held it’s second “Happy Eid For Everyone” party, pictured above.   The majority of the budget was used on food making sure that there was a wide selection of dishes from around the world, freshly cooked with “whole food” ingredients, all suitable for our majority Muslim membership…  The party was open for everyone in the community and we aimed to cater for the enjoyment of a born and bred white Sheffielder, just as much as for a person or family from a different culture.

Our main intention in organising an event as a refugee/asylum seeker group, is to ensure that it is accessible to the hardest to reach people, including those who through the workings of the UK asylum system have been made destitute with no legal status to allow them to work and no recourse to public funds.  Good food, good music and the certainty of a friendly welcome all ensure that our parties are accommodating to someone living in enforced destitution.  Thanks to RASAG teaming up with the welcoming organisation Sheffield City of Sanctuary, “Happy Eid…” enjoyed a fabulous turnout of almost 200 people – African Arabic , Asian and Persian dishes were enjoyed alongside the sounds of DJ Ebo, and Shangra band Yakam Jar Bu – people danced, and laughed and were merry – even the tinned fruit and ice cream dessert was received with rapturous enthusiasm!  To the untrained eye the old school hall was the picture of affable comradery, but from RASAG’s p.o.v, the people who couldn’t raise a single smile, who’s foot never tapped to the beat and who didn’t exchange a word in sociablity were the only ones who mattered and they were dotted throughout the room like shadows in every corner.  Which raised the question – as a group, is it enough to simply afford a welcome to those most in need at occasional gatherings?  If the best we can do as a community group is provide a jolly a few times a year, are we really doing anything at all?  So IT Club was born.

The idea is very simple – four hours of high speed internet access on 11 PC’s, a box of additional resources including Flip cameras, ESL textbooks, dictionaries etc, a shared hot lunch and a small amount of petty cash to reimburse travel expenses for unwaged participants and volunteers – oh and printing is free with the room by default, although the line did have to be drawn when someone wanted to print a whole book!  There is no pressure  for people to prescribe to a specific line of learning, and in fact those who come along expecting a structured IT lesson are quickly put right.  The shared blog space (http://rasagcomputerclub.wordpress.com/) and encouragement to use email, Youtube, facebook and Twitter alongside learning basic IT skills, such as log on, shut down, highlight, double click, make IT Club more like a conversation club online.  Just like Sheffield’s highly successful conversation clubs, IT Club is not only open to refugees and asylum seekers, but to everyone who wants to talk and share, forming a community.

That’s what we’re doing – and we’re going to keep doing IT.

IT CLUB HOLIDAY BLOG-GANZA

25 Nov

 

…. Monday 19th December 12 – 3 PM

Sharrow Old Junior School, South View Road, S7 1DB

Training Suite and Library

Entertainment by IT Clubbers (on Youtube)

GUEST BLOG for visitors – FREE plate of food for guests who blog!

1 pm – 2 pm TWITTER IN 20 MINS – 3 x mini-workshops

£2 food fine for guests who don’t use IT

HOT FOOD – Halal and Vegetarian

BY Sheffield RASAG Members

ALL WELCOME!

Bring Kids!

Drop In!

katelyn_mckeown@yahoo.co.uk

You Choose – RASAG!!

27 Sep

The event was at the Quaker meeting house

RASAG were very happy and excited to come first at the You Choose funding event organised by the Central Community Assembly on 25th September.  It was our first time competing live for funding and we all felt a bit nervous.  It was also unfortunate that our name appeared wrong on the info sheet and voting form, but we made sure to point that out to voters!  We opened our bid with an impromptu RASAG song from Goran, and we filled the rest of our three minutes with with me talking about what RASAG has done so far and Firas expounding the impact the group has had on his life – the audience must have enjoyed it because there were only a few voters who didn’t give us one of their 8 votes! 

The £1000 kindly awarded to us by the Community Assembly will be used to devlop the RASAG identity including membership ID cards, supporters cards and a database to record those working with us, a web domain to start developing a website, and of course, a giant party to launch ourselves to service providers and communities throughout central Sheffield – watch this space for your invite!

See here for details of Sheffield’s Central Community Assembly

http://www.sheffield.gov.uk/in-your-area/community-assemblies/central

Eid Party Pictures

20 Sep

Dancing to Jakam Jar Bu

Many thanks again to Daniel Humble for his work on the RASAG Eid party – a site of pictures from the party is available here – if you were at the party and would like to order copies of the picture please contact Dan – his details are on the picture page.

http://www.rasagparty.blogspot.com/ 

Ahmed and Goran in traditional costume

Happy Eid From Rasag!

16 Sep

Some of the people who helped to organise and enjoyed the party

Many thanks to Goran and the rest of the RASAG team for a very successful Happy Eid party on the 11th September in the Sharrow Old Junior School Hall.  RASAG were granted £250.00 from the Shine on Sharrow fund, for which we are very grateful.  RASAG laid on food, including Kurdish dolma, made by friends of Goran, fish and rice by Nzazi, a range of lovely dishes from Sujata and a large bucket of biryani from Sagheer – thanks guys!  Music was provided by Yakam Jar Bu, and they had us all up dancing together – great to see so many different races and Nationalities enjoying a boogie together.  Side by Side’s Dan Humble came and took photo’s, including the lovely one above – thanks Dan!  There will be a link to a page of photo’s added shortly.  Firas and Shiran worked hard on the party preperations and the clear up and it was great to see Azizeh and Lemlem enjoying themselves and spending time with friends.  Great work all round RASAG team!

Many thanks to everyone at Sharrow Community forum and Sharrow Surestart for making everything run smoothly and keeping the kiddies occupied with glue, sparklies and other fun messy stuff!  There will be more pics and quotes from the group to follow, plus a piece in Sharrow Today, but suffice to say, we’re planning an even bigger bash for “Big Eid” in a few months – though we were very pleased with the 80+ people we attracted to “little Eid”

Eid Mubarack!

Many thanks to Shine on Sharrow!

31 Aug

Thanks to the Shine on Sharrow committee RASAG will be holding an Eid celebration on 11th September at the Old Junior School building, 1-5 pm.  As well as proving some delicious food for everyone, RASAG will be laying on entertainment including Kurdish singing and dancing.  We are on the look out for performers to make this a truly multicultural experience and there will be children’s activities too. 

Everyone is welcome to come and celebrate on the 11th september – the more the merrier.

Happy Eid Party 

 This will be a great opportunity to eat and drink together, have fun and meet new friends in the community.  The whole community likes to celebrate Christmas together, whether we are Christians or not…  Let’s do something special together as a community for Eid this year.