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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.

A Problem You Don’t Have…

14 Nov

If you’re reading this post, you probably don’t need to attend RASAG’s IT Club…

Free internet access is thankfully on the rise, but when so many of us are connected at home and out and about on smart phones, wireless devices and WiFi it’s hard to imagine having to make an appointment to get an hour online. Having secured one’s hour at a library, community learning space or similar, the task of logging onto the system and navigating away from the homepage is likely to take a sizeable chunk out of the designated time. Even for the most seasoned cyber surfer under an hour will be at best a couple of emails, bit of a nosey on facebook and possibly some gentle Youtubing. Or of course if there are serious tasks to be done, you could perhaps search for and download the details of a job or two, investigate your car insurance or plan a journey. So what about people who don’t know how to set up an email account, or use Google or open a programme?

With thanks to Sheffield City Council’s now closed Small Grants fund RASAG has been running an IT club on Mondays,11 – 3 at Sharrow Old Junior School. The grant which we received in March enables us to hire the IT Training Suite (£25 p/h), to buy a small amount of teaching resources and to refund bus fares to qualifying participants, ie. those who are unwaged or entirely without income. Thanks to an element of match funding from the Community Forum, we are also able to provide a hot lunch. The combination of transport assistance and food makes us an ideal facility for anyone who does not have personal internet access and who is on a tight budget.

RASAG IT Club is open for everyone, whether they’ve never switched a PC on in their life or they’re written an encyclopaedia on computer engineering. The four hour time slot means that anyone who attends is able to secure a meaningful amount of time online and have free use of a printer. All IT clubbers are encouraged to help each other out and if they are not in need of help themselves, they will certainly find they are able to help others. Top priorities include getting everyone set up on an email account and using this and other medium as a form of communication; a simple example of this would be new email users exchanging messages with each other. Today we established a group blog and six IT clubbers are authors so far, see http://rasagcomputerclub.wordpress.com/

Literacy is the greatest barrier to learner progression and enjoyment at IT Club, so reading support is the key need within the group. If a person is literate in any language, they will be able to use a computer and may have ESL needs that can be addressed with online activities. However, if the person cannot read any language, then ESL activities will not help them to use a computer. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere at the IT Club ensures that everyone gets a chance to try new things, learn and practice new skills and meet people who learn in different ways and all have something to teach.

Some of the things that have proved to be important to IT Club goers so far include having access to music and videos from other cultures, using email, facebook, twitter and other platforms to communicate with people and being able to download job applications, funding applications and print coursework and formal letters. It’s so satisfying to see facilities being used and enjoyed, and a wide variety of people gaining substantial benefit from them. Viva IT Club!

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!

Keep Campaigning For Lemlem

21 Jul

Lemlem has got a temporary reprieve but we need to make sure that this is not just a stay of execution.  Please copy the text below, personalise it if possible and send it to Meg Munn’s email address which is at the top – Meg Munn is Lemlem’s MP and is the only person who has the chance to successfully lobby Theresa May, home secretary on Lemlem’s behalf.

Ms. Meg Munn, MP
PO BOX 4333,
SHEFFIELD, S8 2EY
Fax: 0114 258 6622
Tel.: 0114 258 2010
Email: munnm@parliament.uk

RE Lemlem Hussein Abdu, HO ref number: A1357578

Dear Ms. Munn

I am writing to ask you to lobby the Home Secretary to halt the deportation of one of your constituents, a 60 year old Eritrean woman called Lemlem Hussein Abdu, and to request that she be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Lemlem is currently being detained at Yarl’s Wood. A flight booked for Wednesday 21 July has now been cancelled but she is still liable for imminent deportation.

Here is a brief outline of her story. Lemlem was born in what is now Eritrea. Her whole family was murdered by Ethiopian forces due to their support for a group called the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1978, but she was one of the few in her village who managed to escape. She fled to Sudan and then Saudi Arabia where she worked as a nanny/household helper for a Saudi family. Lemlem suffered an accident in 2000, which left her with difficulty walking and meant she could not carry out some tasks. The family she worked for stopped paying her wages, and then some years later (on a trip to the UK) they abandoned her alone in London with no money and no identification.

Lemlem is unable to return to Eritrea due to her affiliation with the ELF, which is persecuted by the government there. She has sought asylum in the UK but has been refused. It should be noted that the United Nations has called on all countries to cease returns to Eritrea due to severe human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch also observes that Eritreans who have tried to flee the country “risk severe punishments” if returned (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/16/eritrea-repression-creating-human-rights-crisis).

Despite the tragic events of her life so far and her uncertain and seemingly hopeless situation, Lemlem has thrown herself into her life in Sheffield, and due to her enthusiasm to master English and her friendly, warm and caring attitude she has won many friends. She is an inspiration to all of us who know her.

The Home Office is planning to deport Lemlem to Ethiopia. This is despite the fact that she has never lived in Ethiopia and has no contacts there. Her age and disability (a very bad limp and eyesight problems) mean that she would be unable to obtain work and support herself in a new country. She would have no means of earning a living and no support whatsoever in Ethiopia where the main language spoken is not her first language. Lemlem is furthermore a member of the ELF, which Ethiopia has waged war against.

I would urge you to look again at Lemlem’s case with the utmost urgency.
I look forward to your reply

Yours sincerely

Name: Address:
Date:

Legends

29 Jun

As the Legends Project approaches the finale of this leg of it’s journey, appearances at Gleadless Valley and Sharrow festivals, it seems that the time to take stock is nigh…

Legends kicked off with a workshop on the 18th July and despite complications including court appearances, fork lift truck driving lessons, hospital appointments and illness, we had a marvelous time with singing, dancing and lots of storytelling!

Activities that we worked on included a storytelling circle where  we took turns in sitting in “the magic chair” and telling a story to the rest of the group – everyone chose their own tale and did this exercise by themselves – something many would not have felt confident to do at the start of the day.

The magic chair was the place to tell stories!

We also asked people to take a piece of flipchart paper to a quiet corner and write or draw something they would like to tell about.  This produced some fabulous results that formed the basis of our exhibition.  As I had hoped in the planning stages of the project, this allowed people to express feelings and ideas that reflected on the refugee and asylum seeker experience, with people sharing elements of the story of how they escaped their country and feelings about the injustice of their struggle for freedom.  There were also funny personal anecdotes and stories which expressed a dilemma, calling on the addressee to answer questions about morality and due cause…

We put the written stories on the wall and discussed them

We took a break to enjoy a meal together and stories continued to bound across the table, with magic amulets and language being particularly strong topics!

The next day some of the participants and our professional storyteller Roisin Murray set up a gazebo at Heeley Festival and entertained adults and children with our stories.

In the evening we went on stage at Assist’s One World Over Concert, where we enjoyed explaining the project, singing a song and telling some stories – the group felt great and really elated after this event!

On Monday 21st June the group entertained audiences at Central and Ecclessall library and we showed an exhibition of stories and photo’s which was of great interest to the attendants.

The exhibition of stories and pictures was well received in the libraries

After a week in the storytelling wilderness RASAG was out in force at the Heeley Institute Variety is the Spice of Life community lunch yesterday.  Nine participants entertained an audience of over 50 people with songs, stories and more stories!  City of Sanctuary’s film maker Andrew was there and we are all very excited to see the results of his filming.  This was our greatest event so far and the participants really came into their own, taking center stage and proving the personal growth that’s been achieved through the Legends project.  The aim of the Legends project was to give people a voice and to help them to interact with the community and it was a source of great pride to see this in action.

Next on the agenda for Legends are appearances at Gleadless Valley Festival on Saturday 3rd June at 11.50 and on Sharrow Festival’s Community Stage on the same day at 1.15.  If the Heeley Institute appearance is anything to go by, we’re going to take the crowd by storm!

Storying Sheffield

12 Jun

I was very pleased to be able to attend the Storying Sheffield showcase yesterday, an innovative project with remarkably similar aims to the Legends project. (http://www.storyingsheffield.com/).  I was impressed and somewhat envious of the scale of the project both in terms of the multimedia exhibition and the crowd, who were packed in by the hundred.  The exhibition was vibrant and varied, with features including a mobile of comments about Sheffield, photo stories, video footage of interviews and arrays of items representing participant’s image of the Steel City, from cutlery to boiled sweets, ale to art.   Regrettably, I was unable to reach the short film exhibition space, as forcing my way through the crowd with a sleeping toddler in her pushchair was inhibited by the announcement of the live presentation, a review of the project’s achievements with plenty of humour and some excellent poetry. 

Although enjoyable and informative, the presentation was somewhat inhibited by numbers, as I could neither see the stage nor hear all of the speeches – some people at the back of the room started to filter out as a result.   The presentation was curtailed by the prospect of the Lord Mayor’s imminent arrival, and this being the third event I was to see him at in 10 days I began to fear stalking accusations and set to promoting the Legend’s performances.

On the whole the promotion went well, although I began to see the flaw in my leaflet, which simply gives the name Sheffield RASAG, without explaining that it is a refugee and asylum seeker community group…  I found myself repeating this fact to people over and over while both relishing the fact that I hadn’t blown the whole printing budget on the flawed design, and regretting that I didn’t have more printed to cover the numbers at Storying Sheffield and have some left for Peace in the Park (http://web.peaceinthepark.org.uk/) and and the launch of the Summer of Sanctuary, Together at Devonshire Green (http://www.eventsheffield.co.uk/event/14525/summer-of-sanctuary-together-in-sheffield).  With a miniscule budget of £20.00 to cover the entire project it is a constant dilemma of whether to spend or save and I left this event feeling that I had underestimated the levl of potential to promote Legend’s this weekend.

Having thouroughly enjoyed Storying Sheffield and been convinced that their aims and ethos is noteably similar to our own, now’s the time for RASAG to see if they can offer us any help with promting our events and extending our lifespan, which is hanging in the balance after the rejection of an important funding bid…  Like Storying Sheffield we intend to be back bigger and better next year, so lets find out if there’s any potential for collaboration and stand united, narrating in the face of adversity!

“Football, a shared sense of belonging?”

11 Jun

RASAG were out in force last night to support FURD at the launch of their 3 year research project into whether football and other cultural devices provide a mutual sense of belonging for refugees and asylum seekers.  The project, led by FURD’s Chris Stone, will provide a platform for refugees and asylum seekers to discuss their thoughts through football.  Chris says “Many football fans see the game as a way of bridging communities, bringing individuals closer together and as a brilliant tool for social change.” (copyright FURD http://www.furd.org/default.asp?intPageID=498)

Yesterday’s event was hosted at City College and despite power cuts and rain was a great success!  Attendees ranged from City of Sanctuary and Northern Refugee Centre representatives, to the Lord and Lady Mayor, to players in FURD’s annual All Nations tournament (20th June, Goodwin building, Sheffield Hallam University) and of course, team RASAG!  A sub-Saharan feast was laid on and a panel of experts including ex-Blade Brian Deane and FURD’s own Desbon talked guests through their own and our (gathered by survey) predictions for South Africa 2010, thus removing the need for any of us to watch the games – Phew!  On the whole the panel and audience were in agreement in our predictions, although the audience didn’t note Serbia as a contender in group D and there was a whisper of controversy when the panel put through the Ivory Coast over Portugal in group G.  The eventual winners were, or should I say will be,  (look away now if you want to wait til the final) – Brazil – no surprises there then!  Fear not though, England put in a sterling performance and make it all the way to the semi-finals (or was it quarters?), but are eventually knocked out, possibly due to the arrival of team WAG and Wayne Rooney’s filthy language….

All in all, the launch party marked the start of what will be a very exciting project and an excellent opportunity for refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield to get involved in research, share their experiences and get skilled up at the same time.  On our way to the event I was talking up the party element of the evening and, most likely, getting very excited over the prospect of some nice food!  I was brought back to Earth and reminded of the level of committment to self improvement and education the RASAG group have when a member named Fuad turned to me very seriously and said “We must learn something this evening.”  Well, we certainly did and I am sure we are all very excited and very much looking forward to being involved in this project and contributing to it in any way we can.