Charitable students pledge their support to asylum seeekers

Charitable students pledge their support to asylum seeekers

8th April 2014


STUDENTS are planning voluntary work with asylum seekers after hearing about the plight of people a charity calls "living ghosts".

Christian charity Open Door North East provides help for people on Teesside who have come to the UK to seek asylum and find themselves on the streets unable to work or claim state support.

Manager Paul Catterall visited The King's Academy, in Coulby Newham, to tell sixth form students about the charity's work, which was originally started by members of Jubilee Church Teesside, in Stockton, in 2001.

"The church found they were starting to get visitors from other nations, which led them to realise that there was a wider community of people from all sorts of backgrounds out there who were struggling," explained Paul.

He told the students that once an application for asylum in the UK is approved and refugee status is granted individuals are entitled to statutory support. Until then they are given a place to live and a subsistence allowance to live on.

“If their asylum application is unsuccessful, they are left homeless and in real destitution with no statutory provision and are not even allowed to work or provide for themselves," he explained.

The church originally formed a separate charity to offer asylum seekers and refugees a safe place to talk, have a meal, meet new friends and take part in games evenings.

Later a church member loaned his house for a year so the charity could provide accommodation to those in need.

Demand for the service has since increased so much that Open Door is now the North East's biggest specialist provider of housing with 16 houses in Middlesbrough with 50 refugee tenants. They pay rent, which, in turn, allows the charity to provide 17 free beds for asylum seekers with no support. Open Door also runs night shelters in partnership with seven local churches.

Politics teacher at The King's Academy Jenni Yuill said it was important students understood the issues on their doorstep.

"These countries may seem a long way away but the fact that people are fleeing to come here to try and start a new life makes it a reality that's very local to us.

"Every year our sixth form students get involved in community work and having heard Paul talk some are interested in volunteering with Open Door and learning more about the issues it’s addressing.”

The charity also operates drop-ins for men and women, Sew to Work, a course for women to channel their craft skills into making products which they can sell, and a work club to help refugees with their CVs and to find employment.

"We serve all people regardless of gender, age, race, religion, culture or lifestyle. We take them from a point where they are a homeless asylum seeker to a point where they can set up on their own," said Paul.

"It's a journey where we try to empower them and give them the confidence to make what decisions they can and, for some, that might be returning voluntarily to where they came from. We hold their hand and walk with them."

Teesside was chosen by the Home Office as one of the areas to disperse asylum seekers to and it receives people from many different countries including Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Somalia and Congo.

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