This morning, we opened our doors for the second week of business. Last week, especially last Tuesday, had been so busy, so special, such a buzz; surely it wasn’t going to be like that every time… So with nervousness that we had perhaps over catered – thanks to the pile of food given to us by the local Morrisons –
£111.58 in cash donations.
Two first birthday parties.
One NCT meeting.
Numerous small gatherings of different people chatting together.
Over 60kg of edible delicious food that was destined for landfill.
A huge success. A great atmosphere. Big pats on the back.
As we were packing up, one of the mums of the birthday girls received a phone call. There was a new single mum in town, from Albania, like her. This new mum, with a two month old baby, and a seven/eight year old boy, had just been housed in a back-to-back in Harehills. The phone call was from the housing officer to say she had very very little English and could our birthday mum be in touch with her and help her settle in.
It flicked a switch in all of us. There we were, celebrating, basking in the glory of our third day of business, and not a stone’s throw away was another mum with her kids at an early part of her journey as an asylum seeker in our country. Disorientated, scared, alone.
We put some food in the car and went off to find them. Having done this a couple of times now, I thought I knew what to expect.
But I was not prepared to find the little boy sitting on a chair in the road waiting for us.
I was not prepared to find a fly infestation in the ground floor room, or the washing machine in the dirty basement. Or the state of the bathroom…
The fridge was not in the kitchen, but outside, because the smell was so bad that it was not deemed safe to be used. There was no alternative fridge in the kitchen. On the hottest day of the year so far, with two young children, this woman was expected to create a home in a house with out a fridge in the kitchen.
G4S, and our system for supporting asylum seekers, expected a mum with her baby to live in this- shame on you. Whoever assigned them that house – shame on you. Whoever took them there and gave them the key- shame on you.
Without a second’s thought, we packed the family up into the car and took them to the house shared by the birthday girls and their mums. A couple of other Albanian families were hanging out there too, and they welcomed them with kisses, help with the buggy and bags, and offering of food.
This family’s chances of settling in to Leeds have just been improved ten fold because of the kindness of these other Albanian single mums / determined women / asylum seekers.
On the BBC news tonight, the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd was talking about engaging communities in settling in new refugees to our country. Lambeth Palace was pictured with the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about welcoming in a Syrian family into his home. Whilst I applaud this initiative to bring the humanitarian face of claiming asylum, I fear that for those systems and businesses that should be providing for these people will never see the humanitarian side of what they should be doing.