I’m immensely grateful that Christine Majid (the Manager of PAFRAS) has taken so much time out of her busy life to answer some questions that we sent to her ahead of our benefit gig for the charity on November 23rd (more information on that here). It’s a pretty big interview but it really is worth your time reading to find out about an incredible organisation who are working in your City doing phenomenal work. Have a read and then when you come to the gig on the 23rd know that all money from the door will be going to them and feel free to let us keep your spare change to add to the donations! Christine will be at the gig running an information stall so make sure you say hi and buy her some cake!
(Christine at the Food Bank – on the right)
YA: Could you give us a history of PAFRAS?
C: In 2003 I set up an organisation called Positive Action for Refugees (PAR), and had a Management Committee of 4 who backed me and had faith I could deliver the service. Starting off alone in an old house, in Harehills (with no heating or hot water and a leaking roof!) PAR worked with Refugees and Asylum seekers mainly the Iraqi Kurds, who were fleeing Iraq at the time and Iranians and Somalians. The project centred mostly on integration, running English ESOL Classes, Asylum casework and support.
After 6 months we employed the first part time worker who was from Iraq himself and spoke fluent English, Arabic and Farsi. PAR constantly adapted to best meet the needs of some of the most marginalised people in our society. Funding was running out at the same time that Immigration Legislation was rapidly changing, eroding the rights of Asylum seekers, one could see that hundreds of asylum seekers would become homeless not just in Leeds but thoughout the country, with no recourse to any public funds, no right to employment and extremely difficult to submit an email.
PAR too was made homeless and I had to close down, just before I left the premises, I received 15 people who had that day been evicted from their accommodation, who arrived at PAR with their little belongings in a black bin liner and had nowhere to go but the streets, and this became their home with sub-zero temperatures setting in.
All I could do to help was to work on the streets with an old 2CV car taking food, blankets and hot drinks; the car was my office as well! Consequently recognising the severity of destitution polices, I needed to open a drop in, to respond to the very basic needs of food, warmth, clothing and shelter, there was a humanitarian disaster was happening right in our back yard.
A Kurdish tailor who I had helped and many from the Kurdish Community asked me to go to the basement of his sewing shop (very small) with no windows to see people who required help, it became so busy, and that the old 4 singer sewing machines turned into desks! and the queues ended up half way down the streets!
Those days bring back wonderful memories of the beautiful warm bread, cheese, honey, and tea that were constantly supplied for me; I was very well looked after.
A Yorkshire Post journalist visited and, wrote an article on many of the people arriving for help and myself.
It took over 6 months working on the streets, and then a person who I will be forever grateful to, backed me and I was able to open the very first PAFRAS drop in Centre with a part-time worker in 2005, renamed PAFRAS and rented an office in an attic in Harehills
YA: So what actually is PAFRAS now?
C: PAFRAS is a Voluntary sector, non-for profit Charity, it is a grass roots organisation working in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees , promoting social justice, through direct assistance, individual casework, mental health support , research based interventions and analysis. PAFRAS works on the front line of with destitute asylum seekers, many who cannot be returned home, but are left in a life of Penury.
PAFRAS has a very small Team consisting of the Manager, Coordinator, one full time asylum caseworker, one part time asylum caseworker, one part time mental health worker and that’s it!! We also have 8 trustees on board. Our small team works in an holistic way with the client group who access our services and with the multi- complex needs they present. Since 2005 we have received more than 50.000 visits to the Drop In Centre in Harehills, 13,300 Casework sessions, distributed 25.000 food parcels and provided 43.00 meals to destitute, asylum seekers.
We estimate that the last 6 years we have distributed between 70 – 80 tonnes of food in food parcels, to destitute service users 100% is donated. We extremely grateful for all the people, organizations the community donate to us on a regular basis.
YA: What do the day to day activities of the Charity look like?
C: They are extremely busy, challenging, the phone never stops ringing, clients coming in with crisis situations, emergencies, not enough hours in the day, some days we are like ships that pass in the night, always have to be flexible so much happening on a daily basis.. My own work is now is strategic , fundraising to try and keep the doors open for people, overlooking all sites, supervising and supporting the staff, attending meetings, writing reports, and giving talks to raise the awareness of the plight of destitute asylum seekers in Leeds and the UK, no more than now is it so relevant as we are seeing a move to the right. In mainstream politics, not just in UK but also on the European stage, The politicians, press and media have galvanised the immigration debate as a vote winner, everything that is wrong in the country is blamed on Immigration and too many immigrants.
YA: How have the recent Funding Cuts affected PAFRAS?
C: Recent Funding Cuts have affected PAFRAS from the Charitable Sector who give grant funding, many who have slashed their grants by half, only a few give core costs for (rent, utility bills, phone lines, fax, rent, printing etc. We do not get any government funding. This is particular difficult for causes such as PAFRAS, and sustainability of staff and a vital service is difficult as finance is so tight.
In July 2011, PAFRAS had to reduce our casework provision, from 2 drop in’ per week to 1, we had hoped that it would only be a temporary change. However in October 2013 , PAFRAS had to implement a further round of cuts to our staffing and services due to the extremely challenging funding situation. From mid-October we lost our communications Officer post and hence our Newsletter, as well as reducing the hours of myself and the Co-ordinator role.
These decisions tough though they were, had to be taken in order to secure the long term future of PAFRAS. This unfortunately came at the same time we heard that Refugee Council had lost its contract to deliver services to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Leeds from March 2014. Things had never been darker for the sector in Leeds with the whole refugee and asylum seekers sector turned on its head.
However with bids pending and our sheer determination and resilience , we were able to make it through, although I am still looking for grants for two posts that will come to the end of grant funding in March 2015
The logistics of PAFRAS are huge, We run a weekly drop in at St Aidans’s Hall in Harehills where we receive as many as a 150 people on a Thursday accessing, A Hot meal, Food Parcels, Toiletries and Clothing, Asylum Casework, Red Cross Vouchers, Access to register with a Medical Practise.
I have developed the project into a multi – agency format, where visitors to the drop in can access a variety of services under one roof, we have formed solid partnerships with the Red Cross PAFRAS has worked with the Red Cross (since 2005). They also provide a caseworker from the Red Cross and Red Cross Vouchers for food, for those rendered destitute. Skyline also gives advice regarding sexual health and HIV screening and testing is also carried out at the drop in. York Street Health Practise who attend the drop in registering clients with a GP and a Dentist and filling in HC2 forms for medication and much more. Hamara who supply cooked meals alongside the Muslim Brothers and Sisters who cook and provided a monthly meal to well over a 110 people per month.
YA: If people want to donate money or other things how do they go about it?
C: By going on the PAFRAS Website, www.pafras.org.uk, where we have a Just Giving site or you can send a cheque to:
Christine Majid Manger
PAFRAS Unit 14
Chapeltown Enterprise Centre
231-235 Chapeltown Road
Leeds LS7 3 DX
Articles of clothing, food nappies and toiletries can be dropped of at the office address above , only make sure some-one is at the office base by telephoning LDS – 262 2163, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
YA: What are the challenges of running a charity like PAFRAS?
C: The key challenge of running a charity like PAFRAS is funding, sustainability and resources. There are high demands on our services, we have been busier than any time in our history and the impact on PAFRAS after the closures of Refugee Council and Refugee Action in Leeds, in March of this year has been huge. We require funding for more staff, at a time when funding grants have been slashed by so many grant givers. Also we are not the most popular cause to fund.
YA: How do you feel that PAFRAS fits in as an organisation in Leeds. What is it (if anything) about the city that shapes the charity?
C: PAFRAS is a charity that has helped to facilitates dialogue between different communities which may not have ordinarily come into contact with one another therefore creating a fusion of culture language and background bringing a further enriching experience to the diverse city of Leeds. (Over 50 different Nationalities from all over the world have visited PAFRAS).
YA: What sort of music do you listen to in the Office
C: it’s Extremely rare that we can listen to music in the office due to the type of work we do , which demands high concentration levels working on cases, mental health and crisis issues. However I Love the Pogues and Biscuit Head and the Biscuit Badgers!
YA; What does the term “Asylum Seekers” actually mean?
C: Asylum seekers (and by implication destitute asylum seekers), are not a homogenous group. They come from a variety of ethnic, national, cultural, linguist religious and social backgrounds. People who have fled human rights abuses in their home countries only ask only for the right to remain here and seek sanctuary, where their lives will no longer be in danger.
YA: Why do people Flee?
C: For a wide variety of reasons;
- Fleeing repressive and conflict riven countries around the globe
- Fear of death due to war ( ethnic, civil, military ) and fear of organized violence
- Abuses by security forces or armed opposition groups (rape and beatings)
- Torture and Inhumane treatment
- Unjust systems including detention without trial or unfair trials
- Death penalty
- Massacres or the threat of massacres
- Political repression or religious intolerance
- Persecution because of ethnicity
- Gender based human rights abuses, e.g. honour killings, forced marriages, FGM
- Forced into sexual slavery
- Conscription into the army
- Exploitation or abuse of power by someone who has authority or economic power.
Countries where there is ongoing, conflict generalized violence and well documented human rights violations, sadly is a global reality, where torture and ill- treatment continue unabated. Although the UN Convention against Torture, ratified by the UK, obliges states to provide the fullest rehabilitation to torture survivors, sadly it is clearly not being fulfilled as many asylum seekers who visit PAFRAS, end up destitute, no aspect of destitution can be defined as rehabilitation, when victims of torture end up on the streets.
YA: Why do asylum seekers become destitute?
C: As PAFRAS’S work focuses first and foremost on tackling the problems of destitution and refused asylum seekers, it is important we that we look at the polices that were introduced by the New Labour Government of 1999 , where enforced destitution became a part of immigration control. In 2002 the removal of the right to work was implemented. Due to drastic cuts in Legal Aid in 2004, it was virtually impossible for asylum seekers to be able to secure a lawyer at Appeal Stage, leaving asylum seekers evicted from their accommodation, to find themselves on the streets with no permission to work and without recourse to any public benefits.
Many successive governments have introduced legislation followed that has eroded the rights of asylum seekers who are divested of all civil and social rights. Many asylum seekers at end of process who are destitute that arrive at PAFRAS for assistance tell us they would rather die on the streets of UK than be returned to their countries of origin due to ongoing conflict, wars and human rights abuses, as well as other factors mentioned below. Refused asylum seekers are not all the same: They include people who:
- Cannot leave the UK through no fault of their own (e.g. they are stateless and have no country to return to), their governments will not provide them with travel documents, preventing their return, they are too sick to travel or there is no viable route to return home).
- Have been in the UK for a long period and have developed strong ties with the UK (e.g. entering relationships and having children).
- Have a pending Judicial Review
- Think it is unsafe for their return because of armed conflict, repressive regimes, the brutality of torture and ill treatment. In some cases the UK Government itself recognizes that it is not safe for their return, even though they have not been granted asylum in the UK, (e.g. refused asylum seekers from, Somalia, DRC, Iran and Iraq).
The majority of asylum seekers that visit PAFRAS fall into this group. Nearly 73% of destitute asylum seekers visiting the drop in services were from: Eritrea Iran Iraq Democratic Republic of Congo Palestine
Countries where there is ongoing, conflict generalised violence and well documented human rights violations, sadly is a global reality, where torture and ill- treatment continue unabated. Although the UN Convention against Torture, ratified by the UK, obliges states to provide the fullest rehabilitation to torture survivors, it is clearly not being fulfilled as many asylum seekers who visit PAFRAS, end up destitute, no aspect of destitution can be defined as rehabilitation.
YA: Is there any more information about PAFRAS that you would like people to know? Could you give us a more detailed view of the services you provide perhaps?
C: These figures demonstrate the huge unmet need within the city of Leeds and the surrounding area’s for those rendered destitute, with no permission to work, enduring extreme poverty, hunger, mental and physical health problems and multiple forms of abuse: During 2012-2013 PAFRAS, delivered the following front line services: 1,535, Casework one to one sessions with clients
629 Mental Health Sessions, and one to one support
6,719, Hot Meals provided by PAFRAS and the Community
3,932 Food Parcels packed by Volunteers
Last year front line services offered to destitute asylum seekers, consisted of: • Hot Meals
- Food Parcels
- Toiletries Clothing
- Maternity packs and clothing for pregnant women
- Nappies and Pushchairs
- Small Hardship Payments
- Red Cross Voucher Provision
- Travel tickets to Solicitors outside Leeds
- Bus Tickets for Health Appointments
- Access to Legal Advice given by Solicitors
- In house Mental Health Worker – Crisis Intervention Work
- Experienced Support/ Caseworkers
- HIV screening and Testing
Hot meals served:
From 2012 – 2013 totalled 6,719. Destitute asylum seekers Face both food poverty and malnutrition. When a claim for asylum is rejected the claimant has to leave their accommodation in less than a month, consequently unable to work and denied a range of welfare services, they are left destitute.
One of the implications of such a policy decision is that in many cases, almost instantaneously, a “refused “asylum seekers become vulnerable to malnutrition. For many food is not available, and with out access to money, the inevitable result is akin to starvation. Under International Law this is a War Crime
The food that PAFRAS provides in the form of hot meals and food parcels acts as a lifeline for those most in need. Yet however it works barely to sustain people who have subjected to conditions of penury in line with asylum policy. Destitution Is institutionalized by the asylum system and the malnourishment that people suffer is located within this policy movement. Inadequate food consumption occurs alongside and in conjunction with homelessness and acute vulnerability.
PAFRAS consequently serves to provide basic sustenance for those left destitute. Two hot meals and two food parcels per week can never provide an adequate diet. PAFRAS relies heavily upon donations. We thank all our donors who kindly donate food and to Holy Rosary Church who donate finance every month to cover the costs of providing hot meals, as well as Costco who provide fruit, bread and cakes and occasionally meat to help us towards assisting those who have no access to food.
PAFRAS would like to thank Hamara for the meals they provided throughout Ramadan and at Eid for all our service users. Hamara also contribute meals twice monthly, on average feeding a 120 people per session who are in desperate need of a hot meal. PAFRAS and our service users give our most humble and heartfelt thanks for your kindness and compassion. The food programme logistically and operationally is a huge job, which is overseen by our Food Co-coordinator, making sure service delivery is out on time as well as making sure the food room site is running efficiently, kept clean and there are enough food stocks to make up at least a 100 food parcels a week. and over a 110-120, hot meals.
Three volunteers spend on average twenty five hours a week, splitting down, rice, pasta, tea and cereals to place in food parcels as well as rotating the stock and making up hygiene packs. This year the volunteers made up 3,932 food parcels. This work is done at our food store based in Harehills near to the drop in centre and is largely unseen, but it is a very crucial part of PAFRAS services.
PAFRAS Supported Clients with 1,535 Casework Sessions. During the financial year 2012-13 PAFRAS caseworkers referred 153 clients to legal aid lawyers. In the same period PAFRAS referred 15 Clients with multi complex and challenging cases to Independent experts. PAFRAS caseworkers provided 101 “ means” letters to help destitute asylum seekers secure legal aid from their new representatives and recorded 440 other contacts ( by phone, letter and email) with clients representatives.
During 2012 -13 Twenty Five PAFRAS clients were granted some form of Leave to Remain in the UK by the Home Office. Caseworkers made a large number of referrals for a variety of different accommodation and support services, these comprised of some third sector and some statutory sector (Shortstop, St. Vincents De Paul Society, Abigail Housing Project).
Usually as the result of a client having made a fresh claim, sometime because they are medically unfit to travel. Although we can complete applications ourselves we refer people to the Refugee Council for Section 4 applications to avoid duplicating this service unnecessarily (they are funded by the Home Office to provide the service). When making section 4 application referrals we will always assist clients to gather the necessary evidence to establish that they are destitute.
Many destitute asylum seekers tell PAFRAS they would rather die on the streets of UK than return to their countries of origin. In our experience the large numbers of destitute refused asylum seekers come from countries widely known for severe human rights abuses ( Iran, Eritrea, or with serious issues of generalized conflict (e.g. Democratic Republic of Congo).