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I keep seeing images of Syrian refugees in need - can I host them through BHN?
Some Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey are able to come to the UK directly through the Syrian Resettlement Programme which is a government/UNHCR programme, managed in Bristol by Bristol City Council. You can get involved in this by contacting Citizens UK. This avoids the dangerous over sea and land routes through Europe that have been in the news.
The Syrians at Calais have no ‘legal route’ to enter the UK, so are stuck there unless they can smuggle themselves onto a lorry/train. We cannot bring them directly from Calais to host them in the UK. We host a small number of Syrian members at BHN, but they are a small group as many of them are granted refugee status more quickly on arrival than those from other countries.
Syrian refugees may have been in the news a lot, but the world refugee crisis is not made up only of Syrians. People come to the UK seeking sanctuary from conflicts happening all over the globe, as well as personal persecution (political/religious persecution, persecution of LGBTQ people, etc). There are so many reasons that sanctuary seekers can claim the protection of another country under international law.
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?
An asylum seeker is someone who has left their country and applied for asylum/protection in another country. People seek asylum because they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political belief, or membership of a particular social group if they were to return to their country of origin. People seeking asylum are not allowed to work or claim normal benefits, so can often become destitute when government support - £36 a week and randomly assigned shared accommodation in any city in the UK - is stopped due to the refusal of an asylum claim.
A refugee is someone whose application for asylum is accepted. In the UK, this means that they are able to work, study and live here as other people do.
Who are BHN's 'members'?
BHN works in solidarity with people who have become destitute while seeking asylum (if this is granted, they are then given refugee status). We refer to these people as our ‘members’.
Who does BHN offer hosting to?
Those asylum seekers who get to Britain are provided with accommodation on a no-choice basis and support of £36 a week while their asylum claim is assessed. If at first attempt they are refused, or their appeal is refused, they become destitute. Many destitute asylum seekers have no safe route of return and are still very much in fear for their lives - they are simply unable to provide enough evidence to convince the Home Office.
A stay with a host household can ensure that they are able to gather evidence to make a fresh asylum claim, re-enter government support, and hopefully be granted refugee status. In Bristol we estimate there are around 100 destitute asylum seekers. Most are accommodated by friends from their own ethnic community. Some are hosted by people in Bristol with a spare room through our network. Could you be one of them? We are sure we don’t need to tell you that we think the policy of forced destitution is completely abhorrent and campaign to end this policy.
The majority of people that BHN supports are adults who are here without any other family members. Over 80% of these are men, but we also provide hosting to some women. At present the local council has a duty to house families with children, so BHN hasn’t yet needed to provide housing for them.
Social services are responsible for hosting unaccompanied children via their fostering service. You can apply to foster unaccompanied asylum seeking children via social services’ adoption and fostering team.
Can I save BHN some work and manage hosting on my own?
You could, of course - but we don’t recommend it!
Our experience - of hosting over 100 people since 2009 - is that we need each other to do this well. It is important to get the assistance of an organisation to help refer appropriate people, provide specialist support to the person hosted, and troubleshoot any problems with the placement. It really works that we are all local and are able to get together regularly to support each other and provide training, etc. We are convinced that the local nature of our work is an essential part of providing good support to hosts.
I have children at home. Can I still be a host?
Unfortunately BHN isn’t currently usually able to place people in homes where children are living. Please do get in touch with us, however, as there may be other ways in which you can offer support.
I only have a room free part of the time - is that a problem?
BHN generally tries to place people in a home for at least 3 months, rather than shorter periods of weeks or days. This is because it is less disruptive for both the host and the person hosted to have a longer and more settled experience. However, many people who offer a room for hosting wish to have a break after a few months.
We sometimes need hosts who can offer a room for shorter periods to someone in urgent need, so please do contact us to discuss what might be possible given your situation.
Is hosting safe?
We recognise that it is a big step to welcome someone to live with you, and we make every effort to ensure that hosting is a safe and positive experience for you and the person who comes to live in your home.
We meet with all BHN members several times before we offer to place them with a host, which allows us to observe their character and behaviour. It isn’t possible to carry out background checks with UK authorities as people have come from other countries.
We try to assess whether BHN can offer people housing, however, and where the most appropriate housing placement may be for them. The vast majority of host placements are positive experiences.
Do you always need volunteers? How do I get started?
There are many ways to get involved and we are always keen to hear from you! You can contact Laura, our Hosting Manager, to make an enquiry by emailing email@example.com. Often the next step is to visit BHN or to meet with Laura in order to talk further about how you could get involved.
Some of the things that you could do are:
Help at our Welcome Centre drop-in session (usually Mondays, 11am - 3pm; will return when restrictions allow)
Teach English classes with our ESOL group (regular Monday lunchtimes)
Join our house team, to support people living in our men’s hostel (Tuesday evenings)
Give advocacy support as part of our HELP team
Help organise and carry out fundraising activities (ad-hoc times)
Do some DIY with our maintenance team (ad-hoc times)
Help organise catering and pop-up restaurant events with our Moveable Feast team (occasional days - currently on hold but may return in future)
I don’t live in Bristol. Are there other organisations local to me that you can recommend?
BHN is part of a national network of organisations called NACCOM. You can check their website to find the organisation that is nearest to you.
What is Moveable Feast?
BHN’s social enterprise wing organises pop-up restaurant events and provides a catering service, called Moveable Feast. Our fantastic team of volunteers can cook up a treat and we’re always keen to hear about new opportunities. This is currently on hold but may return in the future.
What is the Welcome Centre?
BHN runs a drop-in session in Easton on Monday lunchtimes; visitors can enjoy a free hot meal and the chance to meet other people. As well as this we offer English classes, art, games, advocacy support, volunteering opportunities, free haircuts and much more.
How can I find out more about BHN?
Please get in touch! You would be welcome to arrange a visit to our Welcome Centre.