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London Churches Refugee Fund & Freedom from TortureJohn Willmer
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
Forced to leave their country of origin by persecution, torture, rape, violence, threats of death or serious harm, refugees arrive in this country, to them a strange country, destitute, suffering and not always knowing its language. Few people can be in greater need of help. Such help may be offered by churches and other charities or organizations, but many are small and with limited funds, restricting their ability to help.
This is where LCRF may come in. This charity was set up in 2007 by the ecumenical London Churches Refugee Network to raise funds to increase the ability of such agencies to provide emergency relief to destitute asylum seekers in London. In 2017 LCRF was able to give grants of up to £750 to 30 organisations totalling £33,680. The most common needs were for food parcels, toiletries, hygiene packs, travel cards (often essential to enable asylum seekers to visit immigration offices or agents, lawyers, medical help etc), and ESOL classes (English for speakers of other languages). The agencies to which grants were made, listed in the Annual Report of LCRF, cover a wide field.
The funds received by LCRF, from which their emergency relief is given, come almost entirely from donations by churches and individuals, including donations raised from annual carol singing at Christmas. Expenses are minimal. LCRF has no paid staff and all work is done by the trustees and other volunteers. There is a need for some new people to help in the work. The trustees are grateful too to those who host their meetings.
LCRF’s Annual Report for 2017 (which can be downloaded from their website www.help4refugees.co.uk) includes a moving message from the chair, the Revd. Chris Brice, putting the Christian calling to help those in need, drawing on the parable of the Sheep and Goats, including the verse quoted above at the beginning of this article. The Report also includes a number of case studies from some of the agencies supported by LCRF. Here is one example from Newham’s Community Renewal Programme Refugee and Migrant Project (RAMP):
T fled from Malawi as a teenager after her parents and brother were murdered. She met a man here, but the relationship became abusive when she was pregnant with her third child. She had no idea how to legalise her position and lived in constant fear. RAMP supported T whilst she made an asylum application appeal and provided her with food and friendship. She was horrified that she could not provide for her children’s needs. T has now won her asylum appeal and is looking forward to being able to work
FfT is the only human rights charity in the UK dedicated to the support and protection of torture survivors. Their clinicians, based at centres in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow, help survivors seeking refuge across the UK. They offer one-to-one and group therapy, helping trauma survivors to deal with the trauma of their experiences. Trauma after torture can last in individual cases for months and sometimes years. Healing may be a very slow process and treatment costly. Therapeutic, creative and social groups also offer activities from gardening and breadmaking to football and chess. The garden at FfT’s headquarters at Isledon Road has been entirely looked after by survivors, which has been found to be a very therapeutic activity.
An important, in some cases vital, service which FfT offers is to provide medico-legal reports and to help survivors to navigate the hostile asylum system. Those dealing with claims for asylum at the Home Office are not good at handling torture cases and all too often do not believe genuine asylum seekers when they initially present their claim, not always able at that stage to present independent evidence. FfT provide medico-legal reports with forensic evidence of torture in support of a survivor’s application for asylum, and their legal and welfare team helps survivors to navigate the asylum system. This can make all the difference to the survivor’s ability to prove that the claim is genuine and overturn an adverse decision on appeal.
More generally, FfT advocates for the rights of torture survivors in the UK and internationally. They use forensic evidence of torture to challenge harmful UK government policy and also to hold states which practise torture to account. Two major reports have been published in recent years, one on torture in Sri Lanka and one on the use of rape as torture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There are some examples of how survivors of torture have been helped by FfT in the Spring 2018 issue of their magazine “The Survivor”, of which there are two or three copies in the magazine rack on the table at the back of the church, and I could provide more if necessary. Here are some words of one survivor, who had been tortured in Sri Lanka and helped by FfT:
“It was at A and E where they told me to come here for help. I had tried to commit suicide because I couldn’t cope any more with the flashbacks, the memories and the nightmares. . . . . .At first my friend came with me to the appointments. I couldn’t even travel on my own. It was so peaceful here, I felt safe. I would stay for an hour after my appointment. If I hadn’t have come to Freedom from Torture I don’t think I would be here today, talking to you. Working? No way. They helped me with everything, even to find a good solicitor I could trust. It’s down to Freedom from Torture that I now have refugee status so I can stay here.”