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Portsmouth City of Sanctuary

We were happy to welcome Shamila Dhana to our December meeting to talk about refugees and the work of Portsmouth City of Sanctuary. She was a migrant herself, arriving in the UK in 2003 from Zimbabwe.

She was passionate to speak the truth about migrants. There are many terms used, often wrongly, for a refugee, or asylum seeker, migrant or illegal. The main definition comes from the refugee convention of 1941, followed by a protocol a few years later. It defines a Refugee as someone out of their country of birth, with a well-founded fear of persecution, against race, nationality, political group, religion or sexual orientation.

It may seem like the UK has a big problem, particularly with those trying to cross the English Channel, but we are not even in the top 10 countries for arriving refugees; Turkey leads the table with about 6 million Syrian refugees. In the UK there were 37,000 applications for asylum last year. 70% of migrants across the channel were accepted.  There may be a long wait for the Home Office to consider a case, with some waiting longer than 2 years. If the claim is denied then they face eviction and deportation. Meanwhile they must sign on at Fareham police station, weekly or monthly.

There are 236 asylum seekers in Portsmouth. Single men will be housed in a multiply occupancy house, but families are put in a house to themselves. They are not allowed to work, and given £38.50 per week per person for food, and an extra £2 if they have a small child. They then have to find schools, solicitors, doctors and other groups, which is where Sanctuary come in.

The Hub is open every Monday morning at St Lucas Church 1030-1230, with Citizens Advice, Vista (working with women in the sex industry), and the Moving On project (for survivors of trafficking), and hoping in the future to include an on-site barber, GP, etc. The English lessons they have run since October are very popular. There is also a women only drop-in service on weds morning, particularly for those having experienced gender violence.

The main message from Shamila was that people are remarkably resilient, and can survive anything.