Christmas charity appeal
As we launch this year’s Christmas appeal, five people tell how they were helped by the groups backed by the Guardian and Observer
This year, the Observer and Guardian appeal is supporting five charities that played a crucial role in securing justice for the Windrush generation, and which protect the rights of all who face having their lives turned upside down by the UK’s hostile immigration system.
The charities are Praxis Community Projects, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Refugee and Migrant Centre, the Runnymede Trust and the Law Centres Network.
Your donations will be used by the charities where we and they consider the need is greatest, and could pay for legal assistance and advocacy for people who may face destitution, deportation or indefinite detention after being unfairly separated from loved ones, denied the right to work or to access basic services including housing, the NHS and social security.
The harrowing treatment suffered by members of the Windrush generation under the UK’s hostile immigration environment appalled the public and forced the resignation of a home secretary. Despite having lived, worked and paid taxes in the country for decades, some were taken to detention centres or deported. Others were left destitute after losing homes and jobs.
More than 2,000 people have since had their citizenship formalised, and are rebuilding their lives with support from charities that do grassroots work fighting the impact of the government’s policy. Five of these groups – the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Law Centres Network, Praxis Community Projects, the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) and the Runnymede Trust – are the focus of this year’s charity appeal. They helped bring the Windrush scandal to public attention and continue to support all who unfairly fall foul of the immigration system – from legal assistance to accommodation – and promote fairer policies.
Simi Khadijah 21, Bristol
Khadijah, from Nigeria, was homeless and staying at a night shelter when she was put in touch with Praxis. It was 2016 and her application to remain in the UK had been refused – as had those of her two brothers. Praxis found a lawyer to take their cases pro bono and liaised with another charity to arrange housing. Eventually she and one of her siblings obtained leave to remain.
The conditions of her leave prevented her from getting a student loan, but she won a scholarship and has just finished her first term studying economics. Khadijah says she doesn’t want to think about where she would be without Praxis: “I don’t want to think negatively, but I think life would have been very difficult.”
Delbert Myrie Clarke 62, Essex
In July 1969, Clarke came to the UK aged 13. Like many of the Windrush generation, he was never given, and didn’t claim, documents that would prove his citizenship. He had no idea he would ever need to. In 2011, he was evicted by his landlord after complaining about the property he was renting. He approached the council for help, but was asked to prove his status. That began a four-year ordeal in which he was repeatedly made homeless. After the Windrush scandal broke, Hackney Community Law Centre helped him to challenge the Home Office. “If it weren’t for the law centre, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he says.
Michael Braithwaite 66, London
In 2017, Braithwaite’s life was turned upside down. He was working as a special needs teaching assistant when, after a check on his immigration status, his employer said he was an illegal immigrant. He had lived in the UK for more than 50 years.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants supported his case. “They said: ‘we’re going to go through this together’. The state of mind I was in at the time – I was scared, I had anxiety, I was very impatient.” When his story was featured in the Guardian, he was overwhelmed with support from former students and their parents.
Today, he has his biometric card, but is still rebuilding his life. “I lost so much of me in that process, so much of my self-worth.”
Fatima al-Mohammad 48, London
In 2009, Fatima al-Mohammad and her two-year-old son Abdullah, a British citizen, became trapped in Syria. They had been visiting fam- ily when her husband abandoned her, taking their plane tickets with him. As the civil war escalated, she wrote twice to Theresa May to say that she had a British child stranded in Aleppo. She was told to seek advice from a qualified immigration adviser or solicitor.
She contacted several solicitors recommended by the Home Office, but was repeatedly ignored; only Islington Law Centre offered them support. With their help, she was granted a visa and returned to the UK with her son in 2016.
Desmond Jackson 59, Birmingham
Jackson has lived in Birmingham since 1970, when, aged nine, he came to the UK from Jamaica. But despite living in the UK for almost half a century, he has faced endless battle to obtain a British passport.
He applied on three occasions but was turned down. The paperwork was impossible to navigate and the official advice often misleading. “It just froze me,” he says. “Without papers I had to take hand-to-mouth jobs. I couldn’t even open a bank account.”
This year Refugee and Migrant Council staff helped him through the application processes and, four months later, he received his passport. Now he’d like to visit his family in Jamaica, whom he has not seen since he left. Now, he is focused on getting back on his feet, and is considering starting a gardening or decorating business.
Some names have been changed.
LEFT Michael Braithwaite had help rebuilding his life from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
ABOVE Fatima alMohammad and her son Abdullah were helped to return from Syria by Islington Law Centre.