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

The Observer - - News - Re­becca Rat­cliffe & Sneha Lala

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.

Pho­to­graph by Ali­cia Can­ter for the Ob­server

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.

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