by Sister Bridgetta Rooney, CSJP
I have recently joined a very enthusiastic group of people in Loughborough from a variety of backgrounds, who take it in turn from Monday to Friday to "meet and greet" asylum seekers who come to sign on at the Loughborough Immigration Enforcement Centre. The asylum seekers have to travel from Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Spalding to sign on every two weeks. It is a very stressful time for them, worrying in case their status has been changed, and they have been refused asylum. If this happens, they immediately lose their housing, the meagre benefits they are entitled to and are left destitute.
The group saw people queueing up outside, as they are not allowed to come in till the time of their interview, so they had to stand outside in the cold or rain with young babies and any other young children after taking two or three buses to get there. Round the corner from the centre is the John Storer community centre, which runs a café and charity shop and employs people with special needs. The café agreed to make teas, coffees and juices and toasted teacakes for the asylum seekers, which our group pay for at the end of each month.
Each session for those who volunteer consists of meeting the people, telling them where the café is, and what they can get, and also giving them information about refugee services in each of their towns. We do this in pairs, as the women are more easily approached by women and are happy to get something for the children. Part of the service is to listen to their stories, especially those who have been refused and are frightened of the consequences. Some do not come out but are taken immediately to the detention centres for deportation.
My very first day, I had this sad experience and as the man was unmarried and seemed very stressed, I was glad I was taking another couple with me who spoke the same language and seemed able to give him advice as to his next move. This week was quite different, as two people were given indefinite leave to stay - one came out on cloud 9, the other a woman was crying, but said to me it was tears of joy, as she had been seven years waiting on this news.
To intimidate the clients even more, the uniform of those interviewing is like the prison service, and everything is taken from them when they go in. The guards who do the watching over the waiting area have got to know us all now, and from being very antagonistic to begin with, are very friendly now, and let us know how many are due that day, and try to make life a bit easier for the asylum seekers now that they are constantly under scrutiny.
Please keep them in your prayers as all of them feel very vulnerable since the Paris massacre and just wish to get a better life for themselves.
"The important thing is that we remain open to God as he reveals himself to us in the circumstances of life and do everything possible to bring the body of his Son to completion."
Catherine O'Connor, CSJP