After supporting refugees across Europe and in crisis zones across the world for over seven years, it’s with a heavy heart that we realised we would need to set up a project on our doorstep here in the UK.
At the moment, we hear dangerously racist rhetoric about “migrants” from the highest levels of government almost every day. This filters through to every level of society, from access to basic services to xenophobic media reports that influence public sentiment. The deliberately created ‘hostile environment’ has been exacerbated by the UK’s newly passed Nationality and Borders Bill, which, according to the UN, further increases risks of discrimination and human rights violations.
Like many of you, we were shocked and saddened by the UK government’s decision to house asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset. In partnership with the local council, we were ready with a humanitarian response that would address people’s immediate needs and provide a strong sense of solidarity, while offering an important alternative to the narratives of hostility and cruelty that the barge represented. However, due to a series of delays and legal challenges related to basic health and safety on the barge, the situation became unworkable for us. Thankfully, there is a robust solidarity network there which we are part of and can support when needs arise.
As a small, dynamic organisation we are able to respond and pivot rapidly. Our expert coordinator, Anna, started talking to local organisations and asylum seekers in the South West to identify needs. Working closely with the wonderful people at International Care Network (ICN), City of Sanctuary, Community Action Network (CAN), and the South West chapter of the British Red Cross, it soon became clear that there is an overwhelming need for additional support among asylum seekers in Bournemouth.
While there is some support for people once they get refugee status, there is very little for asylum seekers, who must wait months or even years in temporary accommodation and are not permitted to work. According to our partner ICN, which is the main charity supporting asylum seekers in Bournemouth and the first point of contact for new arrivals, there are over 700 men housed in hotels in the city who are desperately in need of clothing—especially as winter is coming.
So, we set to work. We’ve secured a premises in Bournemouth city centre and are about to start converting it into a Dignity Centre, complete with a boutique where clothes are distributed using our ‘free shop’ model. The space will also host a social cafe with free hot drinks, and provide signposting to help asylum seekers learn about and access services to meet their needs.
Staffed by a team of welcoming and friendly volunteers, the Centre will have an open-door policy and is envisioned as a community space where we can listen to the evolving needs of the people we serve and respond appropriately. As with all our Dignity Centres, our location in the heart of Bournemouth also provides an opportunity for local residents to get involved and serves as a space that brings people together and helps build strong relationships in and across communities.
To make this happen we need the help of our community of incredible supporters. From clothing donations (in the Bournemouth area only) to local volunteers and of course raising funds to keep the project running—there is so much you can do to be part of this exciting project. Let’s stand together, put our values into action and show solidarity with refugees in the UK. DONATE NOW and watch this space for more opportunities to help.