27 June 2019, The Tablet

Asylum – between hope and destitution

Asylum – between hope and destitution

Support work at the Jesuit Refugee Centre in London


The hospitality that the Jesuit Refugee Service offers cannot by itself achieve justice, but shows that it is possible, and is a vital support for those who are ‘degraded’ by our asylum process

Sitting behind a desk and in complete command of her task, a woman in her mid-forties takes me through a list of names. On a warm London morning, I am being taught how to issue small travel grants as part of a weekly drop-in centre run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). This offers a lifeline for about 280 people who live without recourse to public funds and without the right to work during protracted asylum claims.

Beyond the immediate news headlines is a community of asylum seekers that includes men and women who have often been in the United Kingdom for many years, whose cases have proved too complex or have been poorly handled, understood or legally supported, or who are simply people that we have decided we do not want.

The woman teaching me how to issue travel grants is a volunteer. In spite of her obvious professional skills and experience, she has been living in the UK in destitution, apart from the support of charities and friends, for nearly a decade. She bears all the same anxieties as those she assists. I learn from her that this day centre in east London is a small air pocket where it is possible to keep alive your sense of being a person with skills, value and a capacity to give to others.

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