A Retirement message from PAFRAS Founder and Manager Christine Majid
I am writing to inform you all of my forthcoming retirement from PAFRAS at the end of the calendar year.
It has been an incredible journey over the last 13 years since I founded Positive Action for Refugees [PAR] in 2003, which grew into PAFRAS in 2005. PAR was a small grass roots not for profit project based in Harehills which had a small management Committee. It all began in a small attic room for its office which was very cold and the roof leaked.
PAR worked mostly around integration issues for new arrivals as well as casework, which were mostly accommodation issues. We also had a teacher from Park Lane College to teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes and Basic Skills. These were happy and memorable times. My heartfelt thanks go to the management committee of the time and to Dave Brown for giving unwavering support and guidance from 2003. Dave saw the transition through to PAFRAS in 2005 and stayed as Trustee of PAFRAS up until August 2015. My thanks also go to the two part time caseworkers at the time and colleagues in the Refugee Field.
Due to lack of funding PAR lost its premises. This came at a time when government policy on immigration was rapidly changing, and one could see that the rights of Asylum Seekers were slowly being eroded away. There were many pieces of legislation passed at the time and Section55 of the Nationality and Immigration Act was one of them. This denied asylum seekers who applied late for their asylum claim any support at all. Under Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Act (Treatment of Claimants, 2004) this was extended to failed asylum seeking families, who also were denied support. This came at a time when there were also huge cuts in Legal Aid making it impossible for asylum seekers to find a solicitor to submit an appeal. Consequently many lost their accommodation and support, and were evicted from their accommodation by the police. Many asylum seekers ended up on the streets, confused and disorientated as to what had happened to them.
Further cuts in 2004 removed NHS treatment from failed asylum seekers (except in emergency cases), and women refused antenatal care were forced to give birth at home. Institutionalized destitution had become an integral part of 21st century Britain. Something had to be done. It could not be right to leave people homeless and without any recourse to public funds, stripped of dignity and all social and civil rights, highly vulnerable on the streets.
In 2005 PAFRAS was born to adapt and respond to the beginnings of a growing crisis of asylum seekers all over the UK. With support and help from Ray Gaston, All Hallows CofE, who galvanized many churches of all denominations to help and make a stand against a brutal asylum system and support PAFRAS. My thanks also go Holy Rosary and the St Vincent Group who have supported PAFRAS since its inception in 2005. The response in the city from the churches was growing and donations of money, food and clothing began to come in. My garage was used as a storage ‘till I could secure enough funding to find an office base.
With no office I reverted to my old 2CV, voluntarily taking food and blankets to those on the streets (as sub zero temperatures plummeted), while at the same time trying to secure funding for a destitution project in Leeds. As more and more people became destitute it was clear that the need for a drop in centre and constant supplies of food, shelter and clothing were desperately needed. After six months, funding was secured and PAFRAS opened its first drop in at Nassu Place, Chapeltown. My grateful thanks go to Mr Morris. PAFRAS rented another attic in Harehills (alas, another leaking roof!) and managed to secure a part time caseworker post. These were extremely challenging times for destitute asylum seekers, as well as PAFRAS, and never was a specific project for destitution more needed in the city.
PAFRAS grew from strength to strength. The popularity and need for PAFRAS was overwhelming and showed the need for a project specifically assisting those left destitute. From 2007 – 2009 PAFRAS expanded beyond recognition. As funding was secured a team of seven staff were employed. The expansion was fast and I was well aware it could contract in the future. PAFRAS required a much larger premises and separate food storage to operate from. In 2007 PAFRAS moved to St Aidan’s Community Hall, where PAFRAS is still based and operates its weekly drop in. My gratitude goes to St Aidan’s Church, Father Taylor, Andy Myers, Mother Diana, Tony Jowett to the St Aidan’s PCC and last but not least, my thanks to Andrew Ifill, Hall Manager, who has taken on the herculean task of running the kitchen with our volunteers for nearly the last eight years.
Developing and implementing a more multi-agency approach at the drop in over the last four years has benefited the client group enormously.
We have access to:
- A Red Cross Caseworker, vouchers and their International Tracing Service.
- York Street Practice who register asylum seekers with a GP and complete HC2 forms to enable them to receive their medication without cost.
- Skyline who give a valuable service of HIV screening and testing.
- Migrant Helpline who assist with accommodation issues, asylum support problems.
- More recently City of Sanctuary has joined us at the PAFRAS weekly drop in.
PAFRAS has hit many challenging and difficult times, with funding becoming harder to secure for work with destitute asylum seekers. Over the last five years PAFRAS has had to implement many cuts in staff hours, seeking to make sure the cuts did not affect destitute asylum seekers themselves, leaving a very small team working way beyond their capacity to keep open such a vitally needed project in the city of Leeds.
PAFRAS was there at the right time providing the right service for destitute asylum seekers and has achieved an enormous amount for the city. There have been challenges throughout the life of PAFRAS, ups and downs, and for staff one of the most challenging areas to operate and work in.
I convey my most warmest and sincere appreciation, gratitude and sincere thanks to all the past and present staff, my sincere appreciation, gratitude and heartfelt thanks for all your support, commitment, care and compassion to a hugely marginalized and voiceless client group.
To the present PAFRAS Team, I thank you all for your levels of dedication, overwhelming commitment, well beyond the line of duty, and for your unconditional support, achieving social justice for so many clients and for securing real life changes for them.
My thanks to all the volunteers past and present who have been the backbone of the organization over the last 12 years, providing and donating their time and energy with hands on help at the Project and the food store, making up literally thousands of food parcels over the years. My thanks go to Touchstone for running the volunteers programme for the last 4 years.
I extend huge heartfelt thanks to all the donors, countless organizations and individuals, the Churches as far out as the Yorkshire Dales, the Quakers and other Faith Sectors. I thank you all for all the help and support you have shown to our asylum seekers and the organization itself. My heartfelt and sincere thanks to you all – without your sustained help and support many people would be left in abject poverty. You have all played a huge part and improved the lives of hundreds of asylum seekers.
My sincere thanks and gratitude go to all the funders since PAFRAS was founded, without your help and support and belief in the project PAFRAS would not have been able to exist, function and operate and help so many destitute asylum seekers, my eternal gratitude to you all.
I wish to pay tribute at this stage to the British Red Cross who have been our key partners since 2005, who have provided an excellent service working alongside the PAFRAS team over a very long sustained period of time. My sincere gratitude to the Red Cross Team for all their loyal and unswerving support since 2005.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all our partners at the weekly drop in and to LASSN for their long stay and short stop programmes, St Monica’s Housing and Abigail Housing which are a life line for those who have been left homeless.
To all my colleagues in the Refugee and Asylum field, past and present, my sincere thanks for all your support over the years; I will miss you all dearly. I also add my warm thanks to organizations outside of the Refugee domain for their support and contribution over the years in particular Hamara and the Give a Gift Team, to all the bands and musicians who have performed for PAFRAS and raised finance to support those left destitute. I thank you all so much.
My thanks to all of the Trustees past and present for their time, energy and expertise in steering the Project forward.
As you will appreciate, this is a very overwhelming period of time for me personally, and I am aware that I have not been able to thank everyone and every organization by name in this letter. Rest assured that I am deeply grateful to every individual, organization, church and the different faith sectors that have and continue to support PAFRAS; I owe a huge debt of gratitude to each and every one of you. Without all your support and help we would not be able to run the PAFRAS service. Thanks to you all for the huge part you are playing in improving the lives of those left destitute.
So, this now brings me to the end of a journey, one which has brought many varying experiences along the way. I have been extremely humbled and privileged over the last 13 years to meet people from all over the world, who have, despite their hardships, conducted themselves with grace, humility and dignity. I have learnt so much from you all, for which I am deeply grateful and I will miss you all.
I am sure that PAFRAS will continue to deliver its wonderful, inclusive, caring and compassionate open doors service, which its unique values are founded on, where status, nationality or ethnicity are no barrier. I sincerely hope PAFRAS goes on from strength to strength and I wish Ruth Davany (PAFRAS’s new manager – about whom more in our Spring newsletter) all the best in her new post at PAFRAS.
PAFRAS has been a huge part of my life all these years, and I wish it well for the future.
I hope after reflecting over the last thirteen years to be involved in campaigning for a more transparent and fairer asylum system and at some stage to attempt writing a book (but we will see). Other things for the future are returning to my piano and re-learning guitar, which has been on hold for years.
A very fond farewell to you all – I will miss each and every one of you all dearly and will never forget you all. Take care and warmest wishes to you all in the future.