Caritas Westminster has published an innovative report that records the voices of 57 people who are seeking sanctuary in the UK.
The report, created following a 'Wisdoms' listening exercise in partnership with the Mayday Trust, puts a spotlight on the voices of migrants and refugees. The Mayday Trust has pioneered this kind of report which enables people experiencing hardships to express their hopes and desires, encouraging a change of culture among organisations working to support them.
The report entitled Wisdom from a Journey to a Good Life can be read here.
The 57 people interviewed were asked the same question: When you think of a good life, what does that mean to you? The responses were varied but many people spoke about having the freedom to make choices and have control over their lives, where they can feel safe and secure. The also wanted to feel able to contribute to their local communities, and to have a sense of purpose.
One person commented that she wished she was allowed to get a job: ""I like caring for people, but can't even do care work"
The report also highlights that where people did not have residency status and/or could not meet their basic needs, this could overwhelm the ability to focus on anything beyond basic survival or working to get their "papers".
Another interviewee said "If I had papers, a good job, more money, it would give me more choices of what I can do"
Dr Trent Grassian from Mayday Trust summarised the key themes in the report: "Wisdom from a Journey to a Good Life emphasised the importance of community, kindness, and giving people the power to shape their own lives - areas where each of us can play a part in supporting and helping others, even when many other aspects are beyond their and our control."
Bishop Paul McAleenan has endorsed Wisdom from a Journey to a Good Life, saying "it is a welcome addition to the corpus of work concerned with the welfare of asylum seekers in the UK. This publication is, as the Introduction states 'easy to read and accessible to everyone'. In a clear and methodical way this paper presents the trials and anxieties of asylum seekers and how those worries can be eased - by change of policy - and also, extremely importantly, by the attitudes of the general public whom they encounter each day."
Rosa Lewis, Caritas Development Worker leading on this project said: "We are immensely grateful to all of those who took part in this listening project - especially the people who shared some of what is important in their lives, as well as the volunteers and organisations who facilitated this listening. We now hope to work in partnership to honour the clear calls for systemic change within this report."
Through this report Caritas Westminster aims to bring the voices of these people to the attention of those who have some power to bring about changes - this includes people in authority, but also people working alongside refugees and asylum seekers in any capacity. In addition, the charity wants to encourage more of this type of listening project to hear from more people who have experience of seeking sanctuary in the UK.
The Wisdoms report has been published in the week after the report from the Synod on Synodality, which calls for greater listening, dialogue and encounter with migrants and refugees, "many of whom bear the wounds of uprooting, war and violence", he report from the Synod says, "We are called to practice an open welcome, to accompany them in the construction of a new life and to build a trye intercultural communion among peoples." it also emphasises that "Listening and accompaniment are a form of ecclesial action, not just the actions of individuals...A synodal Church needs to be a listening Church and this commitment has to be translated into practice."
Trent Grassian explained the importance of these types of listening exercises: "Having the ability and time to listen to individuals without passing judgement or making assumptions is crucial for gaining an understanding of someone's life. It allows us to briefly step into their shoes, providing insight into the challenges they encounter and identifying what truly matters to those who often go unseen and whose voices go unheard."
The report contains six recommendations for anyone wishing to support people seeking sanctuary, whether as a staff member or volunteer in a charity, or simply as a neighbour:
1. Remember everyone is an individual with their own dreams for the future.
2. Basic needs must be met before people can move on.
3. Find ways to support people's mental health and be trauma-informed.
4. Enable people to contribute to society and build up relationships.
5. Give people choices as much as possible.
6. Keep listening.
The cover of the report states the simple message "Be Kind", and many of the people interviewed emphasised the importance of patience and kindness. One person who had felt well treated by people they had encountered said "In England they saved my life with the kindness they gave me... They were patient with me and I want to be patient with them"
Caritas Westminster is looking to continue this work alongside other organisations and to bring the report to the attention of decisions makers in government and elsewhere. Anyone interested in being part of this process should contact Rosa Lewis at Caritas Westminster. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wisdom from a Journey to a Good Life can be downloaded as a pdf here: www.caritaswestminster.org.uk/files/2419-1-1.pdf
It can be read online here: https://issuu.com/rcwestminster/docs/wisdom_from_a_journey_to_a_good_life_-_capturing_t?fr=sYjkxMzY3Njg1MzE
Caritas Westminster is the official social outreach charity of the Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster, which covers most of London North of the Thames, and Hertfordshire. www.caritaswestminster.org.uk
Mayday Trust is a charity which aims To model a person-led, transitional and strength-based system alongside people going through tough times and to build a movement of people and organisations to change the current deficit-based systems. https://maydaytrust.org.uk/