This year, our Winter Appeal and Alternative Advent Calendar are raising money for destitute asylum seekers. One of the ways we work to ease destitution is through our Fresh Start project, an innovative service supporting female asylum seekers in Leicester. As we prepared for the appeal, one of our volunteers visited Fresh Start to find out more about the women it helps.
On a wet autumn morning my supervisor and I set off from our office in Manchester for the Fresh Start project in Leicester. It was our intention to interview one of the residents staying there, so with camera and Dictaphone safely stowed away we trundled down the M1 to our destination.
For those of you who don’t know, the Fresh Start project, managed by Santok Odedra, provides shelter and support for a period of six months to destitute female asylum seekers. It caters for women in limbo, those who have not had their asylum claim accepted but have not returned to their country of origin. Fresh Start aims to provide these women with a calm, stable environment where, with the specialist advice the service provides, they can make the serious decisions necessary to plan for their future.
Upon arrival Santok, the project manager, introduced us to Chipo, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker currently residing in the accommodation provided by Fresh Start. Chipo had fled Zimbabwe in 2006 because members of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, including her own uncle, had threatened her, after discovering that she supported the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). What follows is the interview my supervisor and I conducted with Chipo.
What circumstances led you to leave Zimbabwe?
My uncle is a Zanu PF member, when he found out that I supported the MDC he didn’t like it. He started threatening me. He destroyed my things. I had to leave my house, it was no longer safe for me.
When did you come to the UK?
I came here in 2006 on a visitor’s visa.
Did you apply for asylum straight away?
No I came in May, it was about five months after that. I didn’t know anything about the process. I didn’t know what asylum was.
Your claim was refused. Did they give any reasons why they turned you down?
Yes. They said we know you are a member of the MDC but we don’t feel you would be in danger if you returned to Zimbabwe.
Is Santok helping you now?
Yes. Santok has been dealing with my solicitor who has agreed to look at my case again. She has also been in contact with Liz Kendall, our local MP. Because of Santok, Liz’s office has written to the Home Office on my behalf regarding the CRD’s (Case Resolution Directorate) outstanding decision on my case.
If you did go back to Zimbabwe what do you think would happen?
Zimbabwe is not a good place right now. With the elections planned for this year the Zanu PF has been intimidating the people. They don’t want you to support anyone else. I think they would kill me. They have already killed people because of the elections.
How have you survived without a job? (asylum seekers are not allowed to work)
At first I stayed with my sister but that became difficult. You feel like a burden because you cannot contribute. You know it is not nice. There was too much tension and we could not continue living together. I left and came to Fresh Start.
When you moved out from your sister’s house did you receive any support except from your sister?
No I didn’t receive any support because my claim had been denied. It is very difficult when you are not working and don’t receive any support.
How did you find out about Fresh Start?
I went to the Red Cross and told them that I didn’t have anywhere to stay.
How did you feel about approaching Fresh Start?
They have helped me very much. I have my own room and a little money. They give me £35 a week, I can buy something to eat. It’s not much compared to people on mainstream benefits or those who are working but it is certainly better.
Does Fresh Start provide any activities for the residents?
Yes. We have recently started growing vegetables in the Fresh Start garden. During Refugee Week we put on a lunch for the Welcome Women’s Project next door. It was great, we all cooked traditional dishes from home for our guests.
Is there anything you do outside of the Fresh Start programme that makes you happy?
Yes. I volunteer at a HIV charity call L.A.S.S. (Leicester AIDS Support Service). We go out into the community raising awareness of the issues surrounding HIV.
Where did you hear about L.A.S.S.?
One of the women staying with the Fresh Start project when I first arrived was already volunteering there. After talking to her about it I decided it was something I would like to get involved with.
Do you have any hopes for the future?
I’d like to work, it’s been so long since I had a job. In Zimbabwe I used to go up and down buying and selling from other countries. South Africa, Mozambique. But I can’t really think about anything like that until I have my papers. I’m worried about what I will do after the Fresh Start project. I have been here for 4months. You can sleep when you first get here but now we are coming to the end of our stay. It is scary. What next?
Nathan Capstick (R.A. Volunteer)