Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jeanette

Yesterday I had a call from the City Centre Project in Manchester, someone I hadn't spoken to before, sounded a bit confused dealing with a destitute asylum-seeker. "Jeanette" is from Congo, getting food parcels from the Red Cross, staying with a friend, feels she's outstaying her welcome, but nowhere else to go.

I have to explain that I haven't got much to offer, I can't really ask one of my girls to share a room with her, a stranger with a different culture. Congolese and Habesha are really quite different, Congolese tend to be much more "African", louder, enjoy partying....... frankly, I'm more at home with Habesha and Middle Easterners.

Anyway, I tell her that, of course, if she's going to end up on the streets otherwise, she's welcome to stay in the front room on the sofa, and Jeanette decides to come and check us out, I think she can't quite understand the situation.

I cycle back from Chorlton, bring one of my girls with me that I bump into in the street, it's always reassuring for a new girl to meet another female at the outset, and find Jeanette at the bus-stop.

The house as it happens is busy, Rahel and Tigiesty come in, best friends Zohra from Ethiopia and Natasha from Zimbabwe are attempting to wallpaper the TV room. Gradually Jeanette takes in the situation, and I can feel that she feels able to relax here.

We talk about her situation. Incredibly, she's been refused for six years now, came when she was about 16, been detained, no solicitor, no permission to work........ She completed three years' study, but was prevented by her status from continuing. She is smartly dressed, speaks excellent English; I explain that there is no drinking or smoking in the house, that visitors are allowed but must be respectful. She asks if she can receive people to braid their hair, the way ahe makes a little cash, I say no problem, but if people are watching TV their needs to a homelife can't be ignored.

She talks about how hard life is when you're refused, that many of her friends have ended up in bad situations, in prostitution. I emphasise that if she feels herself in danger, she is always welcome here, she will be safe here, not to fear for herself. She says she would never go down that road no matter what, she is a "Child of God". I say, anyway, she is a human being, she has human rights, and not in the way the Home Office pervert the meaning of those words. I say that we make a mistake to give the Home Office the power of God to control people's lives, life continues regardless of refusal, there can be many ways of winning through in the end. We talk about fresh applications, marriage, amnesty, voluntary return.

Some moment of desperation propelled her through the doors of the City Centre Project. I tell her that I feel sure she will find a better option for herself than sleeping on my sofa - she isn't isolated or crushed, not without resources of some kind. But more than that, I sense that she leaves feeling that there is hope for her life, there are people that understand and don't judge, that her faith in God to keep her safe has some practical manifestation, is not just an empty prayer or a delusion.

And so she leaves, with my phone number and sure of her welcome, not quite happy I'm sure, but not quite alone in the world either.

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