Sunday, October 21, 2007

Asylum stories - TV man

Happy came to our asylum-seeker hostel from Africa, where people seem delightfully unselfconscious going through life with names like Bigboy and Baby (a 25-year old lad) given by proud parents.
Happy, a short and thin but lively fellow, with expressive facial and hand gestures, was gentle and pleasant with everyone, and always seemed to enjoy plenty of female attention, despite being in his 40's.
He had been an electrical repair man in his former life, so he was delighted when I gave him a gift of a voltmeter and some other basic items whose use I had no knowledge of.
Happy employed himself rescuing dead TVs and videos from skips and fixing them up. He's pass them on to other asylum-seekers for a fiver; more often than not they'd need looking at again after a few weeks, so he was always busy.
Happy was altogether a very attractive sort of asylum-seeker: cheerful, helpful, recycling dead tellies to hard-up people. A focal point in our little comunity.
Of course we were aware that a) he was not allowed to work; b) the repairs could be unsafe; c) the purchasers risked being fined for not having a TV licence; d) he was using our property to run a miniature business.
It always struck me as hard that, while someone on thirty quid a week might pick up a half-dead telly a tenner, they're still expected to find 120 pounds for a licence, the same as if it had cost a thousand.
As for unsafe equipment, these are people that have often faced life-threatening situations in their countries and on their journeys here, let them make up their own minds whether to sit in silence everynight in their bare rooms, or take a chance on a dodgy telly; at least it helps their English.
Charities won't touch electrical equipment now; their insurers insist it must be checked by a qualified electrician before it can be given to someone.
Shortly before he left us, he came to me very emotional. Through a long, painstaking chain of friends and contacts, he had at last found his family, living in a camp in Africa. Their situation was dire, they needed money for schools, for food, for medicine. Like so many, he was saving money from his meagre weekly allowance to send home. It was the first time I saw his cheerful demanour falter. He was proud of his family, hoped that I "his brother" would meet them one day.
It is of course intolerable to the authorities that people save money out of their benefit; it implies that they get more than they need. No doubt right now some petty-minded bureaucrat is reading this - you know who you are - and calculating how much might be saved by cutting a fiver a week from each claimant.
Sadly, not long after finding his family, Happy got his refusal from the Home Office. At this point I'm supposed to tell him about going back and that he has no alternative. His money will stop, and he will be evicted in a week's time from his room/workshop.
Of course, I do explain that the Government will be only too pleased to fund his flight back. But there is also the other option, the one we're supposed not to know about. He could go underground, joining the thousands living precariously day to day, sleeping on floors, working for two pounds an hour, never giving their real name, not even to supposed friends, never knowing if tomorrow they'll be caught.
A little money goes a long way in an African refugee camp; it achieves far more than the foreign aid provided from government hypocrisy and private piety.
So I was delighted when Happy told me, "My brother", that he had found an electrical repai shop in another town that would give him work.
Unfortunately, Happy broke his leg in an accident. I never heard from hm after that, his phone never answered. I'm sure he'd have been in touch. I can only assume that Immigration caught up with him. I hope he's reunited with his wife and children now, but he's a loss to us, and it's a lost income to that far away family he wanted me to meet one day.


Blogger tim.blackcat said...

Hi - I wanted to get involved with the Time Together scheme, but it is on hold now due to finance problems.
I am still very keen to get involved with asylum seekers or immigrants who are having problems. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could get started in this field?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007 at 20:49:00 GMT  
Blogger jimquk said...

Hi Blackcat (good name!)

Whereabouts do you live? You could try contacting Refugee Action, Refugee Council, or the British Red Cross. Most places where there are asylum-seekers have some drop-ins where help is always welcome. If you let me know where you are, I can try to find a local contact for you.



Friday, 9 November 2007 at 20:50:00 GMT  
Blogger tim.blackcat said...

Thanks for your suggestions, I will follow them up. I live in the Plymouth area.
I'm new to this blogging thing, so hope this reaches you.

Sunday, 11 November 2007 at 19:20:00 GMT  
Blogger jimquk said...

Hi, yeah I'm new to this myself, not much idea what I'm doing really.

For Plymouth, you could try Refugee Action -

or perhaps the Red Cross (based in Exeter) -

Good luck!

Monday, 12 November 2007 at 00:27:00 GMT  

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