Category: UK

Post relating to the British Red Cross in the United Kingdom

Podcast: volunteering for 70 years

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Black and white image of Judy Stokes in a Red Cross nurse uniformThe British Red Cross turns 140 years young this summer, and there’s at least one woman who’s been volunteering with us for half that time. Talk about dedication!

Listen to Judy Stokes share her incredible memories – from war-time nursing to teaching young people first aid.

[audio:http://www.blogs.redcross.org.uk.gridhosted.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Volunteer-for-70-yrs-Judy-Stokes_shorter-version.mp3|titles=Volunteer for 70 yrs – Judy Stokes]

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Asylum seekers: popular myths debunked

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Life has been very tough on Mary.

As a Ugandan teenager, she was repeatedly raped and beaten, and had a child by her sexually abusive father. Her twin sister died, aged 13, following female genital mutilation and Mary herself contracted the HIV virus. Finally, her mother managed to put her on a flight to the UK – and was later beaten to death for allowing her to escape.

It’s hard to know where to even begin when describing such a joyless, unremitting story – there’s nothing in my cosy and contented life that can possibly compare to the bleakness of Mary’s story.

All of which makes the findings of a recent ICM poll commissioned by the Red Cross look a little dispiriting. As I read it, one by one the hoary old clichés come churning out. Asylum seekers come here to claim benefits; they’re just here to work illegally; they all get £100 a week to live on.

But such myths don’t tally with the picture we see at the Red Cross. We help hundreds of people each year who have been forced to flee their countries in fear of their lives, often leaving beloved family members behind. A large majority end up homeless, hungry, depressed and destitute. Many are unwell but unable to access medical care. Those who do manage to find support receive accommodation and vouchers equalling just £35 a week.

Crucially, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work in the UK. Forget the benefit scroungers tag: there are hundreds of skilled and talented asylum seekers out there who would like nothing better than to earn an honest living while their claim is processed (which can take years). But they can’t.

During Refugee Week, the Red Cross’ Look Beyond the Label campaign will be highlighting the plight of destitute asylum seekers in the UK. And on Wednesday 16 June, we’ll publish a destitution report (it’ll be on our website homepage) which gives the lie to many popular myths and underscores in precise detail just how difficult life can be for someone caught up in the limbo of the asylum system.

It’ll be an uphill struggle to counter the many deep-seated prejudices against asylum seekers, but you can help us by spreading the word about our campaign and voting (starting Monday 14th) to support an end to destitution.

Mary's story

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“My twin sister died of female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was 13 years old.”

However, when Mary* turned 13 years old, she was pregnant with her father’s baby. Her father had been sexually abusing her since she was eight.

After giving birth, it became time for me to be cut. My mother came from a different tribe where they do not practise FGM and did not want me to have it done because she was scared that I would die like my sister. When I refused, community members beat me very badly. My father then kept me in a room where I was repeatedly beaten and five men came and raped me. I gave birth to another baby girl as a result of these rapes. They were trying to break me so I would agree to be cut.”

At 19 years old, her mother arranged for an agent to help her to escape. The agent took her from her home and put her on a flight to the UK. On arrival, she was abandoned on a bus bound for London.

Mary later found out that her parents were beaten to death by the community for allowing her to escape. Her younger sister now looks after her three children that she had to leave behind. They are constantly on the run in case the community tracks them down and kills them.

After Mary’s claim was refused in 2004 and her support was cut, she begged food from friends. She received weekly food parcels from a refugee organisation in Manchester. After this she found friends who needed help looking after their children in exchange for food or a floor to sleep on. She would spend all day looking after the children and doing housework. She worked hard so that they might let her stay a little longer.

Some would let me stay for a week, some a month. I lost count of how many times I moved. The last friend that I stayed with let me stay for one and a half years. She is so kind. I was lucky.”

Mary was detained in 2008 when the Home Office raided a house she was staying in. There was a mix up by the Home Office with her case, which they later admitted. Her case is still unresolved.

Mary is HIV positive but has never disclosed this to any of her friends or acquaintances. She has numerous health problems stemming from this, including eye infections. Because of her poor diet she is severely anaemic. She has considered committing suicide on a number of occasions.

Mary came to the British Red Cross in 2009. She had been destitute for four years even though she had submitted further evidence to support her asylum claim in 2006. We provided food vouchers and arranged emergency accommodation for a weekend.

Part of a series of posts on the topic of destitution for Refugee Week.

* Names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.

Adam's story

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Adam* was a university student in Sudan. The government arrested him when problems broke out in Darfur. He was accused of inciting fellow students. Adam was detained on two separate occasions and was tortured during his detention; he was kicked and beaten with iron poles, locked in a small room where burning material was thrown in to choke him, and tied upside-down if he did not give the answers his torturers wanted. When Adam was released, he was told to regularly report and sign in with the authorities, but he decided to flee the country.

Adam paid an agent to take him somewhere safe but he did not know where he was going. Adam claimed asylum in the UK in January 2008 and was refused asylum a year later in February 2009.

He now spends his time trying to search for food by visiting different people he knows. He has no income at all and has no regular source of food or shelter: “I eat once a day if friends can spare some food.”

He says he really wants to be able to support himself and not rely on handouts from other people.
“I feel really bad not having a job. I want to be independent and not depend on others’ kindness for food. I want to be able to support my family as well.”

Adam tries to occupy himself by going to language classes and reading at the library. He says that life in the UK is now similar to life in Sudan because in both places he was not able to support himself; in the UK he is not allowed to work and in Sudan he could not live openly because the authorities were looking for him. The situation has caused him severe depression.

The British Red Cross has been able to support Adam in a limited capacity. We are able to provide £10 food vouchers per week, and clothes and toiletries from our clothing project. Adam has been given advice on where he can access a homelessness project and receive hot food on a daily basis.

Part of a series of posts on the topic of destitution for Refugee Week.

* Names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.

Michael's story

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Michael* completed his university degree in economics before taking charge of a flourishing family business. When the conflict began, Michael and his family fled to their farm in Minova. Many civilians including Michael’s father and his son were killed in the fighting. A month later Michael was falsely arrested and jailed for four months without trial.

I was beaten constantly and violently throughout the day and night. Rebel guards even urinated on me after beating me. I was interviewed several times about my family and my link with the Mai-Mai militia. I was accused of funding the militia.”

Michael had never had any contact with the Mai-Mai militia and he had never been a political activist even as a student. As a result of the beatings Michael became very ill. He lost a testicle due to severe infection from an injury inflicted by the rebels.

A nurse helped him escape, by saying that he needed an operation. A priest then helped him get to Uganda. From Uganda he fled to the UK, where he claimed asylum in October 2003.

Michael’s asylum claim was refused in August 2004 and since then he has been destitute. Michael says he is surviving because of the generosity of people. He was once unable to get food for three days, and decided to walk into a supermarket. In desperation he spoke to the shop manager about his problem. The shop manager gave him some unsold fruit and bread.

He was attacked by some homeless people in a coach station. Michael has received treatment for severe depression. He has had thoughts about killing himself. He is shocked at the reception he has received in the UK.

The human right should be the first thinking for English people. I am really suffering.”

Michael came to the British Red Cross destitution clinic in Birmingham. We assist him with food vouchers, clothing vouchers, and travel expenses to attend medical appointments in London.

Part of a series of posts on the topic of destitution for Refugee Week.

* Names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.

Big Red Cross Bus still pulling out all the stops

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Last week I headed up to Manchester for the ultimate ride…albeit a stationary one.

I was visiting the Big Red Cross Bus which was stationed for the day in the city centre. While I was there I met some of our wonderful staff and volunteers, snapped up a bargain print dress, eyed up some Prada mules, munched a homemade muffin and more.

For the uninitiated we’ve taken a double decker and customised it to house an all-in-one mobile charity shop and volunteering hub. It’s travelling around Britain until 12 June, bringing the Red Cross to a city near you, as part of Volunteers’ Week.

When I arrived the bus was mobbed; dozens of people were milling around the racks of clothing on sale outside the bus from our shops. Nearby a shopper was having a go at dressing a dummy for the chance to win a professional photo shoot… with dazzling results.

Inside the bus, after grabbing a muffin a volunteer had baked,  I ran into Luiza, a local fashion student who had come to help out. Meanwhile, on the upstairs deck one of our volunteers was busy telling a potential new recruit about our many volunteering opportunities and encouraging her to help out in one of our nearby shops.

The woman wasn’t very confident about the prospect of manning a till, but the volunteer reassured her that there were  other things she could do instead, such as working behind the scenes sorting books and ticketing clothing.

By the end of the day, 24 new volunteers had signed up, sales of clothes, shoes, books and more had netted £240…and the bus hadn’t even moved.

There’s still time to catch the bus! Find out where it’s going next.

Volunteer to cure the back to work blues

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Big Red Cross Bus in Bishop AucklandApologies for my silence, dear reader, I have been away on holiday and took a temporary blogging breather; not even I love the Red Cross enough to blog from a sunlounger.

Many people feel pretty gloomy coming back to work after a spell away but not me (apart from having to cycle home in torrential rain yesterday). I call it the ‘Red Cross effect’, where exposure to good works induces a feeling of perpetual wellbeing.  

I had only been back in the office five minutes on Tuesday when I heard about all the great stuff  I’d missed while I was away…

Thousands of parents had gone to the Baby Show in Birmingham on 21-23 May, with many getting a dose of our life-saving  children and baby first aid courses via demos from staff and volunteers.

I heard that Tesco has now raised more than £582,000 for the British Red Cross and DEC Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

And our first aid volunteers had kept revellers safe at the One Big Weekend event in Bangor on 22-23 May as well as runners at the Edinburgh marathon on 23 May.

I was also delighted to see our Volunteer’s Week Big Red Cross Bus had started its journey around the country.

How’s that for a busy week at work (for everyone else). It gave me a little glow to hear about it all. Of course, you don’t need to actually work here to enjoy the Red Cross effect and banish your post summer holiday back-to-work blues.

Why not become a volunteer?  Pay a visit to the British Red Cross bus (find out where it’s visiting) before 12 June, to discover the dozens of varied and flexible volunteering roles we offer. You never know, you might snap up a bargain designer bikini from the onboard shop for that next holiday while you’re there.