“The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not.”
Suella Braverman, former[1] Home Secretary of the United Kingdom

“Our task is not to build a wall that separates us from others, but to build a bridge that connects us.”
Abbé Pierre, Founder of Emmaus

“We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.”
Suella Braverman, former Home Secretary of the United Kingdom

“Poverty is not an accident; it is the result of economic and social injustice.”
Abbé Pierre, Founder of Emmaus

Blog post by Sławek Rzewuski, Support Worker at Emmaus Bristol, 12/11/2023

Recently, a colleague and I visited Bristol Refugee Rights to seek advice on a case. Upon our arrival, half an hour before the scheduled opening time, we joined a lengthy queue that continued to form quickly behind us. I felt stressed as applicants had a narrow window of two days a week during which they could seek advice, with only a two-hour slot for registration and legal aid. After sign-up, we could help ourselves to coffee and tea. There was already a shortage of seating space and half of those in the queue were still waiting to be let in. We set up additional chairs against the wall and silently observed the busy volunteers, while animated conversations echoed around us.

I’m always struck by the visible lack of funding in such places, while the people who work there are full of passion and dedication. When you enter a financial institution it’s the other way around; marble sparkles, but behind the barrier, a human shadow appears irritated, wondering why you bothered coming instead of doing what you’re supposed to do online. But I digress from the topic.

On entry we were given a worn-out number laminated in plastic which seemed meaningless because the applicants were shuffled about like cards, but it was just a façade of chaos, for the volunteers and BRR staff, it wasn’t their first rodeo.

I was the only white person with a number in my hand. In contrast to the typical, often media-driven, hysteria of refugee ‘invasions’ into Europe, the influx of women and children departing Ukraine sparked a substantial humanitarian response, yet it also serves as a stark reminder of Europe’s dual standards.[2] We were lucky, we managed to get advice and be signposted.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with new immigration laws. Most websites offering advice to asylum seekers are currently updating their information. During the present political rush to re-enforce the “hostile environment” the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman said, “I would love to have a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda,[3] that’s my dream, it’s my obsession.” What I would love to see on the front page of The Telegraph are words from Warsan Shire’s poem: “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”[4]

Little Amal is the 12 foot puppet of a 10 year old Syrian refugee child at the heart of The Walk. She has become a global symbol of human rights, especially those of refugees. Taken by Sławek Rzewuski, Bristol 24/06/2022

At Emmaus Bristol, we have a number of what we call “solidarity places”, where you do not necessarily need to have recourse to public funds and local connections to be able to access our services. These solidarity places, unfortunately, makes us exceptional. If you are not ready to complete a referral with us when you come to our shop and are in need, we won’t refuse you a tent, a sleeping bag, or a warm jacket. If the law changes, we will sell tents for 1p, if necessary. We have witnessed those in crisis situations, when they have been unable to get the help they need from Bristol City Council before they close for the day and the ones who are turned away from overcrowded shelters who do not have the capacity to receive everyone.

Solidarity is at the core of our organisation, which is why we have undertaken cooperation with Aid Box Community,[5] an organization helping refugees in Bristol. We hope that the cooperation will be ongoing and will greatly assist the overstretched organisation. Their manager Sam told me that they recently received 600 new registrations and based on recent reports[6] some refugees, once they are granted status, only have seven days to find alternative housing before they face eviction from hotels.

The individuals we support have names, hopes, plans, they have stories that are sometimes very painful but above all, they retain an inherent dignity that cannot be stripped away even when they lack a postcode. Blaming the victim has always been a desperate strategy of those in power when they know that their ship is sinking. 

I cannot help but end with the words of Arundhati Roy that keep me going, perhaps they can do something for you too, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”[7]

[1] Suella Braverman was sacked a few days after this article was finished.
[3] Update from 15 November 2023, the Supreme Court of the UK published its damning ruling which found the government’s long-dragged out Rwanda plan unlawful and dismissed the Court of Appeal’s decision of April 2023.
[4] “Homeby Warsan Shire,” Facing History and Ourselves”, accessed 12/11/2023.
[7]  “War Talk,” 2003