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04 August 2014

Welcoming the stranger

Britain has long been sought after as a wonderful haven for asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing persecution, or even torture or death threats in their own country. With a judicial heritage that prides itself on justice and fairness, the United Kingdom has earned a reputation as a place where those seeking refuge will be treated fairly and without bias. However, straight-talking campaigner and Boaz Trust founder, Dave Smith, paints a different picture, showing the other side of the story.

The Book of Boaz exposes some of the many misconceptions that people in this country have of asylum seekers and the system they find themselves a part of. Dave has written this book, allowing people a glimpse into the world of asylum seekers. It tells the personal story of Dave Smith's passionate campaign to fight the cause of the asylum seeker through the creation of The Boaz Trust and demonstrates that their treatment in this country is sometimes a far cry from the biblical mandate to invite the stranger in.

Ten years ago Dave Smith established The Boaz Trust, a Christian charity serving destitute asylum seekers and refugees in Greater Manchester. He had been meeting growing numbers of destitute asylum seekers who had no recourse to public funds and nowhere to turn for help.

Confronted with the negative media and with a political class who have a tendency to scapegoat rather than to stand for justice, Dave found it was not an easy battle to stand up for asylum seekers. What he found most difficult was the inefficient and impersonal bureaucracy that caused many of them to experience destitution and despair. 

Dave Smith said: "Without 'leave to remain' asylum seekers have no right to accommodation, work or financial support. They are often fleeing from a whole range of things. It may well be political persecution. Sometimes they've seen their families actually butchered in front of them. We want all, and the Church in particular, to notice and discover God's heart for the marginalised people around us. We must treat asylum seekers with dignity, challenge the Church to welcome them and become God's answer to destitution."

Ros Holland, chief executive of The Boaz Trust, said: "The people we work with are probably among the most forgotten in our country. Despite what the media say, people who are not granted asylum do not get benefits and are not eligible for any support at all.

"There are so few organisations working with these people. The funding just isn't there. It's a real privilege to know we are helping people when nobody else will help."

Reza from Iran said: "I was homeless for five months. I'd been spending nights in the park. In January the park is very, very cold. It was a very bad time in my life."

Rudo from Zimbabwe said: "I came here because of persecution in Zimbabwe. I became homeless when the friends I was staying with all got their 'leave to remain' papers."

The Boaz Trust operates a holistic support system called 'Catch, hold, release'. The initial 'catch' phase provides destitute asylum seekers with the basics for life –accommodation, food, clothing and access to services. During the 'hold' phase their asylum claim will be worked on, often by the in-house legal service: meanwhile clients can access the 'Boaz Life' programme, which offers a range of activities aimed at improving health and wellbeing, as well as volunteering opportunities. 'Release', ideally with leave to remain, generally takes upwards of twelve months. At that point the hard work starts helping newly granted refugees find their own accommodation and build a new life for themselves.

The Boaz Trust aims to end asylum destitution, to see people who are seeking sanctuary in the UK leading fulfilling lives and to campaign for a more compassionate asylum system.