I joined CLEAR in 2016, and since my arrival I’ve framed CLEAR unapologetically as a human rights organisation.
It’s common knowledge that there are now more refugees worldwide than there were in 2016, but perhaps less well known that half of all refugees are children. The overwhelming majority of these refugees (over 84%) only manage to make it to the nearest frontier, and live in sprawling, squalid, disease-ridden refugee camps in developing countries which can offer little in the way of security or hope.
Only a tiny number of the world’s refugees manage to get to the small fortress archipelago which is the British Isles, and all of them have had all the human rights we take for granted stripped away.
They have lost everything.
They have lost their country, their community, their family. They have lost their job, their status and all their possessions, in exchange for a one-way ticket to escape the horror which still traumatises them. And some have lost their mind.
It’s difficult to conceive of a group of people who have suffered, and yet survived, greater loss.
In order to comply with international law, the Home Office provides refugees, somewhat grudgingly, basic shelter, a meagre subsistence and a degree of security – the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of human need – during the asylum process. But even this basic support may be withdrawn or suspended at the whim of an immigration officer, and CLEAR advocates on behalf of those unjustly denied.
But an existence is not a life, so CLEAR applies itself to the higher levels of the Maslow model: belonging, social relationships, self-esteem and fulfilling true potential.
It is self-evident that the English language is the most important determinant of successful integration in the UK, and ensures that refugees can take full advantage of the opportunities which their new home has to offer. That’s why CLEAR puts such an emphasis on education and in particular the mastery of English.
CLEAR receives most of its funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and Southampton City Council. Occasionally, the announcement of some new funding stream for CLEAR is met with derision and disbelief in the media. We often hear the cry, “What about the homeless? The mentally ill? What about women suffering domestic violence?” and it’s true that all these areas are inadequately funded.
And this is where the language of human rights is so important.
Some of CLEAR’s clients are homeless. Some of CLEAR’s clients have mental health problems. Some of CLEAR’s clients are women suffering domestic violence. And therefore CLEAR has common cause with all third sector organisations fighting to defend human rights. A funding victory for one is a funding victory for all, and I spend much of my time networking with sister agencies in the city, constantly striving to up our game and help each other build capacity, cross-refer clients and address gaps in service provision.
The appointment of Mirjam as Volunteer Coordinator at the start of this year is a recognition of the important role volunteers play in the organisation. I see my job as increasingly to provide the framework in which volunteering can become a bigger and more effective part of what we do.
We are recruiting more volunteers strategically, integrating volunteers into every level in the organisation, expanding volunteer opportunities (into, for instance, fundraising, research and social media) and providing volunteer development and training which enables volunteers not only to increase their impact at CLEAR but also explore new areas of professional interest.
For the same reason, we always encourage our clients to volunteer, not only at CLEAR, but throughout the city. For asylum seekers, who are not permitted to work and are therefore infantilised by enforced idleness and benefit dependency, it is one of the best avenues to integration, to better command of the English language and to the world of work in the UK.
Without our volunteers, the breadth and depth of the work for which CLEAR enjoys a well-deserved high reputation would be seriously diminished.
On behalf of all the CLEAR staff and the Trustees of City Life Church, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful volunteers. Your commitment to helping our clients rebuild their shattered lives piece by piece is truly inspirational.
CLEAR Project Manager