The Portsmouth organisation that guarantees a warm welcome to the city for asylum seekers at their lowest ebb

For asylum seekers who arrive in Portsmouth with nothing to their name, existence can be bleak.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 11:00 am
Updated Friday, 13th December 2019, 1:57 pm
Chairman of Friends Without Borders, Michael Woolley outside All Saints Church, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

But one Portsmouth-based charity – which will be benefiting from The News Comfort and Joy Campaign this year – is working to make a difference to their lives.

Friends Without Borders, which was founded in 1994, supports the 200 asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants dispersed by the Home Office with their drop-in services at All Saints Church in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

Chairman Michael Woolley said: ‘We are Christians who are mostly helping young Muslims.

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‘We open our doors every Monday and Thursday to create a social space for asylum seekers to enjoy and also offer them drinks and food, as well as other services.’

When asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants arrive in the UK, they have to go through a long interview process with an immigration officer. Only one in three are granted the right to live in the UK then and most go on to appeal that decision if they have been denied.’

Michael, 75, said: ‘It can take up to six months for an appeal to go to court – we help them during that period. A lot of asylum seekers are twiddling their thumbs.

‘They arrive in Portsmouth, live in a bedsit, are given £37 per week and are granted legal aid by a lawyer.

‘Forty per cent get granted asylum from appeal.’

Michael explains that on £37 per week, many of them can’t afford very much so the social space at All Saints Church provides them with something to do and meet others who are in similar situations.

He adds: ‘We try and give bags of food when we can and also domestic advice, such as how to pay bills. For people who don’t know the area or can’t speak English, it can be very confusing.’

The charity also has close links with the Red Cross which provides advice and free bicycles.

Friends Without Borders has benefited from the £5 supermarket vouchers donated by the public as part of The News Comfort and Joy Campaign for a number of years, but Michael says they are as important as ever.

Michael explains: ‘For people who don’t have very much, the vouchers help them a lot. Christmas can be a very bleak time of year.

‘They come from very distressing situations and have made very difficult journeys.

‘You can’t leave people to rot in utter poverty. It’s very important to help others.’

THE COMFORT AND JOY CAMPAIGN

Tesco stores in Fratton, Cosham, Fareham and Crasswell Street, Portsmouth, have taken in The News Comfort and Joy Christmas campaign letterboxes so members of public can post their £5 vouchers.

The News Comfort and Joy Campaign, which launched at the end of November, works in partnership with Churches Homeless Action to provide gift vouchers for the city’s most vulnerable individuals at Christmas.

The campaign will benefit 11 local charities who support those who are homeless, recovering from addiction, victims of domestic abuse, seeking asylum and struggling families.

Those charities are:

- Catherine Booth House (The Salvation Army): Providing support for homeless families – (023) 9273 6544

- Friends Without Borders: Support for asylum seekers whilst their applications are processed – (023) 9283 9222

- Hope House (Two Saints): Provides night beds for rough sleepers – 01329 234600

- Portsmouth Churches Housing Association: Runs three hostels for the homeless young families and single women – (023) 9229 7877

- Portsmouth Foyer and All Saints Hostel (Two Saints): Supported accommodation for young people – (023) 9236 0001

- The Roberts Centre: Supports over 1000 families in the Portsmouth area – (023) 9229 6919

- Society of St James: Outreach work with homeless people not engaging with other services and a day centre – (023) 9286 1423

- Stop Domestic Abuse: Provides emergency respite for women and children – (023) 9248 0246

- St Simon’s Church: Provides Sunday suppers and support for homeless people – (023) 9282 9440

- Two Saints: For homeless people in Fareham, Gosport, Havant and Portsmouth – 01329 234600

- The LifeHouse: A drop-in for people whose lives are affected by homelessness and addiction, offering hot meals and clothing – 07713 198 045

To get involved, simply buy a Christmas card and write a message – but do not put your name or address.

Purchase a £5 supermarket gift card and put it into the card, but do not seal the envelope.

Then, place in a large envelope (seal this one) and place in a Tesco store post box or send to Deanery Office, St Faith's Church, Crasswell Street, Portsmouth, PO1 1HT to arrive before December 17.

The letterboxes will also be in stores until December 17 and then will be handed to the eleven charities at a carol service at St Mary’s Church, Fratton, on December 20.