I had a lovely evening with some friends on Friday night, jamming and playing a mix of church music and folky/ pop stuff. Not sure how many evenings have included old hymns, Robin Mark songs, The Beatles, Donovan and the Indigo Girls although to be fair, I’ve probably played/sung a similar mixture with some other friends in the past. One of my hosts was clearly flagging part way through the evening, and the polite thing to do would probably have been to beat a friendly retreat. Unfortunately I was having too much fun and still had plenty of musical energy so I stayed another hour. My bad. Although I’m hoping they know me well enough by now to chuck me out if I’d really been a pain. We were on friendly terms the following day so I think I got away with it.
One of the things I really enjoyed at university was staying up late and chatting with friends, putting the world to rights and sometimes being all cultural and creative with musical jamming and impromptu Shakespeare performances. Both of these were to some extent revived last year with my culturally adventurous housemate. Happy days. I love having people round and guess I should maybe challenge someone to outstay their welcome here. If I’m keen to stay a long time elsewhere I think it’s only fair to be hospitable in return. Anyone fancy coming for dinner sometime?
Welcome is also the name of the organisation I work for part-time in Birmingham, offering hospitality to refugees and people seeking sanctuary (also called asylum seekers). We run a Drop In on a Friday and while many people just pop in for a quick lunch and a bag of food to take away, others are keen for all the support and companionship they can get and stay to the very end. It feels harsh to encourage them to leave, especially when we have been unable to help people with much that they need. Financially our resources are very limited, and sometimes our food delivery is rather low. We have a great group of dedicated volunteers whose ranks I may soon be joining. I hope we always have a friendly welcome to offer, particularly to people who have been treated shockingly both in their countries of origin and by the system here.
People from Zimbabwe are currently particularly anxious about being forcibly returned to their homeland. The UK Government decision that it is safe for them to return to Zimbabwe does not match with the experiences and fears of our friends. One woman was telling me how two people who have returned recently have been killed. In receiving invitations for my singing group to perform, I feel a bit sick thinking that half the choir may have been deported by Christmas.
Of course, I’m not saying that everyone who overstays a visa or requests asylum should automatically be welcomed to live in Britain. I do understand that there are limited resources but I don’t agree that ‘Britain is full’ as some tabloids or facebook groups maintain. The numbers of people seeking sanctuary/asylum following persecution are actually much smaller than the media would have us believe. These are the people we need to help and welcome. There are many people who would like to live in Britain, but some of these really are not safe elsewhere. Britain hosts far fewer refugees than many other countries with far fewer resources (Pakistan hosts 6 times more refugees than we do in Britain).
When it comes to opening my own home I am more conflicted. Should I offer my spare room to someone who is seeking to avoid deportation? Or someone who has been refused asylum but is in limbo since it is considered unsafe to return them to their own country? So far I have preferred the idea of other lodgers who enable me to give more financially and have the time and energy to serve through Welcome and be more strategic looking to improve services for people seeking sanctuary in Birmingham. I hope this is not just a cop-out.