A discreet but life-changing organisation dedicated to making our area a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers has just earned charitable status.
Thanks to the support of a network of roughly 150 people across West Sussex, since 2016 Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC) has offered activities based around inclusivity, collaboration and transparency and has now evolved into a charity.
SiC founding chair Roger Pask said: “We applied for charitable status last June, but it has taken far too long to gain this status - but all’s well that ends well. This marks an exciting and challenging new stage in our work. It means we can apply for grants from a much wider range of grant-making charitable trusts to help with our ambitious plans.”
Roger said: “We aspire to develop an international centre in Chichester that would promote reconciliation, peace, hope, truth and justice and would house some of our neediest refugees and asylum-seekers - so this opens the way to some aspects of that hope. We shall also now be able to apply for gift aid on a significant number of the donations we have received over the past three years. This could be worth between £5,000 and £10,000 to us - which will help us to do an even better job.”
The charity has also been trying to work with some refugees who are Appeal Rights Exhausted: “These are people whose claim has been rejected, but can’t be returned to their own country because they would be likely to be killed, tortured or imprisoned. Some of them can make a fresh claim in the light of new evidence, but all of them face destitution in the meantime - they can’t work, are not entitled to benefits, have nowhere to live. Their state is dire and inhumane and the process they go through to re-apply is often hostile and humiliating. They desperately need our help.”
Roger welcomed the ‘immense support and compassion’ shown by people from all walks of life.
To this end, this February the charity was given a cheque for £690 by the Friends of St John’s, Chichester, raised at three musical events in the autumn.
Roger said: “The Friends of St John’s have been strong supporters of what we do. I and all our volunteers are very appreciative of this support.”
At 79, Roger is stepping down as chair, so SiC is looking for a replacement to co-ordinate and consolidate SiC’s wide-ranging work.
To find out more, see sanctuaryinchichester.org
A home for nowhere people
One key element of Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC)’s services is its regular weekly drop-in facility for refugees and asylum seekers.
Its aim? To provide a welcome for all, as well as a place where volunteers can meet each other, and members receive formal language tuition and conversation over a cup of tea and share food together.
SiC founding chair Roger Pask said: “Recently, two Syrian families cooked and served falafel for the rest of us.
“The preparing of the tables, washing up and putting away are all opportunities for happy conversation.”
The befriending teams also arrange regular half-term and school holiday outings, such as a trip to Slindon Pumpkin Farm in the autumn.
Roger said: “This is particularly for the families with young children who may find holidays a difficult time, with no immediate family around for support.”
For the last couple of years, ‘Hamza’, a young Syrian man, has benefitted from the support of SiC’s befriending and language tuition teams, who provide comprehensive support for Syrian families.
Hamza had no option but to cut short his medical studies and escape a desperate situation in Syria.
He, along with his parents, was granted humanitarian protection status and came to the UK via the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme - ultimately finding himself in Chichester. Today, he has just graduated in medical studies overseas, with the ultimate goal of practising in this country as a doctor specialising in cardiology.
Challenges for Hamza and his parents ranged from learning English and making friends to understanding how the country operates, transport systems and the weather.
He said: “Everything was different, but the community here is lovely and helpful. Two years on, I’ve made friends, especially at Sanctuary in Chichester.
“I’d like to say a very big thank you to England and its people. They offered me a new home after being a ‘nowhere man’. Now I have a future - I’m really glad to be a doctor and give something back to this wonderful country which has given us a life.”
Roger said: “This young man is a marvellous example of how richly we as a society are being rewarded for the kindness and compassion of people in Chichester.”