‘Carriers of Hope’ is a Coventry-based charity dedicated to helping asylum seekers, refugees and Eastern European migrants. Julia Faire speaks to the founder, Sue Sampson.
“SOME years ago, I was working for Coventry City Council where I chaired a group working with asylum seekers and refugees. One day one of the city health visitors came to me and broke down in tears because she had visited a mum who was using rags to cover her baby’s bottom as she had no money for nappies. The mum was an asylum seeker. The health visitor wept. She couldn’t help her: the woman had no recourse to public funds.”
According to the charity Barnardo’s, at present 3.7 million children are living in poverty in the UK. That’s over a quarter of all children. 1.7 million of the children are living in severe poverty. A significant number of these children are from refugee families.
In the summer of 2015, allowances paid to asylum seeker families were slashed. The Refugee Council of the UK described the cuts as “utterly appalling” – particularly as parents in such families are not allowed to work.
“We suspect the only place that families can live on this amount of money is in the imagination of government ministers,” the Council’s Policy Officer, Judith Dennis, said.
Sue continues her story: “Using rags in place of nappies? This can’t be right! I realised then that there was a whole group of people living in our city who are excluded from public money.”
“I knew if people heard of the plight of women like this refugee, they would help. In Christmas 2004, I sent out an appeal – ‘the Nappy Appeal!’ – aimed at Coventry churches and my contacts at Coventry City Council. The nappies that were purchased and collected following the appeal were distributed to centres working with asylum seekers.
“In Christmas 2005 we launched the second Nappy Appeal. I realised by this time that it was not only nappies that were needed. I branched out and encouraged everyone who wanted to donate to fill a carrier bag with essentials – and so we became known as ‘Carriers of Hope’.
“In 2008 I retired from my job at Coventry City Council. Meanwhile, my attention had been drawn to a verse in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament: “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10: 17-19). When I read this, I knew what God was saying to me: retirement released me to work with asylum seekers.
“In 2011, Carriers of Hope became a registered charity. We receive donated items and give them to families: adult and children’s clothes, school uniforms, books and baby equipment. Last year we distributed 60 ‘baby bags’ containing items for newborn babies and their mums for their stay in hospital. Over the past 12 months we have worked with 200 families. We also have a Furniture Project and have distributed 34 double beds in the last six months.
“Every Tuesday morning in term-time, Carriers of Hope runs a group: ‘Circle of Friends’: 50 volunteers (most of whom are ex-clients, mostly asylum seekers and refugees) meet at Hillfields Evangelical Church in Coventry along with over 100 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – mainly women with their pre-school children. We provide a warm welcome, any support needed and refreshments. We also have a ‘free shop’ where people can collect basic things for nothing. Most of the items that we distribute are recycled – People give them to us and we pass them on to people who need them. Some of our clients return items like pushchairs when they have finished with them.
“Over the years, our ‘circle of friends’ have come from 45 different countries. Recently, we’ve met many Roma people in dire straits with no regular income.”
In September, Coventry City Council stated it was ready to open its arms and welcome 2000 refugees from Syria. The comment on Carriers of Hope Facebook page was:
“More families for Carriers of Hope to love, with your help.”
Check out more about Carriers of Hope at www.carriersofhope.org.uk and if you’d like to help, here’s some things they need:
In summer 2015 the allowances for asylum seekers per week were cut as follows: