There are definitely daffodils. It is definitely spring. We are now a charity. Our charity number is 1171590. We are in the process of registering for the gift aid scheme with the HMRC. If you are a UK taxpayer, we will soon be able to help you “minimise your tax liabilities”. (Actually, I think it is more complicated than that. I think it’s only of benefit to you if you are paying top rate tax. It is definitely a benefit to us. We will get loads of money).
The other good news is that we have a new house, rented at commercial rates, in Brighton. When we dreamed up this project, that’s what we wanted to do (actually, we wanted to find a landlord that would give us a cosy deal, but that was more of a pipedream). I am glad that the dream has caught so many people’s imagination. You really are making enormous difference to people’s lives.
The value of the project, and projects like it, is only going to grow in the coming years. More and more people are putting their energies and financial resources behind making this country a place where the public realm is ruled by compassion, yet the powers that be are further restricting forced migrants access to society.
It has slipped a little bit under the radar, but on the ninth, the Home Office decided that people who had been granted refugee status would no longer automatically be entitled to indefinite leave to remain after five years. Under the old system, if you were granted protection as a refugee, then, unless you had engaged in criminal activity, you would, after five years, on application, be granted an indefinite right to remain.
(You might well have noticed, as it was more widely reported , that Indefinite Leave to Remain doesn’t actually mean what it says. It turns out you can lose your leave if you go abroad for more than two years). Under the new system, when you apply for settlement, the Home Office will review your need for protection. If, in their view, things have changed, they will seek to return you to your country of origin. It is compatible with our commitments under the Refugee Convention, but it is mean-spirited in the extreme. When you seek refuge, it’s because you can no longer face the struggle to survive in your country of origin. By and large, you set off for somewhere new because you want to start again. You need freedom from persecution, but it comes at a high price: exile. You make that choice, in part, because you want to start afresh and build something different in your adopted country. The very least we can do is give you that chance. You can find more information about the new policy on the excellent freemovement.org.uk)
To make things worse, when the government seeks to deport you, they have a nasty habit of looking you up in immigration detention. As I’m sure you know, there is no time limit on immigration detention, and, as we know from bitter experience, huge numbers of people who end up in detention end up there for years, because, although the UK claims that you have no right to be here, there is nowhere else that you have a right to be either. In these sort of cases, a judge eventually bails you from detention and you are left in the shadow world, without the right to any form of support, access to the job market and totally dependent on projects like thousand 4 1000.
One of the interesting features of all this is that it is so hard to challenge. There are apparently impersonal systems in place that function without prejudice to make life miserable for people from minority groups. They also, for all their faults, hold out the promise that decisions are made on a rational basis, but even if the system was designed to meet its stated aims, so that, for example, the UK’s statelessness procedures were trying to identify those who were here and have nowhere else to go, the system would be bound to fail, as people’s lives are not rational. (As this excellent report statelessness.eu makes clear, the policy is in fact designed to find that you’re not stateless.)
Why do I bring this up? Well, perhaps because of a surfeit of Kafka and Arendt, I have always been suspicious of bureaucracies. However, reviewing the successes and failures of our first house, has opened my eyes, at least, to the complexity of the situation. For starters, there is an enormous power discrepancy between those of us who are settled here with no risk of deportation, and those of who are without any status. (Even insisting on the ‘us’ here is somewhat disingenuous.) If you are totally reliant on other people to meet your needs, you are very much at their mercy. In Interpersonal relationships, in relationships based on love, as Gillian Rose insists, “there is no democracy… only mercy”. The problem being that, “in personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a unilateral and fundamental change in the terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change”. That’s not true in public, professional relations. Here there are negotiable contracts backed up by the power of authority. That power may be legitimate or illegitimate, but, as
Arendt insists, it is not brute, mute force. That power flows from some more or less legitimate structural features. So, if you are subject to another’s authority you do not need to rely on that person being merciful. Instead, when you are wronged, you have the right to seek redress.
We have always insisted that this project is led by the needs of the people you are housing. I, at least, have been naive in how to achieve that. I have tried to deal with the problems that have arisen in the house on an interpersonal basis. It is certainly not been a failure, but it has been unfair on the people we have been supporting. The key structural feature of our situation is that the residents are totally dependent on us. To force them to rely on goodwill only reinforces their vulnerability. We can change the conditions of the relation at any time, they cannot. To rectify this, we have prepared for the new home by overhauling our policies, procedures and working practices. I am hoping that as the residents bed into their new home and the project grows, we will at least manage to make different mistakes. What I am confident about is that together, out of our small change, we can continue to find homes for the most marginalised and build a society where there truly is space for all.