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Refugees: the stories behind the headlines 

Dave Smith is the founder of a Christian organisation serving destitute asylum seekers. He explains why he was compelled to tell their stories 

 

Refugee storiesTwo years ago I wrote a book entitled The Book of Boaz. It chronicled the history of the Boaz Trust, a Christian charity based in Manchester that accommodates destitute asylum seekers, which I founded back in 2004.

The book included a number of short insights into the problems encountered by those we had met, as they tried to navigate an asylum system that is at best cold and functional, and at worst heartless and immoral.
 
The Book of Boaz sold reasonably well and got good reviews, yet barely made a dent in the national ignorance about asylum in the UK. I suppose that’s hardly surprising, as media coverage is predominantly anti-immigrant and often misleading or blatantly untrue.

As I thought about some of the people featured in the book, I realised that they had never, in all their time in the UK, had an opportunity to properly tell their stories. The Home Office interview procedure is more like an interrogation than a dialogue, and does not afford them that opportunity. If their asylum claim is subsequently turned down, their sense of frustration and injustice can be so strong that it can destroy their self-confidence and lead to severe depression.

 


I realised that they had never, in all their time in the UK, had an opportunity to properly tell their stories.


 
That is what led to the book Refugee Stories. I wanted, above all, to give those I had met the opportunity they had never had. I also wanted to show the British public exactly why some of these people have fled their homelands, how they made the journey here, and how they have been treated in the UK.

I chose seven people who were willing to relive the horrors of the past and let me in to their amazing stories. I knew them all from working at Boaz or my previous charity, The Mustard Tree. I went to visit them in their homes, took a voice recorder with me, and recorded their stories. Then I wrote them up, tweaked some of the English where necessary, and clarified a few points, but they are very much their stories. I just had the privilege of being the first to hear them.
 
I had barely finished the second story when the death of Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach made the headlines across the world. Suddenly every media outlet wanted to talk to refugee organisations. Boaz had more media requests in two weeks than it had had in the previous 11 years! All at once the part-finished book was going to be relevant, and I began to accelerate the writing to get it published before the goodwill of the public began to dissipate. The release date is now 20 June, which is coincidentally (or not!) World Refugee Day.
 
There are no Syrians featured in the book – not that I didn’t want to include them, but I actually don’t know any! There are very few in Manchester, and most of them are granted asylum, so they don’t become destitute.

I chose people from six different countries: four men, three women. Two were brought up in a Christian culture. The others were all Muslims of one type or another. All had been refused asylum here and made destitute, and all were eventually able to put in a fresh asylum claim. Six have gone on to receive refugee status, and are all integrated into society and contributing to the British economy in some way. Just to show that it is not always a happy ending, I interviewed one who, after ten years, is still here, but refused and destitute.
 
Two of the Muslims had their lives transformed as they came to faith in Jesus, primarily through meeting Christians who cared about them and treated them as the Bible says we should in Hebrews 13:2.

Mary, from Iran, is one. Her story is one of almost unbelievable tragedy: caught up in two wars, losing her parents and husband one after the other, and abused by her tyrannical second husband. Then came a desperate flight in the back of lorries across Europe, destitution, a serious illness and a spell in asylum detention in the UK. You would think Mary would be the most bitter of women. Far from it, she radiates peace and love. Such is the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
 
Kundai’s story is very different, but also shows the power of God to transform lives. It was only after she had reached rock bottom, homeless and on the streets of Manchester, that Zimbawean Kundai’s life began to change. She was pointed towards the Boaz Trust, accommodated with a Christian family, then found a wider family in the Church.

Now she is reunited with her daughter and grandchild, and putting back far more into the UK than she ever took out, not just in taxes but in voluntary service, providing a delicious meal for the elderly every week from the church building.
 
Refugee Stories is published by Instant Apostle on 20 June 2016 (ISBN 978-1-909728-48-6, RRP £9.99) and is available from bookshops and online retailers.


Dave Smith is the founder of the Boaz Trust, a Christian charity based in Manchester that accommodates destitute asylum seekers

 

Click here for extracts from Refugee Stories

 
 

 

Baptist Times, 17/06/2016
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