Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Mad the Bad and the Sad (British Red Cross Refugee Unit Away Day)

Normally, I work at head office but for one day only I got a chance to personally immerse myself in the work of the British Red cross Refugee Unit.

This is my away day.

"Would you take a look at this case. He's just come out of prison and is homeless"

"Why was he in prison"

"Indecent assault, he sexually assaulted a woman."


"He's been badly affected by what happened to him in Somalia."

"You mean he's mentally ill. What do we do for such people in the Red Cross."

"Nothing - we don't offer psychiatric help."

"I bet he has post traumatic stress disorder"

"Anyway look on the net and see if you can find a solicitor that does legal aid work that can help him. He still thinks that he was innocent and picked on because he was a refugee."

"OK, I'll google it."

It was the hottest day of the year. The air was thick and oppressive. The office reminded me of countless boring back offices that answer invoice queries and send out bills for electricity.

The full time worker that greeted me, smartly dressed in fashionable top and skirt, radiated passion and commitment.

The government didn't care. The public were hostile. The Red Cross gave out food stamps and phoned around for accommodation and free legal help.

It was grim.

I sat in on an interview of an Eritrean refugee.

He wanted money. He had previously got a council house for himself, wife and 3 children under 5. The Red Cross worker patronised him, explaining to him like a child that he would have to fill in a new application to the Social Security.

The interview dragged on. You could see he felt violated by having to tell the young female worker about his personal circumstances. Several times he became very agitated and angry. When the interview concluded he warmly thanked me for being there as if I was some long lost brother. He found it difficult to believe that I was not from his part of Africa.

I enjoyed the heat and sweated buckets. The day passed very quickly. I really felt that I had made a difference and experienced life at the sharp end. Now I knew what the Red Cross was really about.

Refugee services - true stories:
Every year, the British Red Cross helps thousands of refugees and asylum seekers adjust to a new life in a new country>>>