21 years assisting refugees and asylum seekers
These few words were delivered by NDRC chairman Father Paul Walsh at the Friends reception in March 20th 2017
“Welcome to you all on this special occasion.
2017 is an important Anniversary year for Notre Dame Refugee Centre – 21 years since we started assisting refugees and asylum seekers and 10 years since we became a charity.
The Notre Dame Refugee Centre was started in the context of the UK government announcing in late 1995 its intention to introduce a new act to further regulate and limit immigration. The terms of the Bill, in the context of an already difficult climate for asylum seekers, provoked an unprecedented response from the Faith Communities, immigrant centres and bodies involved in offering services to refugees and immigrants. A The Notre Dame Refugee Centre opened on a shoe-string budget, in very cramped quarters, and an extraordinary group of volunteers, both asylum-seekers and other parishioners, and the services of a highly qualified advice worker The Centre has grown and grown And in just a minute we will launch the new film on the current work of the Centre.
Before doing so, however, I would like to share with you a personal story that had a huge impact on me ,and that allows me to pay tribute to one of the great people who were there at the very first beginnings of NDRC. Sadly it is all too reminiscent of stories we could tell of ou current visitors – it seems very little may have changed in over two decades.
Agosto Katumua, was born in Angola, taking refuge in Zaire (as it was at the time) as a child with his parents and the rest of the family, growing up there, and becoming a professor of architecture in a university in Zaire. With some other leading Angolan émigrés, Agusto elaborated a plan for the reconstruction of Angola after the civil war in that country. The opposition party in Angola demanded that the plan be given to them. When this was refused, the Zairian police were used to arrest and imprison the members of the group. Agosto and his family managed to escape – he and his eldest son to Britain; his wife and 6 of their children to the Netherlands.
I had helped Agosto to open a bank account. At the time, asylum seekers were given a very small living allowance. Agosto wished to keep it safe, and to try to save something to buy Christmas presents for his wife and children He declared his tiny savings; his allowance was stopped, and he was ordered to close the account, as he was not entitled to save money on what was meant as an emergency subsistence allowance. He complied. His flat was subsequently burgled, and the money was taken from its hiding place. Agosto asked me to accompany him to the social welfare offices to see if he could have his allowance reinstated. ….
Our theme tonight is ‘The Asylum Journey – more than one story’ It is my great pleasure to introduce 5 speakers who will each address the theme from their own experience and then take questions and comments.