Asylum Seekers in Solihull

13th January 2015 - by James Fleming

Father Jim Fleming SSC
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Fr. Jim Fleming SSC works at Solihull Welcome on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is an ecumenical support group for asylum seekers who visit the Home Office building nearby.

The Asylum seekers are offered hospitality, refreshments, clothes and toys as well as being pointed towards relevant immigration agencies.

I had offered him a cup of tea or coffee. He thanked me and walked on. Suddenly he stopped, turned around, came back to me and said: “You offered me a gift so I now want to offer you a gift”. Then he opened his wallet and pulled out a picture of an icon of Virgin and Child. “That’s for you” he said, “remember me in your prayers”. I asked him his name. “Adam” he responded. I asked him where his Eve was and he pointed to the Virgin – “my only Eve” he said. Finally he reflected, “Remember we Ethiopians were among the first converts to Christianity”. It was a lovely encounter and I thank Solihull Welcome for enabling me to experience it.

In fact it was one of many such special moments I’ve had since volunteering with Solihull Welcome. Another was when I met a young woman from Pakistan who, upon hearing that I had worked in her country for many years and spoke Urdu, confided in me her story of being tortured and raped by her husband and in-laws because she had not given birth to a baby boy. Already she had three daughters but no son. It reminded me of so many similar instances which I encountered while in Pakistan where the woman was always blamed for either not giving birth at all or giving birth only to girls. Thankfully, in this case, she managed to escape and now awaits full sanctuary.

Another interesting encounter I had was with Mhd Javed who invited me to attend a Muslim prayer meeting in Handsworth. Upon arriving I realised that I would witness my first ever Sufi prayer service. The group sat cross-legged in a circle (hence not facing Mecca) and spent the following hour chanting verses from the Q’uran while all the while moving their heads and hands to the rhythm. For me it was a very spiritual experience as Sufism is the mystical expression of Islam – something frowned upon by Sunni Muslims and yet obviously flourishing here in the UK. Afterwards, we were all treated to a delicious meal and they extended a warm welcome to me to accompany them on their monthly visit to Bradford where thousands of Sufis worship together into the night.
It is easy to forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees. St. Matthew tells us that they were forced to flee into Egypt to escape Herod. They must have experienced many of the same fears as the asylum seekers who arrive in Britain today. As they escaped with their small child to a strange country they, too, must have felt lonely and isolated as they tried to adapt to living with people who spoke a language they did not understand, who ate unfamiliar food and whose ways of living were different to their own. What would happen if Mary and Joseph were asylum seekers in Britain today?
Reflecting on Black Friday
Today as I stood outside the Home Office building in Solihull I witnessed the longest queue I’ve ever seen in that place – asylum seekers of all ages and from many different countries lining up to report their presence to Home Office officials. waiting alongside her in the cold and mist. In the cold of the day it was a pitiable sight to observe the fear and dread on the faces of people whose past was so miserable and whose future in this country so uncertain. Among those in the queue was a woman who was very distraught as she had been told to bring along her personal belongings when signing on today. Her fear was grounded in the fact that so many who have come to sign on at this building have been taken into detention from here. Today was truly Black Friday for her and the others. Meanwhile, not far away, the frenzy of shoppers flocking to the stores was tangible and overwhelming as they vied with each other for the best bargains. Many of these too were in queues, lining up to spend money on merchandise – some of which they could ill afford and a lot of which they may never use.
Thank goodness every day is not Black Friday!