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Church hosts refugee hub helping those in need
KADIATOU Conteh doesn’t just want to receive help as an asylum seeker. She is keen to help others in the same situation too.
So while her application to claim asylum is being processed, she’s helping to teach other refugees and asylum seekers to speak English. She’s just one of several friendly faces that aim to help those who visit the Refugee Hub, based at St Luke’s Church, Southsea.
Kadiatou (pictured above) has been in the UK for three years after fleeing from her home in Sierra Leone. She gave birth to Emma in London, and then moved to Portsmouth. She’s now joined the choir at her local Roman Catholic church.
“Emma is in pre-school for two days a week, so I want to use those days to help other people, just like I have been helped,” she said. “Some of the people we see don’t know what to write on their forms, so it’s my privilege to help them. I help the English teacher on a Monday morning.”
The Refugee Hub, based at St Luke’s church hall, is run by Portsmouth City of Sanctuary – a local charity that aims to offer a culture of hospitality to refugees and asylum seekers. Every Monday, from 10.30am-12.30pm, it offers casework support, free food and drink, English lessons, and small care packages to take away. That includes basic care items for those who are pregnant or have babies.
Citizens Advice, Harbour Church’s Vista project, the Moving On project, and City of Sanctuary caseworkers are on hand to help with legal and practical advice. They can signpost asylum seekers and refugees to other services that can help.
The Refugee Hub normally welcomes 50 or so guests each week, including families with children. Around half of them might be there to study English, in basic and more advanced classes. Sometimes they run art and craft or other activities. It has been running since October 2021.
Soma Owrahman and her husband came originally from Iraq. They have three small children and their asylum claim has now been accepted. They came to the Refugee Hub for advice about housing and child benefits.
“It is hard when you are in a new country, and everything is new to you – the language and the culture,” she said. “But Monday is a big day, as when we come here we know we can talk to someone. The volunteers are good people.”
And Ali Samirand, originally from Iran, has been in the UK for 20 years – and is convinced that what Portsmouth offers is better than other cities he has visited.
“The volunteers in Portsmouth are fantastic,” he said. “People are just looking for freedom, and I don’t think the Home Office or the NHS do enough, but every Monday I come here as they make you feel so good.”
City of Sanctuary trustee and founder member Shamila Dhana, who runs the , said: “There are around 260 people in Portsmouth who are awaiting a decision about their asylum claim, and another 80 or so are currently being accommodated at a local hotel. That includes around 20 children.
“As well as running the Refugee Hub, we also go into the hotel and provide casework and English classes there,” she said. “Among the things people struggle with are registering their children for school and applying for bus passes, which is why learning English is so important. They come from all over the world, and I hope our welcome boxes really do make them feel welcome.”
The Refugee Hub at St Luke’s is among several agencies that help and support refugees and asylum seekers in Portsmouth.
Friends Without Borders runs a welcome drop-in every Thursday from 10am-1pm at All Saints Church, Commercial Road, for any new asylum seeker, long-term asylum seeker and refugee. The charity has been running for over 25 years, supporting asylum seekers in Portsmouth.
It offers English classes, social engagements and activities and legal support. It can signpost asylum seekers to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, who attend each week, and Portsmouth MP Stephen Morgan attends monthly to assist with Home Office enquiries. For details, see www.friendswithoutborders.org.uk.