Asylum seekers and refugees with nowhere else to turn come to Dalston's Red Cross centre - here's what goes on inside
PUBLISHED: 12:27 18 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:06 25 April 2019
Ever wondered what goes on inside that big Red Cross building on the corner of Dalston Lane and Graham Road? Us too. We step inside to find out about its vital work - and how your sponsorship in the Hackney Half could help.
Inside the Red Cross Destitution Resource Centre in Dalston Lane, we meet an asylum seeker from Ghana who's been waiting for 19 years for the Home Office to approve his claim.
John Kofi, whose father was killed in a random act of violence, fled his village as a child to avoid the same fate.
He first applied for asylum in the UK in 2000 and is yet to hear from the home office.
“You can't make a claim in London [if you have been refused once],” he said. “You need to go all the way to [Liverpool], which costs a lot of money.
“If you are an asylum seeker you cannot work, so you have no source of income but I had no choice.
“I wanted to make a home here so I worked as a preacher to earn enough money to hire a lawyer.
“He was from Ghana also. He took all my money and signed me up for a scheme I was not eligible for, and again I'm left with nothing.
“That's when I started coming to Red Cross. They helped me out a lot.”
The centre in Dalston Lane – recognisable by the large logo painted on its outside wall – is the only one of its kind in London that not only provides basic necessities for those in need of help like John, but also organises activities to help asylum seekers socialise and learn practical skills.
Services manager Gloria Ho said: “We are open three days a week and people come here to have breakfast and lunch and sometimes just to have a nap because they see this as a safe place.
“We also organise computer classes, sewing classes and other activities which they can take part in. We have three full time staff working here and the rest are volunteers and benefactors who are keen to lend a helping hand.”
The centre helps about 500 different people annually, but workers there also see a lot of familiar faces who have been visiting for years.
Jane Doe [not her real name] came to the UK in 2009 after fleeing a difficult situation in Pakistan. She applied for asylum but her application was rejected. The Red Cross stepped in to support Jane while she was making a fresh claim, about which she is very hopeful.
“When you enter this country as a refugee, the Home Office only provides assistance for three months,” she said.
“They give you £46 per month to live on and even that stops when the three months are up.
“Without charities like Red Cross, so many people like me would not be able to survive.
“The one in Angel handles my case but I like this centre better because of all other things you can do.
“Most of all everyone here is very kind – they take the time to sit down and talk to you and treat you nicely.”
Suleiman is another regular at the centre who has been in the UK for 17 years after leaving Nigeria in search of a more stable life when his business collapsed.
He overstayed his visa and is holding on to cross the 20-year benchmark after which he will be eligible for citizenship.
“I [could] be deported,” he said, “but I'm prepared for that. I don't do anything illegal so I shouldn't have trouble with the police.
“I can't work because I don't have documents, so I rely on places like Red Cross to get by. But it's gotten so much better since I started living with the family.”
The centre makes sure he is fed and has things to do. Suleiman tells the Gazette he is here “illegally” – but that's not quite true, Gloria says, because everyone who uses the Red Cross is known to the Home Office. He has no means of returning to Nigeria and the government has not tried to deport him.
The British Red Cross is part of a global network of crisis response charities. You'll often see it among the first on the ground in war zones and after natural disasters but it also does a lot of work in the UK, both for British and foreign nationals. It prides itself on helping people regardless of their background.
To help them do just that, workers are hoping to fundraise a bit of extra cash for the centre, on the corner of Graham Road, so they can issue travel passes to those who want to take part in activities but can't afford to travel.
That's why activities co-ordinator Yeri Al-Jaf – as part of a Red Cross team – will take on the Hackney Half for the charity next month.
“People come to us from all over London, including the suburbs, to receive food parcels or join an activity,” she said, “but currently we can only provide them with two single bus tickets per week.
“That's not much if you're travelling from Harrow to Dalston. We want to help more people to access our space.”
Yeri hopes people in Hackney might sponsor her, or be inspired to run the race themselves. Donate at justgiving.com/fundraising/yerijaf or sign up at redcross.org.uk/hackneyhalf