How a local community organised itself as a safety net for some of society’s most vulnerable

David Hirst of BIRCH Network explains the bleak reality many refugees face after being denied asylum (although around 30% of cases are overturned) – and how since 2011 his local community has stepped in to help those in desperate need.

The reality of claiming asylum in the UK

Many refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK find themselves destitute (no housing, no money and with no right to work) because their initial claim for asylum has been refused. This is irrespective of the fact that these individuals are gathering evidence to overturn their asylum refusal.

Initial decisions by the Home Office are notoriously poor. According to charities working with refugees in the UK between a quarter and a third of all initial refusals are over turned on appeal; around 30% of those initial refusal decisions are wrong.

Claiming asylum is an extremely stressful process. Many individuals will suffer from depression. Asylum seekers need to find a solicitor who can provide sufficient hours of advice – and the applicant seeking sanctuary must provide evidence that their life is in danger and need protection under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.

Once the initial claim is refused the asylum seeker loses their accommodation. Some fortunate individuals will manage to find shelter by sofa surfing. Many though, are isolated individuals who are vulnerable to exploitation.

Birmingham Community Hosting Network (BIRCH): A community-based solution

In 2011, a small group of local residents working with refused refugees identified that something needed to be done to challenge this situation where people were becoming destitute. Some of these residents opened up their homes and created a network of volunteers who offered space to those in need.

These volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds: “empty nesters”, those whose children had grown up and left home; retired people and working people; single people; traditional families with young children; people of faith and people without religious faith.

Opening your home to a stranger can be very scary – so BIRCH employ a part-time worker to administer referrals, offer guidance to potential hosts and find a suitable match. Training days are offered to anyone who is interested in volunteering to host or befriend.

Making a real difference to vulnerable peoples’ lives

The value of this voluntary action is that the hosting network offers a place of real safety to those trying to actively sort out their immigration status. Volunteers will offer a space in their house on a temporary basis (a minimum of two weeks and no longer than 12 months).

An agreement is negotiated between volunteer host and potential guest. The majority of BIRCH guests are referred by Refugee Charities based in Birmingham and the West Midlands, with spaces are provided for individual men and women.

Since starting this project BIRCH has provided 7431 nights of accommodation to people who would otherwise be homeless or destitute.

Testimonies from hosts and guests

“BIRCH found me a room to live in. I feel safe.”

“It’s is really rewarding that you can have a positive impact people in on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

“It is very rewarding as we have given someone an opportunity to live in a stable, loving home where they are cared about whilst they are going through a traumatic and difficult time in their lives.”

“In offering hospitality you receive so much in return!”

Get involved

To find out more

Contact if you are interested in becoming a host.


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