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Ipswich helps a young person find sanctuary

Ipswich City of Sanctuary group is involved with an initiative known simply as ‘It’s Tuesday’. The commitment, however, goes far beyond Tuesday, as this story of one of their young asylum seekers (known here as K to protect his identity) illustrates.

K was arrested at the Police Station in Ipswich whilst innocently signing his name which is required by every Asylum Seeker in Britain. K was then taken to Tinsley House at Gatwick Airport to be sent back to Afghanistan. Why? There was a dispute over his age- was he a child, 17 years or an adult 18 years?

The disbelief and shock of the brutality of this swift move travelled fast through the City of Sanctuary networks and very quickly people were turning to prayer.

A child, scared and vulnerable with no real place to call home, yet he had a community who cared deeply for his wellbeing and safety.

The community came into contact with several unaccompanied Asylum Seeker children as a result of a group run at St John’s United Reformed Church in Ipswich called ‘It’s Tuesday’. ‘It’s Tuesday’ was a place of welcome and safety where people could come and practice using the English language as well as learning how to read and write.

The elders of the Church were shaken that K had been detained and soon Ministers from across Ipswich were made aware of this news. At the forefront of three different Churches prayer were prayers for K.

Many families stepped forward and asked if they could take K in and give him a room in their homes. Others started to write letters to the Home Office to plead on his behalf.

All this buzzing activity amongst the concerned community was described as ‘gold dust’ by one person who heard of the response that had come about. The only reason why this compassion and concern was so strong was because people had been in direct contact with the Asylum Seeker children and had formed caring and respectful relationships that were really very special. The people involved had gained so much from being in contact with the children. For one it was a joy to see young boys wanting to learn English. On the first day that St John’s were running the initial welcome to ‘It’s Tuesday’, the Church had 15 boys lined up outside before the elders had a chance to open up the premises. This was a wonderful chance for the community to see what a huge demand there was for English and it was refreshing to see young people determined to make their lives better; to learn and grow.

It wasn’t a surprise that this bond grew so strongly between members of the Church and the boys from Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan. These children had something special; a survival instinct so strong inside of them as well as an extremely polite and respectful nature.

We heard how unstable and violent their countries were and learned of the devastating and brutal deaths of their parents and other family members and friends. Some boys fled when they were 12 years old. Trying to imagine this horrific situation that they had faced was hard, as it was not part of our reality and sad because we could see the pain in their eyes. Although the boys had experienced such distressing traumas, they seemed to have this strong spirit which rubbed off onto the members of the Church and just gave a wonderful energy to the project.

K’s Solicitor had been in touch to say that his plane ticket was booked for departure however K was to be age-assessed before he left and he needed an adult to be present whilst this took place. I offered to act as his ‘adult’ whilst he was age-assessed.

Although the week before, K had been visited by a Doctor who did a physical examination and agreed that he was a child of 17 years this second age assessment had to take place.
Whilst waiting for the assessment, I spoke with his translator and asked how the assessment worked. The translator said that the process can take all day and the assessors from the Council assess age based on how someone answers questions and what his eye contact and body language is like. If K, for example, holds slightly more eye contact in a particular circumstance when a question is presented to him then they will say that he is holding eye contact as an adult would. I was shocked at the nature of the assessment. The translator then went on to say that if they decide that K is not a child he will be put straight onto his flight and he will not be able to object to this and if he struggles in any way he will be sedated.

After an exhausting 8 hours of questions the assessors finally agreed that K was in fact a child. He was released the same day and came home with me. He was not released until 9:30pm although his assessment was finalised by 5:30pm. By midnight we reached Ipswich and we were both exhausted and relived as were the community. Both he and I felt the tremendous support of a community that have come to be his family in all he is going through – a community determined to be a place of sanctuary for people like K.