‘Appalling limbo’: Manchester couple who housed 22 refugees tell their story

A married couple from Heaton Mersey have been hosting refugees since 1997, when they took in their first asylum seeker.

David and Jo Garbutt, 67 and 66 respectively, first opened up their home when they lived in a large, old semi-detatched house in Fallowfield, welcoming a young boy from Sierra Leone in 1997, upon the request of Manchester-based refugee rights charity Boaz Trust.

Over the next decade the couple hosted 20 asylum seekers, occasionally taking people in back-to-back, sometimes just for a weekend at a time.

Jo, who has a Masters in theology and claimed that ‘we need to be far more welcoming’ as a nation, told MM: “Before we began hosting, I didn’t have any set opinions about asylum seekers.

“I wasn’t hostile – I just didn’t realise that it was necessary for us to step in.

“I didn’t know that there was this appalling limbo of 10 years, sometimes, whilst they wait for the government to hear their case.

“It’s only when you have refugees and asylum seekers stay with you that you build the trust that enables them to open up about the truths of their past.

“I found that many of the refugees we had to stay were incredibly vulnerable, very withdrawn, very tearful, and very anxious to please.

“As soon as you have a refugee to stay you realise how incredibly vulnerable they are – many of them were very withdrawn, very fearful, very anxious to please.

“Even if they are not in immediate huge chaotic situations, they have had this waiting, this pressure, this stress.

“Sometimes they are very sick people, some of the girls have HIV but had no access to anti-retroviral drugs.

“For many, the quality of life is awful, it’s unbearable.

After the success of her efforts, Jo became the Hosting Coordinator at Boaz Trust.

“It was a new charity at the time and we had a lot to learn,” she said.

“We’d never know the time-scale for hosting back then, it wasn’t possible to tell how long someone might need a place.”

“We looked after a woman and her baby daughter from the Ivory Coast – of course, now I know that social services had a responsibility for them and should have stepped in.

“In my role, I would sit opposite people who wept whilst we worked out where they would go.

“Over the years there may have been as many as 50 hosts who came and went

“I was advised by a management consultant that we should make hosting the primary focus at Boaz Trust.

“The charity has houses to host people whilst they wait for decisions to be made by government.

“Two or three years ago, I handed hosting over to someone else at Boaz – they were given funding to do it successfully.”

The Garbutts’ story is increasingly pertinent, with the Syrian Refugee Crisis threatening to become a disaster of historical proportions.

In a climate where the UK government promises to take in 20,000 refugees, Dr Jonathan Darling, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester University believes that the focus should be on preparing for their arrival.

He said: “One of the challenges in the past, notably in Glasgow in the early-2000s, has been the shock due to new refugees coming in.

“It can cause real tension, so I don’t anticipate that this dispersal will be a quick process. We need to prepare communities for the arrival of refugees.”

However, over the last two weeks, Boaz Trust has received approximately 55 emails and 30 phone calls from people showing an interest in hosting refugees.

The charity has currently found accommodation for about 60 asylum seekers and it is also one of few charities in Manchester actively promoting hosting.

Boaz Trust Chief Executive, Mrs Ros Holland, said: “We work with people who, usually, no one else cares about.

“But in the last few weeks, we have received dozens of calls from people, up in North Scotland all the way down to the South Coast, telling us that they want to host a refugee.

“Much of the interest has come from people in the Manchester area.”

Home Office Immigration Statistics show that between 2006 and the end of June 2015, there were 21,604 pending cases of people seeking asylum in the UK.

To put this in context, that figure almost totals the population of Cheetham Hill.

The 20,000 refugees who are brought to the UK will undergo a resettlement process, but Dr Darling criticised the UK asylum system, stating that waiting times are too long and the money afforded to asylum seekers is too little.

“As asylum seekers arrive from Syria, they will be placed in temporary housing while the Home Office makes decisions about their status,” he said.

“There is a two-part screening process whereby the most vulnerable refugees will be selected from camps.

“The UK Government will then take refugees through its own screening.

“After travelling to the UK on a flight or by boat, there will be a short period where they remain in London, to go through integration procedures, before being passed onto authorities across the UK to receive help for more specialist requirements, such as mental health or educational needs.”

To host someone who has already arrived in the UK and is seeking refuge, click here

To host a refugee from Syria, you can register your interest here.

Related Articles