All posts by LAadmin

Read our latest annual report!

Our latest annual report is out!

Read about how we continued to support refugees and migrants in Birmingham and surrounding areas despute the Covid 19 pandemic.

Our team responded as flexibly as possible to continue to offer support in a safe way and our amazing volunteers, particularly our volunteer befrienders, really rose to the challenge of creating ways to keep up the support to our young refugees who were really struggling.

As always, thanks to all our supporters and we hope to continue the good work and provide welcome and offer support to migrants seeking sanctuary in the West Midlands.

Read our report here: Birch Annual Report 20-21

Birch Network is 10!

Birch Network is 10!

Join us in celebrating Birch Network’s tenth birthday this month. We will be spending this week celebrating our successes, hearing from our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries and reflecting on our work over the last decade. The past year has brought many disruptions to our services and things have been especially hard for migrants who are living in limbo awaiting decisions or stuck in hotel accommodation, so we enter this next period with the knowledge that the need for our service is greater than ever and we ask you to help support us to do this.

We are asking our supporters to consider donating £10 for 10 years, whether this be a one-off payment or recurring gift. Anything you can donate will ensure that going forward, we continue to extend friendship, support and hospitality to refugees and migrants in the West Midlands.


In ten years we have made a big difference to the lives of hundreds of refugees and migrants in the West Midlands. The UK asylum and immigration system is a brutal instrument through which often traumatised refugees have to endure and Birch Network was developed to try to mitigate some of the impacts and effects of this system and offer sanctuary to those fleeing difficult circumstances.

Over the last decade, Birch Network is proud to have offered refugees and migrants in the West Midlands over 15,000 nights accommodation, providing them with a safe and welcoming space following periods of destitution and insecurity, advocacy to help them move onto other accommodation, partnerships with referral agencies to help them progress their immigration claims support, and friendship at a time when most are facing a scary time of hardship and insecurity.

“Birch to me has been like an extended family. I was in my late teens when I was hosted by a family through Birch, and it was a long road to getting my status. I’m so thankful to Birch for all the support it has provided me.” (Esther – Hosting project)

Young refugees arriving to the UK as unaccompanied minors have benefited from our befriending service, finding warmth and friendship from local people in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Most of our young people have harrowing tales of how they had to travel to come and claim asylum and the feeling of loss at what they had to leave behind. Often with no family, no understanding of the language and a poorly funded social services system, these people start their life in the UK in indescribably bleak circumstances. Our befrienders aim to offer a bit of respite and comfort and hopefully a sense of belonging to these brave young people.

“I never forget Birch’s help and support in my life it will always stay with me I thank them all. They have compassion, love and responsibility……Birch charity means to me giving something to those in needs without expectation or wanting something back in return. They are making Birmingham, West Midlands a better place for everyone to live in” (Nas – befriending project and meet and greet volunteer)

Our meet and greet has welcomed hundreds of refugee families who are placed in Initial Accommodation in Birmingham. They are often placed in dismal hotel rooms with little or no money and very little access to support and our vibrant sessions have provided a space for children and their parents to come and play and feel acceptance. Our amazing team of volunteers, many of whom have had to endure the asylum process themselves, are on hand to offer empathy, guidance, and welcome.

“It is only once a week. My little brother looks forward to it all week.” (Young person – Meet and Greet project)

Sadly our services are needed more than ever, with a Home Secretary intent on further demonising asylum seekers and refugees and creating more misery and uncertainty. The last decade of the ‘hostile environment’ has seen the erosion of many rights and entitlements for refugees and migrants, alongside cuts to legal aid and access to legal services, resulting in more destitution, suffering and hardship for many migrants. It has also been difficult for many services as pressure on them has increased and charities are being required to fill in the gaps that should be provided by statutory services.

Despite these challenges and despite Birch Network being a small grassroots charity, we are proud that we have managed to weather the storm and provide a range of support to refugees and migrants at all stages of their migration journey.

We are extremely grateful to all of the many volunteers who have so generously given us their time to make all this support possible and who are the true backbone of the organisation. We also want to thank all of the individuals who have supported us financially or in other ways and to all the funders who have awarded us grants and enabled us to develop and grow.

If you would like to support our work going forward into 2021, please consider making a donation below.


We first want to reflect on how Birch Network came about and here’s Lizzy Bell, a founding member, explaining why she felt the need to set up a new organisation:

“I started BIRCH with a former colleague as we saw, in our work with a large UK charity, the serious impact that the government’s ineffective and cruel immigration procedures were having on very vulnerable people who come to the UK seeking sanctuary. We met people who had fled brutal regimes, conflict or who had survived torture and were now street homeless in the country they had come to in the hope of safety. We wanted to open up our homes to people experiencing destitution due to immigration barriers and looked for organisations in Birmingham who could support us to do so in a safe, managed way. We found, to our surprise, that Birmingham was the only large city in the UK not to have a community group or charity running a hosting scheme for people seeking asylum, so we decided to start one. We were soon joined by a group of amazingly kind-hearted, like-minded and talented people who helped us to develop BIRCH’s vision and work towards establishing an organisation that could support Birmingham residents to do what we do best- offer hospitality and friendship to those who need it the most.”

Andy Jolly – Trustee and founding member, explains why we volunteers to help manage Birch Network:

“One of the things that I love about Birch is that we don’t have a head office in central London, or a slick marketing team, it’s just a group of Brummies working together as a grassroots expression of solidarity. This means that all our resources go into our direct work, and that we are free to respond to local needs as they develop. I love the spirit of independence, of problem solving and of not accepting things as they are, and find the volunteers who share their time, their skills and their homes really inspiring. In our current political climate of politicians seeking to stoke divisions, Birch is needed more than ever – here’s to the next ten years.”

Jan and Stuart Freed – hosts and supporters explain why they continue to be involved with Birch Network:

“At the height of the refugee crisis, when people were drowning in the Mediterranean, we wanted to do more for people desperately trying to make a new life for themselves in safety and security than just send a cheque and forget about them! We were (and are) in a position to be able to offer short term accommodation and Birch seemed a perfect fit. We are keen to resume hosting as soon as we can be sure that the the risks associated with Covid are controlled.”

Steph Neville – Meet and Greet Coordinator talks about her experience of working with Birch Network:

“I started working for Birch in January 2020… I think it is fair to say the first year has not entirely gone as I expected! For the first few weeks I had the privilege of meeting an incredible team of volunteers, many of whom brought their own experience as sanctuary seekers, and who also brought a huge amount of energy, generosity and above all joy. This wonderful team of people were able to restart the Meet and Greet for families in Initial Accommodation. Short-lived though it turned out to be, I have snippets of beautiful memories from those few sessions: such as spending time with an initially very shy six year old who reappeared the following week with his much older brother who asked if we were sure we were only there one day a week because it had been such a highlight for him; or welcoming a young woman who had been in the hotel for several weeks before she finally dared to venture out of the building for the very first time to come to our session. I have very much appreciated being part of the Birch team: a team who are passionate about the issues and difficulties faced by asylum seekers and committed to doing what is possible to make them welcome; a team open and responsive to adapting to whatever is thrown at it … I am looking forward to what the next year, or ten, might bring…”

We will continue to release stories and quotes about the impact and motivation for doing our work over the course of the week, please follow our social media accounts.

BIRCH in the news!

One of our hosting relationships was featured in Birmingham Mail recently.  It featured hosts Daniel and Azora and their guest Lazuras who now has Leave to remain after a very long wait.

The article highlights the mutual benefits of hosting for both hosts and those hosted. To read the full story, see here

Whilst our hosting scheme is currently suspended for new referrals because of COVID 19 (and all homeless people in the UK *should* be getting accommodated regardless of their immigration status) we are happy to add you to a waiting list of volunteer hosts, if this article inspires you! Please contact David for more information.


We’re ‘Happy to Host’ …

Saturday 13th July saw the introduction of the ‘Happy to Host’ Convention organised by NACCOM.

Taking place at Amnesty’s Human Rights Centre, in London, around 80 individuals from NACCOM’s hosting communities signed up to attend the conference. Gathering from all over the UK, those who took part in the event brought their different experiences and insights of participating in hosting. Whether they had experience hosting a vulnerable individual or were guests who had experience being supported by a host, or staff from organisations supporting hosting projects the event enabled like-minded discussion to be made and valuable networking.

The convention began with a thoughtful panel discussion on what hosting is like. The panel consisted of two guests (Asadullah Kohistan and Betty Johnson) and two experienced hosts (Jane Henson and Carol Munro). The panel was hosted by the quick-witted Nico Ndlovu. A variety of workshop events were held throughout the day and delicious vegan lunch was provided by Won Tegegn and the Ethiopic Kitchen. I attended two workshop events, The global refugee situation hosted by London-based Senior External Relations Office from UNHCR Matthew Saltmarsh, and Self-care, Vicarious Trauma and boundaries by Psychologist and practising Psychotherapist, Mirjam Thullesen.












Hilarious comedy entertainment was also organised after lunch by stand up comedians No Direction Home. As well as, an enthralling talk by Zrinka Bralo, from Migrants Organise on speaking out for change and taking leaps in life to make a difference. Zrinka also made light of the growing campaign, Patients Not Passports, which seeks to advocate for migrants who face a range of challenges when needing to seek NHS care. Including financial charges which they cannot afford.

































If you’d like to know how you can get involved with hosting-related activities, visit the  NACCOM website Alternatively, look into your local charities like Birch!


Some information from the global refugee situation workshop (UNHCR):

  • Refugees and migrants have different rights…
  • An asylum seeker is someone seeking refugee status. There were around 3.5 million asylum applications pending at the end of 2018 (globally).
  • In 2018, 71 million people were forcibly displaced around the world. 25.9 million of those are refugees.
  • 37,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict/ persecution.
  • Turkey is currently the largest host of refugees in the world. 3.7 million refugees currently inhabit Turkey.
  • There is an ongoing crisis in Venezuela, four million individuals have left due to the deteriorating political, socioeconomic and human rights conditions.
  • The Rohingya people (stateless) continue to receive systematic persecution by the Rakhine State.
  • Syria is now in its eighth year of the war. More than half of the Syrian population have been displaced. Neighbouring countries have begun to show unwelcoming attitudes towards the Syrian refugees. However 75% of those who left Syria intent to return when it is safe.
  • The controversy of Libya’s power and detention centres continues. It is estimated that 5,400 refugees and migrants are being held in Libyan detention centres.
  • South Sudan, is currently the third-largest humanitarian crisis after Syria and Afghanistan. However, projects in South Sudan are significantly underfunded.
  • In the UK, there are an estimated 121,000 refugees. In 2018, there were 29,380 asylum applications made. The UK is also the third-largest resettlement country in the world following Canada and the USA.
  • A record 27,256 cases are still pending an initial decision by the UK Home Office which continues to leave people anxiously waiting and in a “limbo” state.




Esther Bakari.

Birch’s Sponsored Night Bus Ride!

Last Friday, nine members of our Birch community embarked on a sponsored night bus ride fundraiser to raise money for Birch’s hosting project. Our hosting project seeks to accommodate destitute and homeless refugees and asylum-seekers. 

Who? ‘The Night Riders’ consisted of David Hirst, Andy Jolly, Louise Kinsella, Esther Bakari, Abraham Silcott, Margeret Murray, Danny, Maggie Le Mare and Nas Popalzi. As well as Mandy Ross and Glenys Thomas who took part in a daytime bus ride.


What? The group gathered at 10:30 pm at the newly opened Mix Cafe, a community cafe located in the Old Prints Works, Balsall Heath. Complimentary (delicious) food and hot drinks were provided by the staff at the Mix. The group also got to a chance to see the beautiful exhibition currently showing at the  GAP projects which has been created by artist Haseebah Ali





12 am: smiles and enthusiasm as the group set out onto the 50 bus to Druids Heath with the intention of staying on to go back-round into the city centre. 


12: 42 am: after arriving at Druids Heath on the 50 bus, the bus driver announced that it was his final journey and wouldn’t be going back to the city centre. A slight detour was made as the group walked from Druids Heath to Maypole to catch a bus into the city centre. The temperature had dropped by this time yet the company and conversation were warm.


At around 1:55 am: the group arrived in the city centre from Maypole. A short walk from the 50 bus stop to the X1. Surprisingly, the city centre was quiet – no late party-goers or aggressive individuals. 


2:07 am: the group boarded the X1 (limited stop) to Birmingham Airport. Perhaps a strange look or two from the bus driver as all nine of us keenly boarded. 


2:49 am: the group arrived at Birmingham Airport. Almost halfway through the night bus ride. A break was needed, we headed for Costa coffee. The airport was quiet.







At around 3:50 am: the group left Birmingham Airport heading for Birmingham City Centre. The journey from this point was unclear. Maggie distributed her tasty homemade Parkin which went down a treat!                                                                               Whilst on the X1, amid the low fog that could be seen on planes of some parks the group also witnessed the gradual colour change of the night sky into the warm morning colours. 


After arriving back into the city centre, the group gathered at the X1 bus stop to decide the next steps. The group chose to board the X1 again back to the Airport. The bus driver overhearing parts of the discussion didn’t quite understand what we were doing (or why). Again a strange look.

For the group, a small decision to make. Unfortunately, for those who really have to make this decision regularly in order to get shelter, it’s a different story entirely. 

Many migrants in the UK struggle to gain recognition as refugees or have their right to stay recognised must live in painfully difficult circumstances. Asylum seekers are barred from working and after an initial asylum claim is refused, the very basic government support they have to live on is cut off. Many of those who have fled here for safety are made destitute, pushed into homelessness, and left with no way to meet their basic needs.

The destitution of ‘refused asylum seekers’ and other migrants with ‘no recourse to public funds’ is a deliberate aim of government policy. There is a myriad of policy and legal instruments that make it increasingly difficult for undocumented migrants to meet their basic needs and more and more day-to-day activities for them. This is the ‘hostile environment’ which we have heard so much about recently in the media

The hostile environment operates on several levels so that undocumented migrants are increasingly trapped in a tightening web. On the one hand, it bars them from accessing the very things they need to survive. On the other, it seeks to exert maximal and unaccountable control over them: policies render it harder and harder for undocumented migrants to gain recognition as refugees or other types of leave to remain and hold out the continual threat of detention and removal into danger.


Arriving at Birmingham Airport for a second time, the scene was completely different. There were busy passengers and impatient families at the check-in. 


At 4:51 am: weary, the group departed from Birmingham Airport to the city centre. 


At around 5:30 am: exhausted and fatigued the group arrived back into the city centre on the X1 from the Birmingham Airport. By this time, the sun had risen brilliantly and the city appeared to come back to life again. A few members of the group yearning for their beds departed early whilst the others grouped for a well-deserved Maccies breakfast.


It was a success!


Thanks: to everyone who helped out to organise the event (HELEN HIBBERD), the staff at the Mix Cafe (Kerry and Arron!);  Jane Thakoordin for being on standby (in case anyone wanted to leave early); and the Birmingham night bus drivers who we came across (and for all those we didn’t, thank you. Without them there would be no 24-hour bus services’ which acts a shelter for many vulnerable individuals).


So far we’ve raised £2700! A massive thank you to everyone who has donated so far! Don’t worry, there is still a chance to donate if you haven’t: 

Alternatively, you can share this link with your friends and family!


Birch is also organising a fundraiser event with LushSpa in Solihull on Saturday  6th and Sunday 7th July 2019 to raise money for the Hosting project.  For more information contact:

LUSH also made a short film regarding our hosting project


What will your donation help to do? 

Last year we:


  • provided 2186 nights of accommodation to people experiencing destitution 
  • accommodated 14 individuals through the Hosting Network
  • had twelve volunteer community hosts/families on our books, nine of these families provided accommodation during the year to individuals who found themselves destitute with nowhere else to go
  • supported 12 destitute asylum seekers and two undocumented migrants (applying for visas).


Outcomes for guests were varied: three guests moved to other voluntary sector provision; two guests moved on to Section 4 Home Office accommodation due to the progression of their Home Office applications; one guest claimed asylum and moved into Section 95 accommodation, another finally got her residency visa after a long wait; one guest received Leave to Remain; a long term guest is awaiting the outcome of a lengthy residence application after the Home Office admitted in writing that they had lost all her application paperwork ( 

Two guests were taken into local authority accommodation (one being an unaccompanied care leaver). Four remaining guests had ongoing placements into the next period, and are preparing further representations.

Since we were established in April 2011 BIRCH hosts have now provided 13,054 nights of accommodation to people who would have been otherwise been made homeless and destitute. 




Esther Bakari

Work with us!

An opportunity has arisen for a part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioner – Family Befriending Project, to join our small team working 22 hours a week on a fixed term 12 month contract with a likely extension to 24 months.

If you are interested in this opportunity please send a CV and covering letter to by Wed 5th June 2019 midnight.

See here for more information: BIRCH JD FB May 2019

Sponsored Night Bus Ride!

BIRCH Sponsored Night Bus Ride 2019

Friday 21st June 2019       

Join our sponsored night bus ride team to raise money for our hosting project for destitute refugees and asylum seekers

What’s involved?

We are asking volunteers to ride Birmingham’s buses throughout the night from 10:30pm, in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers who face destitution and can end up street homeless. You will ride
a variety of buses across Birmingham and ask friends/family/supporters to sponsor you to do so. All funds will go towards our hosting project and will help more asylum seekers move out of destitution.
If you are interested, please call Helen on 07709645097 or email us here

You can join our team of night bus riders here

If you would like to donate to our hosting project and support our night bus riders, please donate here

Work with us!

An opportunity has arisen for a part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioner – Family Befriending Project, to join our small team working 22 hours a week on a fixed term 12 month maternity cover contract.

If you are interested in this opportunity please send a CV and covering letter to by the Friday 26th April 2019.

See here for more information: BIRCH JD FB April 2019 Mat Cover

Upcoming volunteer training

Family befriending and community hosting training
This training is aimed at anyone who might be interested in finding out more about BIRCH’s Family Befriending and Hosting projects and are thinking about volunteering for one of the projects.




When: Sat 16th March 2019
Where: Friends of the Earth, The Warehouse, 54-57 Allison Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5TH
Time: 9.45-16.00

The plan for the day is as follows:

Morning – tea/coffee etc Introductions, ice-breakers, hopes and fears, background to BIRCH’s activities

Mid-morning: background information on where do refugees come from, the asylum process, key terms/jargon, what is destitution, and cultural awareness sessions.

Lunch – buffet lunch will be provided

Afternoon – Q & A with current BIRCH befriender/host
Discussion about the needs of refugees, expectations and qualities we look for in volunteers, boundaries and guidance.
Revisit hopes and fears and final questions.

If you would be interested in coming or have any questions or queries, please contact Helen on 07709645097 or

Nas can stay!

Context: Like many within the Birch community, last month I discovered that Nas Popalzia had been granted Leave to Remain, for 5 years as a refugee! A long-awaited achievement which took a collaborative effort from Nas, his befriender Jane Thakoordin ;and dedicated individuals from ASIRT and Migrant Voice networks. In a time where the Home Office’s decisions are undoubtedly questionable; I thought it crucial to sit down with Nas and Jane in order to share their story of success and great friendship.

A photo of Nas and Jane

From being in their presence for a few minutes, I naturally assumed that they had been good friends for years. To my surprise, Nas and Jane had only met in July last year. They met when Nas was sharing his story for the first time in front of an audience, at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham,  for Refugee Week. Regardless of this, both of them agreed that it felt as though they had known each other for a lot longer. Jane who attended the event with her husband Paul, mentioned that “What was so powerful about that event was, it was an event for Migrant week. And people were asked to come along and talk about their involvement in organisations that support refugees/ asylum seekers…. then of course Nas got up … and Nas told his story… Nas was the exact epitome of all the things people were talking about. He was the face of those people. Not a distant person”.

When deciding to start his campaign Nas came across infamous stories of the Windrush generation. Nas felt encouraged to share his story and stand up against injustice due to the way the windrush generation had been treated. Nas got in contact with Migrant Voice and they began to support Nas throughout his campaign. In particular, Nas said multiple times, that he is grateful for the support and friendship of Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice.

Prior to speaking at the Ikon, Nas tells me that he wasn’t in a good place at that time. Roughly in March/ April of last year Nas had been refused asylum. From my understanding this was the sixth time (yes six!) that Nas had been wrongfully refused. “I didn’t know what was happening, it was hurting me and those people (the Home Office) saying that there is a law in this country, but the law doesn’t apply to them”. Rightfully, Nas feared leaving his friends behind and the life that he had built in Birmingham. “All I know is here”. Born in a small village called Urozgan, North of Kandahar in Afghanistan. Nas lived in Kabul for three months when his mother handed him to a smuggler. He could speak the language but Nas could not write or read. He didn’t know anyone and he was worried about getting work. Since coming to the UK, as a minor,  age 14, Birmingham has been Nas’ home.

A significant factor as to why Jane decided to support Nas is because she discovered that he is only a month older than her eldest daughter – Nas turned 23 on February 1st. “If the situation had been different, if it had been her (Jane’s daughter) in the situation; coming to a new country with a whole different set of difficulties and challenges. I would wish that there would be somebody like me looking out for her”.  Eventually, Jane and her husband began befriending Nas through Birch, whilst helping him run his campaign.

Jane has been involved with Birch for several years having previously befriended a young Iranian man. She has also been able to use her experience as a befriender to train others who have shown an interest in befriending. Jane is also a freelance artist and a part-time mental health social worker. Though Jane’s family background has been in advocating against social injustices. Furthermore, Nas mentions that it was Jane who suggested that he should volunteer at  Birch’s Meet and Greet project. He now regularly volunteers at the sessions: he helps bring newly arrived asylum seekers from a nearby hostel (initial accommodation centre) to the Meet and Greet, where lunch and activities are hosted. Nas can also speak several languages including Pashto therefore he acts as translator for those coming from the hostel who cannot speak english.

We began discussing the campaign, both Jane and Nas were keen on emphasising that it was a collaborative effort. Jane affirmed that the campaign wouldn’t have been successful without the maximum input of everyone involved; “When we all put our skills together, we all worked really brilliantly”. Although, Nas says that in the beginning he had lost his confidence and had been feeling stressed -“I lost hope”. Nas also mentions that at times, during the campaign he felt emotional and it was hard to repeat his story to different audiences. Sometimes Nas would have to speak 3 or 4 times a day and he was required to commute on his own to different venues. He even appealed to different MPs who refused to take action on his behalf because he wasn’t apart of their constituency.

Moreover, Nas touches on the tragic stories that he knows of long-lost friends from the Afghanistan community who had been in the asylum process for so long that they gave up and went ‘underground’. “They end up on the street, with no support and that’s why it’s a kind of punishment. What the guys decide to do is to go underground and work with some criminals”. He further mentions that these individuals will end up getting exploited and employed for as low as £2. Nas had feared that he too would end up in a similar situation.                                                                                                                                            Yet despite this, Nas calmly says that during the campaign he did what he needed to do and what was asked from him. “It was a good experience, I learnt a lot, about the campaign and I actually learnt from people about helping people… It was good, a good campaign”. Jane also recognised that it was hard for Nas at times, she was worried that he may get pulled in different directions for people’s own purposes. Jane believes that is was down to having “a small group of committed people at the core” surrounding Nas during the campaign who enabled him to keep grounded.

Towards the end of the interview, I was curious to know whether Jane felt as though she ever needed to separate campaign life from her personal life. “I think it all just blends in together really. I couldn’t imagine Nas not being a part of our family life, and Nas can come and go when he pleases. I wouldn’t put expectations on him… He’s a part of that family unit”. Jane goes on further to say that Salman Mirza and herself want to make sure that Nas gets the “absolute best out of life” – whatever Nas decides to do in future.

Finally, I asked Jane and Nas, what one thing they admire about each other. Jane responded sincerely “I admire his spirit and personality really, he’s just a very good nice person”. It took Nas a while to respond “If I start now it’s going to take at least one hour”. However, as Jane stepped out the room, he continued “If I could give her a Nobel Peace Prize award, I would give her one, to Jane and Salman. Whatever they can do they will do for you”.

A flyer from Nas’s campaign

A big thank you to Nas and Jane for letting me interview them and write this blog piece. I know if we’d gone into more detail, I could probably write a book about their experiences. Congratulations to Nas for getting his stay!

Also congratulations to end deportations, Stansted 15!