Category Archives: Blog post

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

My first experience as a guest

This is the second instalment in the “Journeys” series! This entry is from a current guest living with a host family.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

I don’t think I really understood it… I mean, maybe I understood it but I hadn’t really internalised it. I think experiences like this change you… From being a guest in someone’s home, then that home becoming your home and then the people in that home becoming like… family. Even if it’s for a short period of time, you change.                                                                                    Why would you let complete strangers into your home?                                                                                                                 We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?

I got used to the idea of ‘home’ being wherever I lay my head at night. Temporary accommodation after temporary accommodation, I think we’d moved about 11 times by the time I was 18 years old. You learn to adapt but the world seems harsher and harsher. You hear stories about people migrating for years seeking refuge in unmerciful countries; being refused asylum over and over again, waiting for – Of course I had thought about going back. We have some family over there and the weather’s better. But it’s never that easy.  So the world is harsh and my spirits were broken.  I remember being tired because I had taken my suitcases with me on two bus trips to get to their house. It’s funny how I hadn’t got used to carrying my suitcases across long distances by now, I had done it countless times before. The area was familiar, I was certain I had taken the bus past it a couple of times. Walking up to the hosts’ house, I don’t think I would describe them as nerves, although I had been prone to bad anxiety. But I wasn’t exactly scared. I tried my best to keep an open mind, to not have any prejudgment – just neutral thoughts. We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?                                                 

I think it took awhile for me to really settle, I found myself confused at first by the eating times and when my host would say “help yourself to anything”. Honestly, I hadn’t seen a fridge that full in a long time. And it continued to be full, so were the cupboards and the pantry. Help yourself to anything I think after a year with my host and her family I still hadn’t really grasped at the sheer peak of human generosity that had been bestowed upon me. At the beginning I don’t think I spent much time at the house; I remember feeling quite shy around everyone. I was sceptical of where to be around the house at times, whether or not I was just subject to my room. It’s funny because I don’t consider myself to be a shy a person at all.  The children reminded me of my nieces, but more well-behaved than my nieces; their excitement and energy always uplifted my mood. I think from the beginning I was always bound to get along with my host. We have similar views about the world and she was a vegetarian (like myself) attempting to be a vegan in a house full of keen carnivores. We’d discuss her sneaky attempts to gradually convert the family to herbivores and find humour in her failed attempts. She began to encourage me to start cooking and baking. I was finding my confidence again. During religious holidays and fasting the family were completely respectful and cautious of my well-being. They’re not particularly religious but aim to acknowledge the beauty and value of all backgrounds. I’ll always be grateful for them and grateful they allowed me into their home.

Looking for volunteers!


Photo of Helen

I have just started working for BIRCH on their Family Befriending Project and we are currently looking for volunteers to join our scheme. Would you or someone you know be willing to host a young refugee (aged 16-25) in your home once a week or fortnight to help them feel welcome in Birmingham? Most of the young refugees we work with have no family in the UK and can be quite isolated, befriending is a way to reduce their isolation and also introduce them to new areas and activities, as well as introducing volunteers to new cultures and experiences.

One of our current volunteers had this to say:
Grace has been coming about twice a month since October. She comes for food and we have practiced reading, written Christmas cards and played badminton. She loves playing games particularly Rumicub. We play the radio whilst playing games and she is a big Lionel Richie fan. She cooked for us some traditional Angolan food one evening and it was lovely to see how relaxed she was. She is a bright young lady with much potential.” (names have been changed)

To find our more contact me on or fill in an Family Befriending Application Form 2018


Helen Hibberd

BIRCH community Hosting at NACCOM – July 2017

We recently attended an informative and inspiring NACCOM event in Newcastle. Its aim was to support the growth and development of hosting schemes across the UK. We were a team of 2 hosts, 4 hosted people, a volunteer and support worker.

Hearing the introduction talk, presentation from Action Hosting, part of Action Foundation in Newcastle, and later speakers allowed us to learn about other projects and initiatives. This helps us to have ideas on what we can improve and develop in our region. We also had the chance to discuss issues and share our approaches.

With so many of us attending we engaged with almost all the workshops, discussing how to recruit hosts, how to have a positive placement, support hosts, how to involve guests, move-on, confidentiality and safeguarding. These points, and others will be followed up at our local quarterly scheduled host meetings.

They talked about the new toolkit, a NACCOM / Homeless Link how to guide helping members of the public provide spare rooms to migrants experiencing destitution.

Interviews were completed with a hosts and guests by Lucy at NACCOM, these give insight into what hosting is about, and how hosts and guests feel.

Why people Host:

I think hosting is part of our social responsibility to help when there is a need. And this is a time of need.

When people first move in:

“She was my first host. That was the first time, it was too difficult because I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me and I was a little bit scared.

I was feeling sad because I don’t have family here. I want to stay with people who will be like my mother and my father.

As soon as I stay with her I know she is a nice person. She showed me love every time I need help.

 When we met our first guest we knew everything would be fine. We knew Lazarus was an ordinary person waiting out the time he has to wait out while he gets his application in.

 When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve got experience with other countries, other cultures but not with British. I was asked if I would like to stay with a British family and I thought this would be a good experience, I could learn English and that would be a good connection. If it didn’t work out I could change my mind.

When I went to the house on the first day, he came to pick me up and help me with my bag, but his wife was not well and was in hospital and so he said ‘I want to go and visit my wife- make yourself at home’. Then he went.

Immediately I think to myself, how is it possible that this person from another culture, another country, trusts me? It is difficult for me to trust my family- my close friends sometimes. Then I promise myself that because of this, because he trusts me, I will never lose their trust. They were kind to me and they give me happiness”.

Being together:

“I cook for myself and sometimes I cook food from my country and she eats it. Sometimes she cooks food for England people and then I try it. It is not what I am used to but it is nice.

 I can enjoy my stay with them, I am doing my best, now we are happy and friends. We went to football, we went on a walk, we go to church, I help them at home with some jobs.”

On the Home Office and Solicitors:

“Sometimes the Home Office say they don’t believe you. I said everything true but they didn’t believe me. I didn’t have a good solicitor or interpreter.

My solicitor said I was her son, she would do everything for me…but when I signed she would never do anything for me. She just wanted my money. I lose my time, my life, for one solicitor. That’s not fair. I didn’t have experience, I was new.

 If people need help, the government needs to help them. My life is true, I don’t have time to lie. They need to help me, if they help me then I will have what I need, I can work. But now it is too difficult. They need to show people love. We are not the same colour but we have the same blood.”

On preparing a new case:

“He has been 6 months into preparing a fresh claim and we could see some depression setting in. He wasn’t eating and was sleeping until midday. He shared a little bit and this was enough to know that he was anxious. He felt as though his life was in limbo. He wants to work – he wants to be an electrician- and move on and have a family.”


“I would say thank you to BIRCH. When I needed help they helped me. They give me a place to stay that was safe.

 BIRCH have been good, they come round regularly to meet with us. We are all able to speak freely I think. We have a bit of banter!”


“Today I have met some new people, I have learnt something new, it is a good memory for me.”

Staying in touch:

“Now I have moved to Derby. I will miss her. She was a kind person, she showed me the love that I was missing from my parents.

I am keeping in touch. She will come to visit me. She wants to know that I am good. She showed me this love and that make a difference. When I was missing my parents, she was there.

 I know that in the end his Section 4 might take him to another part of the country, but we have said to him that maybe we can be a buddy for him. He likes talking to us and values the chats we have. He is also a person of faith and he is keen to ask lots of questions and gain more insight.”

 On becoming a new host:

“I always encourage people to give hosting a try, and say it is something you can be in control of.

The agency are there to help with anything that comes up, if we needed to we could call them up and they would make other arrangements.

People feel they might be taking on too much and people don’t need to feel that.”

Destitution is used as a took by the government to force refused asylum seeking people to live in desperate and exploitative circumstances, essentially to encourage them to leave the UK voluntarily. We provide a safe, stable space for those who cannot return, helping them engage with the system to re-present their case, with the hope they can move onto a more positive life. Or helping them understand what protection is, and what avenues are available in their particular circumstances.

There are many resources on destitution, two recent ones are Refugee Action, Slipping through the cracks, and Red Cross, Can’t Stay, Can’t go.