Category Archives: General News

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.


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!

The Voices of the Workers

Happy New Year everyone! We have all had a safe and positive festive season. We wish that 2019 brings you good health and well-being.
As you get inundated by the idea that the New Year is for fresh starts and as everyone begins to ask you what your ‘New Year’s resolutions’ are; the focus of the blog this month will be from the Birch employees and volunteers perspective. The Voices of the Workers. It’s safe to say that Birch would not be what it is now, and growing, without it’s employees and volunteers. As a charity, whether it be conscious or unconscious, it echoes compassion from its core. That compassion which also lies within the hearts of those who choose to work in any capacity for Birch.

Photo of David Hirst

I had the pleasure of recently coming across one of these compassionate souls. We discussed his role at Birch and his life from the perspective of someone who works for the charity. David Hirst, has been working with asylum-seekers and refugees for the past 10 years. He joined the Birch team in Autumn 2015 following a large influx of the public wanting to host a “Syrian refugee”. Since then David has immersed himself into Birch’s projects, from tending to host-guest relationships to coordinating the Family Befriending and continues to help organise the weekly Meet and Greet session for newly arrived families. Although having spent thirty years working as a Youth and Community Worker, David acknowledges that he hasn’t had any specialist background knowledge surrounding the refugee and asylum-seeking sector. He learnt the majority of what he now knows whilst on the job and through experiences.

During our chat, David explained that some of the major reasons resulting in the public’s interest in hosting stemmed from the media coverage of the Syrian civil war. In particular, he mentioned the shocking image of a Kurdish toddler drowned and washed up on a shore in Turkey. This image swept the nation and motivated the public to seek information about ways they could help refugees and asylum seekers. However, David believes that things have changed since then and people have become almost desensitized to the ongoing news of refugees fleeing war and persecution. In addition, he pointed out that this loss of public enthusiasm has been exacerbated by the Home Office’s “Hostile Environment” policy. This policy seeks to restrict undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from employment, receiving benefits, renting a property, obtaining a driving licence as well fostering general antipathy against those seeking sanctuary through political statements in the media. Despite this, David highlighted that he has been overwhelmed by the high percentage of those still interested in hosting schemes and family befriending.

Furthermore, I discussed with David what his thoughts were on the government since working within the refugee sector. He acknowledged some occasions where he was made aware of the “unsympathetic side of the Home Office”. A sadness filled my heart when he brought to light that there is a great stress and strain put on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers as a result of their contact with the Home Office. David mentions the mental health pressures that can arise in refugees from harsh encounters with the Home Office and quite often refugees and asylum seekers are unsupported, left to face them alone.

This led to me question David on the pressures he feels as someone working alongside these vulnerable people. He was very open about occasionally finding himself being emotionally involved those he supports. Especially, the younger adults, who I suppose look up to David and see him as a friendly and respectable figure. He mentions that being in such a profession, it’s not unusual for individuals to take on a lot of work. Although, he finds it is necessary to intermittently take breaks in order to “recharge the batteries” as the job can get “quite upsetting”. David raised an important point about the employees finding the best way to be supported when they take on a lot of emotional baggage. It appears to be quite easy for work to converge with home/personal life. David has said there needs to be a balance between the two. Though he can often find that if the phone rings and a destitute asylum seeker is in need of somewhere to stay, he will drop everything and try to help “but it comes with the territory” he said modestly.

Towards the end of our discussion, it only seemed right for me to ask David about the happy moments he has found working within the refugee sector. “Apart from being Father Christmas” he grins… David enjoys helping to facilitate the weekly Meet and Greet session. This is a collaborative project with colleagues employed by the Children Society, which aims to host activities and creative workshops for newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees, in particular the families. David explained “Our visitors come from what’s called the initial accommodation centre. Where people first, when they claim asylum, that’s where they are first housed before they’re dispersed. All over the country sometimes. These people can often stay in the hostel for up to 2 months, sometimes shorter”.

Finally, I asked David if there was one piece of advice you could give yourself 10 years ago when you started the job what would it be? And why? I think we both laughed at the question. I could see from his face this wouldn’t be an easy one to answer, and he almost gave up. But in the end he spoke about the balance of being a friendly professional or being a professional friend – “Sometimes you need to be aware of this, sometimes you need to just hold back a bit, because you want to help people… it’s a difficult thing”.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to be so honest and open about his experiences and job role.

The first time I hosted

Thank you for reading! This blog post, an entry from a current BIRCH host will act as the first in a series of  “Journey” blogs. This is where we will share the stories of those involved in the BIRCH community, from Hosts to Guests to Befrienders and volunteers. The aim for these blogs is give you a taste of what BIRCH does!                                                                                                                              

*For purposes of identity we have decided to use pseudonyms to protect privacy* 

It doesn’t seem long since our  first nervous foray into hosting. Saraf, we were told, only needed a room for a month while she awaited a place in a house for destitute women.  A month! – only a month surely, however difficult it was we could cope for a month! We had only signed up for short-term hosting. With relatively young children a woman felt safest. Lizzy, who coordinated and supported Birch’s hosts would bring Saraf round to meet us and then all parties could have a little time to decide before proceeding. My son was too young, but we had asked my daughter’s views early on about hosting; she said it would be okay “as long as they aren’t sad”. I realised this reflected one of my fears. Would our home be filled with the sadness that anyone who feels forced to flee their country of origin must carry?  Was it too much to ask that their sadness be at least partly contained?

We’d done the day’s training – some facts still fresh: Did you know that by far the greatest majority of the world’s refugees flee to neighbouring countries, who are themselves struggling with poverty and instability? We knew Saraf was from Guinea in West Africa; a quick Google: no major conflicts but plenty fled particularly young women. Our training had taught us not to ask about guests circumstances, potentially such traumatic ones. That advice felt a relief too, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with hearing the details of the traumas that many seeking asylum have gone through.

The doorbell. One of our children hides the other runs into my arms, probably picking up on my anxiety. Lizzy walks in followed by Saraf. Our eyes meet and in the exchange of nervous smiles my fears subside and I know it’s  going to be okay. Of course there were practical arrangements to iron out: We sometimes ate together; the “let’s just all be veggie” solution to a Halal diet in the family suits me well, but not so my husband! Saraf offered to cook on the days I worked later.  My husband was nervous but after discussions about his preferences and a trip to the Halal butcher, he enjoys the chicken dishes that Saraf prepares. With encouragement Saraf talks about the foods native to Guinea that she loves and how they would cook outside.

 I wondered how Saraf would feel about witnessing our easy life – perhaps a stark contrast with the life she had led in Africa? But Saraf is thoughtful and careful and only once during our stay am I reminded of how different things must have been for her in her early life: As I caution my son for getting mud on his clothes “Mummy’s got enough washing to do!”, Saraf just says one word “Washing?” I suddenly realise that piling clothes in and out of an automatic machine really isn’t washing them! But later that day as the sun shines down on our “automatically cleaned” clothes on the line, I hear much giggling from the bottom of the garden. The children have persuaded Saraf onto the trampoline for her first bounce ever time where all 3 are greatly amused by her uncontrolled antics.                                                                                                   

How lovely to be sharing our good fortune !