The initial decision to locate a barge in Portland on which to house asylum seekers created a barrage of racist hatred, threats and vitriol aimed at everyone seeking asylum as well as targeting those prepared to offer support to them. This has included threats of sexual violence against some members of the support group. Asylum seekers have been vilified as being criminals, rapists and thieves with the clarion cry of “lock up your women and children”. Terms such as “illegals” and “invasion” as coined by certain government ministers have become common parlance on the island. Extreme right groups such as Britain First and Patriotic Alternative have seized the opportunity to exert their influence, included sending threatening leaflets to local business owners and volunteers.

I would like to highlight the impact on, and feelings of, the asylum seekers themselves, in particular the first 39 people sent to the barge. They are in the best position to accurately portray the traumas they have already endured and exacerbated by the system they now find themselves in. The impact on their physical, emotional, and mental health would appear to be disregarded and considered unimportant by the Home Office, the media and the Companies profiting from the system. The only source of support comes from members of the Portland Global Friendship Group (PGFG) who provide services free of charge for the group. Disgracefully, the owners of the port, Langham Industries, are no longer accepting delivery of the welcome packs made for each individual as they arrive on the barge, denying people essential toiletries, local information and contact telephone numbers to access support.

Below are some unedited quotes from a letter written by the 39 to the Home Office:

“We are writing to explain that we were running from persecution, imprisonment and harsh tortures, with hearts full of fears and hope from the countries we were born in, to find safety and freedom in your country and our new refuge”

 “Because we are law-abiding citizens and wish to be recognized as responsible and good citizens in society…”

 “We are individuals who are tired of the challenges that have arisen and no longer have the strength to face them”

To date there has been one suicide attempt (dismissed and ignored by Sunak when questioned) and there are ongoing fears about the mental health of several others on the barge, some of whom are suffering from PTSD with no mental health support.

Further quotes from a statement read out at a Let Music Unite event on 16th September.

“The feeling of isolation and separation has taken a toll on our mental and emotional well-being”

“Today, we seek your understanding, attention, and solidarity. We bow before the great people of Britain and extend a helping hand to them. Please be the voice for asylum seekers who are unheard in this great Britain, and our last aim is to address the issues”

 The complete letters are incredibly moving and emotional and a real contrast to the tone of the racist hate groups.

Practical help is always appreciated from those in the locality but for those of us more distant the need is very much for winter clothing in good condition as well as games or leisure activities for people on the barge. In the unlikely event that there is surplus clothing it will be passed on to the local homeless support charity. I will be working in Dorset again on 14th-15th December so can take any items with me.

Currently volunteers are providing English classes and social support activities using their own resources due to lack of funding. I doubt this situation is sustainable in the long term so I am sure that donations would also be very welcome. I can provide contact details for PGFG on request.

Any means of raising greater awareness of the reality of life for asylum seekers would be brilliant, mainstream media simply chooses not to cover anything other than the Home Office narrative. I can provide useful articles and letters from asylum seekers as confirmation if anyone is interested.

I will end this with a quote from a volunteer on the day of her daughter’s recent 8th birthday.

“However, one thing that made it so beautiful was the refugees clubbed their money together (despite only getting £9.50 a week), and brought her a cake, balloons, presents and threw a little party for her

She’d always be happy to receive gifts, but to receive gifts from people who have so little and just wanted to share joy to her made for a really magical birthday

This is from the very people the government and media are encouraging us to hate and vilify. Asylum seekers have their own friends and family and are suffering greatly from being separated from them for so long. Asylum seekers are human, compassionate, and kind despite the punishing treatment from our current Government. What should Labour policy be? At the very least it should include control, compassion and financial responsibility, all three features can so easily be achieved should the desire to do so be there.

Please help and support.

Colin Millsop

If you have any further comments or offers of support, please email and we will pass them on to Colin.

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