I did refugee rights work for 18 years until I had a melt-down from the very depressing state of affairs for asylum seekers. Until then I always had access to resources and support. In the US, where I lived before I moved to the UK, NYANA – the New York Association for New Americans – gave me free office space – a whole office mind you – right by the twin towers in New York City for years. I was heading the Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Iranian Refugees and International Federation of Iranian Refugees at the time. They never asked for any money.
When I moved to the UK in 2000, I soon joined the UK Civil Rights Caravan, which toured 14 cities in Britain calling for an end to racism and racist killings. I soon became a spokesperson for the caravan and one of the co-organisers who did refugee work and also spearheaded the Stephen Lawrence Campaign offered me free office space in Southall.
That’s basically all I had known as a refugee rights advocate – fantastic support and a sharing of resources that I thought was the norm.
When I started to do other non-refugee rights-related work, I gravitated towards Conway Hall, which is a centre for free inquiry and thought.
I insisted that we hold all our public events there, which we paid for, as an act of support and solidarity.
I did, however, ask Conway Hall to give us access to rooms free of charge for our monthly volunteer meetings or Management Committee meetings.
Well in July this year Conway Hall wrote saying it would no longer be able to provide free monthly meeting space and would need to charge us for using a tiny room on the third floor – which has always been empty whenever we’ve asked – because they are ‘trying to increase their revenue’.
As a result, we have had to meet at various locations, which in inconvenient to say the least. So far it’s been at the LSE, a pub, a cafe, and this Sunday, we’re even getting free space in a church!
When people bang on about privilege, this is what I understand about the term. A huge building owned for nearly a century by freethinkers with dozens of rooms at any given time and lots of money in the bank but not a tiny room can be spared once a month for ex-Muslims and activists against Islamism and Sharia who have limited resources and are facing unbelievable pressures from all sides.
I do miss the good old-fashioned solidarity I saw in refugee rights work.
This is annoying…