Sheltering female asylum seekers in Birmingham

Mauricio Silva, Columban interreligious dialogue coordinator and coordinator of the women’s shelter Fatima House in Britain, provides a brief update on the ministry during 2022.

Mauricio with Columban co-workers, ordained and volunteers outside Fatima House, a place of sanctuary for destitute asylum seeker women in Birmingham. Photo: St Columbans Mission Society

Mauricio with Columban co-workers, ordained and volunteers outside Fatima House, a place of sanctuary for destitute asylum seeker women in Birmingham. Photo: St Columbans Mission Society.

A partnership project with Fr Hudson's Care, Fatima House offers safe shelter for female asylum seekers in Birmingham who would otherwise be destitute and homeless. During the past 12 months, Fatima House has:

  • Offered accommodation and hospitality to nine women
  • Provided a total of 2920 nights of accommodation
  • Distributed £7,735 from our Destitution Fund among residents, £4,195 of which was funded by the SVP Warwickshire District
  • Distributed an estimated £2,500 in donations of food and toiletries among our residents

Every Friday residents and volunteers at Fatima House meet to chat about how the past week went, to organise cleaning rotas and to share updates about the project. It is an opportunity to catch up with each other and to build a sense of community among the members of the Fatima family. As a result of a common agreement, the meeting always starts with a prayer. This practice is very welcomed by our Muslim and Christian residents alike, and they take turns leading it. As a project coordinator, some of my favourite moments in the house have happened during those times of prayer: listening to the residents' expression of thankfulness, and sorrow as well as their petitions, besides witnessing their heartfelt devotion, is a very moving experience.

Accompanying Fatima House residents and asylum seekers, in general, takes one into a journey filled with moments of despair and sometimes with little rays of hope. The residents did not expect that their claim for asylum in the UK would be turned down and that it would take so long to secure an immigration status (which would offer them a chance to live in the UK safely and freely). Neither of them was prepared to end up in destitution and depended on the charity sector for shelter and basic sustenance. Certainly, all this cannot be fully grasped unless you go through a similar experience. Nevertheless, as volunteers and supporters of Fatima, we are all invited to go to great lengths to empathise with Fatima House residents: this requires loads of patient listening and an ability to offer hope in the face of the most challenging of circumstances. Easier said than done!

In our search to offer them adequate support, I have noticed that we can easily miss those precious little moments when the residents themselves are the carriers of that elusive hope.

One morning, at the beginning of our routine house meeting, the resident prayer leader decided to start the meeting by singing a song. The song expressed praises to God and thankfulness for God’s generosity and grace. What followed was a beautiful spoken prayer of thanksgiving for creation, for friendship and for the love received from the people who support them. There were no complaints, nor requests for personal needs. I feel those short moments are grace-filled gifts not only to me but also to all our volunteers and supporters. Here we had a woman who has endured the longest of waits, who has suffered countless setbacks and disappointments and whose needs would overwhelm the most faithful of believers. Despite this, she can proclaim and sing of the Lord’s goodness and generosity. Such a lesson for this time of hopeful joy!

Mauricio Silva is the Columban Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator in Britain.

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