IT was after visiting Dungavel IRC with Scottish Detainee Visitors befriending group one night that I heard the news a friend from Dungavel had been released. It was such good news, but then I heard he had nowhere to live and no recourse to public funds. Free but utterly destitute.

After years of lobbying and writing to my MP about destitution for asylum seekers, I’d pretty much given up on anything concrete happening. Sometimes there comes a point when you just have to act, when your conscience will let you do no other.

I have a lovely home, a spare room and enjoy having folk to stay so it was really not a big step to volunteering with Positive Action in Housing’s volunteer scheme with my partner. We took a bit of advice but got very good support and an induction pack from PAIH and we then joined the very small group of people in Glasgow already hosting.

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Our experiences were wonderful, poignant, funny, touching. We had several pregnant women to stay so got used to helping out with morning sickness and cups of weak tea. It would usually take about three days for someone new in our home to find their way around our kitchen cupboards and bathroom habits and for us to begin to adapt to sharing with other bodies.

To start with I have to confess to having been keen to help – there is something about my upbringing that means I want to help out where I can, but I quite quickly learned that whilst this is a voluntary action it was far more about being mutually changed by relationships than about charity.

As relationships developed, as we learned words of our guests’ languages and they learned words we used in our home. We would laugh and smile as we tried out new words, unusual food, different ways of using coconut oil, peanut butter, of making porridge, cooking rice. Much of the time our experiences were about great food and the exciting contents of the fridge.

We gradually learned to receive as well as to give, realising that for these people who have absolutely nothing, when they received money from a charity, for example, they would want to do something small tender, precious for us. Often those with little English would be wonderful at noticing, at showing love for us in practical small ways.

And we learned how important it was never to ask or intrude into the life stories that had brought people to us. If people are ready and able to share, they will do so in their own time. Telling the “refugee story” is immensely difficult and painful. Perhaps most wonderful of all in this life-changing experience was the way one guest – an unaccompanied minor – stayed, was then fostered by us and is now our daughter. Our lives have been touched, changed and deeply renewed by guests who became family and friends.

Alison Phipps is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow, and Co-Convener of Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network


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