As you would expect there is no ‘typical’ client. They come from more than 60 different countries – more than a third of the world’s countries. Many are from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East with a percentage from countries like Albania and parts of the former Soviet Union. We also have clients from parts of Asia and occasionally from Latin American countries. ‘Top’ countries of origin include Eritrea, Iran, Congo, Albania, and Sudan.
Many of the clients have been in the UK for quite a while and are at the mercy of the Home Office system which can be cruel, bureaucratic and excruciatingly slow to make decisions which are a matter of life and death for those seeking sanctuary here. Often their accounts of the terrible things that have happened to them in their home countries are routinely disbelieved by the Home Office, which compounds their traumas.
Some were high-flying professionals in their home countries – doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, politicians etc. Generally, people living in poverty in conflict zones don’t have the financial means to pay a bribe to someone who can help them obtain false documents and get out of their country in one piece. We carry out checks with clients’ solicitors to try to ensure that all clients are bona fide asylum seekers. It is very difficult being an asylum seeker, maybe sleeping on a park bench and trying to survive on very little or sometimes no money at all. If people could safely return home, they wouldn’t remain here leading a wretched life of limbo and extreme poverty.
Many of our clients suffer from depression and some have a clinical diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic distress disorder) as a result of their experiences. Their fragile mental health makes it all the more important that the Drop in provides a calm, safe and welcoming environment for them. Some may be distressed by lots of loud noise, aggression or an excess of bureaucracy and officialdom, which can trigger flashbacks of oppression by government forces/soldiers in their home countries or harsh treatment at the hands of Home Office officials.
We work hard to build up relationships of trust with clients and to maximise the practical assistance we can offer to them. One thing that makes clients upset is any unfairness or perception of unfairness in the way the Drop in is run. If they think someone is getting preferential treatment to them, they may get upset. So it’s important that all our systems are not only fair but also perceived to be fair by the clients.
Although the Drop in has become more structured, more professional and more efficiently run in recent years, keeping the needs and wishes of the clients at the heart of everything we do remains the key aim of the project.