Baobab is like a tunnel. Outside the tunnel you are exposed to the elements. Going through the tunnel shapes your life and gives you hope as you approach the light’.
One of Baobab’s Young Survivors

For other ways to support us, please get in touch at info@baobabsurvivors.org.
 

FILM
Young persons from our Baobab community discuss their experiences of the UK asylum system and offer suggestions on how to include much-needed provisions for mental health in the asylum process in this small film made in June 2021. 

Click to listen to their insights.

...and listen to a message of hope from H., to all our community members and beyond:
"Wherever you are in life, don't give up!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------03 nov 2022

Given the recent horrifying reports about inhumane detention conditions at Manston Detention Centre; and given further reports about many dysfunctional elements of the current system, such as unaccompanied minors being caught at Manston and pressured to lie about their age by border officials; children under 16 being accommodated in hotels without proper local authority support; and now reports of police investigations into allegations of teenage asylum seekers being raped at an East London Home Office accommodation;
The emotion of outrage does not begin to cover the range of emotions being felt at the moment in our Baobab community of young survivors, asylum seekers and refugees, as we witness the descent of the UK asylum system into ever-more pointless cruelty, neglect and the shocking disregard for the humanity of those seeking asylum. As to  the well-being of children and adolescents seeking asylum in the UK specifically, surely we have to agree that a very serious safeguarding boundary has been crossed.
No one should play political games with the lives of asylum seekers, and especially not with children seeking asylum. Unaccompanied children reaching UK shores will have suffered untold hardships both in their home countries, forcing their families to send them away, along the way, and now in the UK as they are likely to endure detention in conditions that breach this country’s basic safeguarding standards. They will have experienced multiple overwhelming and traumatic experiences. It is imperative that their safeguarding be prioritised and that the asylum system in the UK be entirely re-engineered to protect them and ensure their swift integration into UK society.
At the Baobab Centre we have 30-year experience working on the long and painful process of rehabilitation that is necessary to help these young people build constructive lives. The work of rehabilitation should start as soon as possible after their arrival, and be front and centre of any asylum system – not some afterthought left to charities to perform, and certainly not a process actively prevented by local authorities – many of whom challenge credibility without the underpinning of careful multidisciplinary assessment as is the case now. Children in the asylum system must be protected.
We at the Baobab Centre intend to ensure that we can intervene as soon as possible after the arrival of young asylum seekers to the UK, supporting them to rebuild their lives here. We will continue expanding our outreach to make sure we can work with other like-minded statutory and voluntary organizations in order to ensure protection for as many as possible.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------07 May 2022
At the Baobab Centre we were all very happy to see that the Queen received Paddington to tea for her Jubilee Celebration.
 
But does everyone know that Paddington is a refugee who arrived in the UK irregularly? Or that Prince Phillip himself was a child refugee, forced to leave Corfu in 1922 in a makeshift orange box at just 18 months old, spending his childhood years in France, Germany, and the UK. It is widely reported, including on the Royal.uk website, that… King George V ordered that a Royal Navy ship should evacuate the family from Corfu, and Philip was carried to safety in a cot made from an orange box in December 1922. He was just 18 months old.
 
And does everyone realise that under the British government’s current plan to traffic asylum seekers overseas, both Paddington and Prince Phillip would today be at risk of being sent to Rwanda without having a chance for their asylum claim to be heard in Britain?
 
The 2021 Human Rights Watch report on Rwanda provides significant detail on the human rights abuses the country is responsible for, as well as evidence of the horrific treatment facing vulnerable groups and children. The governments controversial age assessment process will inevitably mean young people who are minors will be incorrectly processed as adults and sent to Rwanda. 
 
The government spokespeople claim that the plan will reduce trafficking and prevent people from illegally accessing asylum, when in fact this illegal and inhumane plan will see the UK government paying Rwanda to trade human beings, inevitably retraumatising and re-trafficking vulnerable children, men, women, and families. Families who want nothing more than to rebuild their life in a safe and peaceful way, having been forced to flee their homes to escape persecution, violence and human rights abuses.
 
The whole Baobab community will fight this abominable plan and make sure that Britain upholds the great tradition of offering refuge to refugees.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------20 April 2022
STATEMENT ABOUT UK GOVERNMENT PLANS TO OUTSOURCE ASSESSMENTS OF ASYLUM SEEKERS WHO ARRIVE IN THE UK BY “ILLEGAL” ROUTES TO RWANDA AND THE PRIME MINISTER’s SPEECH OF APRIL 14th, 2022
 
While we remain puzzled that announcements about sending male asylum seekers to Rwanda, came out last week, before the final version of the 2022 Borders and Nationality Bill has been agreed, we notice huge contradictions in the statements made by the government members and supporters about their plans for asylum seekers.
Some statements have been made by politicians about the plans for outsourcing the asylum process being directly linked to the government’s wish to discourage traffickers. There seems to be no evidence of any resources or energy being focused towards stopping traffickers. In fact, the current government plan seems to be focused on punishing individuals seen to have arrived illegally and to send them far away. This plan focuses on issues of population control rather than care and support of vulnerable people in need. This plan punishes the asylum seekers not the traffickers.

Given the recent Human Rights Watch 2022 country report on the current human rights situation in Rwanda where: ‘The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) continued to stifle dissenting and critical voices and to target those perceived as a threat to the government and their family members. The space for political opposition, civil society, and media remained closed. Several high-profile critics, including opposition members and commentators using social media or YouTube to express themselves, went missing, were arrested or threatened. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities was commonplace, and fair trial standards were routinely flouted in cases deemed sensitive. There were credible reports of arbitrary detention and mistreatment of people accused of “deviant behaviors,” including street children, sex workers and petty vendors.’
AND: ‘ Furthermore, Rwanda’s appalling human rights record is well documented. In 2018, Rwandan security forces shot dead at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo when they protested a cut to food rations. Authorities then arrested and prosecuted over 60 of them on charges including rebellion and “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.” Rwanda has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture, and abusive prosecutions, particularly targeting critics and dissidents. In fact, the UK directly raised its concerns about respect for human rights with Rwanda, and grants asylum to Rwandans who have fled the country, including four just last year.’
 
We of course have no accurate idea about the political reasons why Mr Johnson made his speech on April fourteenth. We might wonder if he and the Home Office were trying to take public attention away from the ‘party-gate’ scandal and the rise in the costs of living in the UK. He may have been simply allying himself with those in the UK who don’t want foreigners in the UK. Whatever his intentions and motives Boris Johnson and his speech writers highlighted their ignorance of and their disinterest in the true experiences and needs of asylum seekers who take “illegal” routes to safety and protection. In particular his plan makes no sense because Rwanda in truth could not offer safety and protection and a stable life to asylum seekers as is evidenced by the 2022 Human Rights Watch Report focused on Human Rights abuses in Rwanda.
The Baobab Centre would be most concerned that young asylum seekers arriving by boat to the UK after experiences of organized state violence and interpersonal violence and who are routinely overwhelmed and suffering from significant mental health symptoms and developmental difficulties rooted in trauma, separation and loss and the experience of many unplanned changes, could be sent to Rwanda.
  1. After their experiences of having to leave their home countries in order to avoid further persecution, forced recruitment, imprisonment or murder they are likely to have significant mental health symptoms and developmental difficulties. They need stability and protection and not to be sent, against their will to a country with a long history of internal conflicts over resources, beliefs, values and power which makes use of violence, political repression, torture and genocide in order to resolve such conflicts. 
  2. After experiences of a variety of child and adolescent specific human rights abuses young people who are in fact minors are likely to look physically much older than their chronological ages. Research shows significant aging in various aspects of their epigenetic profile even when they are in adolescence. The authorities in the UK do not have a good record of assessing age and the Home Office currently outsources age assessments to social workers who often pay little attention to well documented ‘good practice’ (See Al Ainsley Green et all in the BMJ 2012) i.e., that they make multi-disciplinary assessments that include and integrate the assessments of a variety of professionals including, teachers, paediatricians, foster carers, psychologists and psychotherapists as well as social workers. The government plans to send adult males to Rwanda but they do not have a good record of assessing the difference between a young man who is an adult and an adolescent aged seventeen or eighteen. (Numerous successful court cases challenging age assessments highlight this issue). 
  3. There is no mention of either child or vulnerable adult safeguarding and protection in the government plan. We wonder how will the UK government ensure the safety of minors from slavery and sexual exploitation? Already vulnerable young people are easy pickings for unscrupulous adults. The government risks placing young people in severe danger and the whole sordid business of wholesale deportation of people who are unable to find sanctuary is a chilling reminder of the UK’s refusal to accept Jewish people fleeing Nazi persecution. Boris Johnson’s April 14th speech does not report the true facts about Britain’s record of accepting asylum seekers and misses the crucial restrictions on immigration to the UK. 
  4. We wonder what will happen to those asylum seekers who want and need to come to the UK. There is as yet no process for the asylum seekers eventually to have refuge in the UK, and no system for processing these applications in the UK. The plan seems to be for deportation without careful assessment. Young asylum seekers need time to share their narrative and the proposed system does not allow for this necessary time and the difficulties of highly troubled and traumatised people to share their stories. 
  5. If the Home Office has limited resources to make assessments and feels overwhelmed with the tasks of assessment why can those asylum seekers who would like for various reasons to come to the UK not be processed in another country such as the way it was very quickly organised for Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK to be processed in France.

In the context of the plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda we might ask what are the motives of Boris Johnson and his team in developing this plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. We might ask many questions e.g., What are their business interests in Rwanda? Why they are more interested in control than in care and involvement and careful assessments of what asylum seekers need and would like?  And how the UK might meet these needs in a just way?
 
Sheila Melzak, Director, and Baobab Centre Team April 20th, 2022

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------04 April 2022

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------10 Jan. 2022

"I am an optimistic person, but I feel hopeless right now."

Byline Times' Katharine Quarmby recently came to Baobab to interview young Afghans and our Director Sheila Melzak about the impact that the Taliban's threats against their families in Afghanistan is having on their lives in the UK .

She is today reporting on how some of our young people are sending all of their earnings and living in debt to make sure younger siblings are not forcefully recruited by the Taliban or their families in Afghanistan beaten up. 

"The Taliban Protection Racket" - ByLine Times

Baobab is again calling on the Government to accelerate the processing of family reunion cases and of the newly-opened Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme (still not running for people currently in Afghanistan), in the hope that our young people can achieve more peace of mind and stability in their efforts to rebuild lives in the UK with their loved ones.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------21 Dec. 2021

As the Government's Anti-Refugee Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way to the House of Lords for a critical second reading, we were thrilled and honoured to meet with Baroness Lister with 8 of Baobab young people. The Baroness listened to the personal stories of each and gave some very useful advice for Baobab to continue its influencing work. We are still fighting to get the most egregious provisions in the government's bill -- such as the distinction between refugees based on route of arrival -- dropped from the bill entirely, and language reflecting our significant concerns about mental wellbeing of refugee children included in the bill.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------2 Dec. 2021

Third meeting for our advocacy efforts, this time with Jess Phillips MP, who encouraged our young people to not hesitate and "speak truth to power". A group of our young people attended the meeting and presented their circumstances, calling for more action on the Afghan Resettlement Scheme, and for more spirited opposition to the Nationality and Borders bill to be discussed in Parliament. 

As one of the young people put it to Jess,
"we can't go to Parliament and make change but you can. You are our hope."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------30 Nov. 2021
As part of our influencing and advocacy efforts to defeat the Nationality and Bordesr Bill a group of young people from our community had a dynamic and highly motivating discussion with Lord Alf Dubs this morning. Lots of encouragement for young people to put pressure on their MPs and not give up the fight, from an exceptional,  inspirational figure... And a detailed discussion also about mental health issues, including the soon-to-be-launched report that Lord Dubs has commissioned on the patchy provisions for mental health in the UK asylum system - report to be launched on 9 Dec.
 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------22 Nov. 2021

Bambos Charalambous
, MP for Enfield and Shadow Minister for the Home Office, came to visit Baobab today and meet with some of our young people. Our young survivors discussed how they had been repeatedly failed by the UK asylum system and the "hostile environment", and why the Government's new Nationality and Borders Bill must be defeated. They talked how they're systematically disbelieved, about faulty age assessments, or Home Office interviews conducted in ways that re-traumatize survivors of violence. Several young people have families in Afghanistan trapped in increasingly dangerous situations, and yet the Afghan Resettlement Scheme is not open. 
Several amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill have been tabled and will be discussed when the bill goes to the Commons in December -- and we'll be bringing the voices of our young people into the debates.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------15 Nov. 2021
Baobab has produced two short briefing documents for MPs and Lords in Parliament as they debate the Government's new Nationality and Borders Bill, laying out our case for why this bill must not pass and drawing attention of all law-makers about the needs to safeguard and protect all children and young people in the UK's asylum system, and calling for significant revisions to the text.

Please read:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------22 Sept. 2021
The powerful and tragic testimonies of two Afghan young men from the Baobab community are featured in this report from ByLine Times published today 22 Sept.:
‘They Are Keeping Us Here to be Killed’: The Loyal Afghans Abandoned by Johnson’s Government – Byline Times
One young Baobab community member, reflecting on the lack of any visa route for his family now, told Katharine Quarmby of ByLine Times: "In five years they won't even exist." 
Clinical director Sheila Melzak adds: "[young Afghans at Baobab] feel helpless to protect their families and guilty that they are living in relative stability in the UK while their family members are at risk of being killed.”
All Afghan families need help now.

​-------------------------------------------------------------------------------14 Sept. 2021
Prof. Liza Schuster (City University of London) came to the Baobab Centre to discuss her recent experience of being evacuated from Kabul with our Afghan young people. Many questions were asked about family reunion -- and the long waiting times involved in family reunion applications -- as our young people have close family members, a sister, a mother, sometimes a wife and child, still in Afghanistan now fearing for their safety and their future.
A difficult, emotional, but important meeting.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------30 August 2021

2 young members of the Baobab community share their painful experiences with ITVnews journalist Ria Chatterlee. Have a look at ITV's report on how the Baobab Centre is fighting alongside unaccompanied minor asylum seekers to make the UK asylum system fairer and more humane.
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The Baobab Centre is an organisation that enables child, adolescent and young adult asylum seekers who have experienced a series of overwhelming and violent events during their developmental years to thrive in exile. We work with child, adolescent and young adult asylum seekers and refugees who have experienced humiliation, violence, trafficking and violation in their home countries and/or on their often prolonged journeys into exile in the UK. Many will have been forced by adults to witness violent acts. Many are direct survivors of violence. Some have been forced to perpetrate acts of brutality themselves. Over ninety per cent of those who attend the centre arrive alone in the UK. On arrival, they are often re-traumatised by their experiences of having to navigate through complex, unfamiliar systems in which their needs are not always met.

The Baobab Centre runs as a non-residential therapeutic community because, over many years in discussion with the young people who attend, we have found that this is the best way to meet the needs of young people separated from their families, communities, culture and way of life. Every young person who attends our Centre has a key worker within our staff team. We offer a mixture of psychotherapeutic and therapeutic help. This means everybody who attends has the possibility of accessing individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, practical casework and social work support and a variety of group-based therapeutic activities, including regular music workshops, a philosophy discussion group and individual and group English classes as well as holiday projects and an annual summer therapeutic retreat.

We see the young people for as long as they wish and need to be seen. We aim to support them to think about, understand and process their vulnerabilities and to rediscover their pre-existing strengths so that they accept themselves for who they are and become able to manage their feelings, memories and thoughts. We support them to build resilience in the form of belonging and reflection, agency and flexibility, creativity and imagination as well as through the capacity to problem solve and form links with the community of exile. We aim to facilitate the process of progressive development and of trusting relationships with peers and adults. Baobab provides a transitional space between the young person’s home country and finding a place in the community of exile where they feel free to be themselves and contribute to community life.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Septembre 2021

All in the Baobab community have grave concerns about the current Nationality and Borders (Anti-Refugee) Bill to be discussed this autumn in Parliament. Read our statement below:



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------August 2021




------------------------------------------------------------------------------- May 2021

The Baobab Centre today joins the Together With Refugees campaign, a coalition of UK human rights associations that are united in calling for a fairer, more humane, and more welcoming asylum system.
The UK asylum system is broken. The government needs to scrap its current plans and  honor its obligations under the 1951 Refugee convention to offer protection and refuge to those fleeing traumatic, life-threatening violence. It needs to start listening to the stories of those who have reached the UK, by any means, in order to find hope and rebuild their lives. 
The Baobab Centre will use the opportunity of the planned debate on the Government's proposals to make sure the voices of Baobab's young refugees and asylum seekers are heard, and their interests defended.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- March 2021



------------------------------------------------------------------------------- February 2021

Visit "My World" - 
a Baobab Centre exhibition of photographs of daily life, from all our community members (February 2021).

[This page last updated 30/3/2021]