About Our Organisation

What we do:

AJAR is a network of people in Leeds, often from faith communities, seeking to help people currently in detention who have a valid case for applying for bail.

AJAR seeks to support asylum seekers who:

  • have been detained after the period when other prisoners facing a similar charge have already been released
  • are struggling with support
  • would live in the Leeds area if they were released
 

Our volunteers are drawn from faith communities in Leeds and we work with those who have a pre-existing connection to the area, and so are able to access their own support community to varying extents. We also give talks to churches, other faith communities and interested groups in Leeds about asylum issues. 

We do not charge for any services.  Any monies received are used in our support work.
We have no paid workers: all work is carried out by volunteers.
 

In the community:

The public benefit which we offer is to vulnerable asylum seekers and to the wider community.  We work to support the welfare and human dignity of detainees.  Many asylum seekers who are detained are suffering from trauma and prolonged or indefinite detention prevents any recovery.  Those we work with benefit from a range of support: friendship, a bailer and help in accessing specialist legal, medical and accommodation services.  This enables them to function more effectively in their community while they are waiting for a decision. Community based alternatives to detention are cheaper and more effective, and are certainly more humane than holding people in immigration detention facilities for prolonged periods.  We work to help faith communities in Leeds meet their responsibility to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are not irreparably harmed as a consequence of detention in the UK. 



 
Our mission:
 

The aim of our charity is to work with asylum seekers in detention/removal centres and prisons to secure bail in appropriate circumstances and to provide support before and after release. Whilst asylum cases are being decided by the Government, courts may rule that it is better for an applicant to be supported in the community than held in detention providing there are fit persons willing to stand bail.  Our network includes voluntary befrienders, bailers and legal advisors. We are able to support individuals through the legal process of applying for bail.

 
 
 
Paul Priest
Paul was one of our volunteers who sadly died recently.  Please read the following tribute written by Andrew Lloyd, one of our Committee members.

 

Memories of Paul

  I first knew Paul Priest through my work with Asylum Justice And Release (AJAR). He seemed a good person to offer informal friendship and support to someone who had been released from detention to live in Leeds. Frank, who comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, met Paul on several occasions whilst he was living in the city. After Paul let us know he had been diagnosed with cancer and had moved to the flats behind Carlton Hill Meeting House, it seemed wrong to ask him to volunteer any more. However, this summer I heard from Frank, who is now living in Bradford; he wanted help with buying a ticket to Newcastle, so he could gather fresh evidence for an asylum claim. I agreed to meet Frank at the coach station and let Paul know, in case he was well enough to greet his old friend. To my surprise Paul turned up: it was the end of June, his illness was well advanced and the effort had obviously weakened him. Nevertheless, he was extremely generous in giving Frank extra money for his travels and surprised us both by giving a spirited rendition of one of La Fontaine's fables in the original French verse. Paul knew more than me of the hardships Frank had been facing, yet even when he was ill he could still lighten the mood.

I tell the story because it says a lot about Paul. Even in the terminal stages of his illness, when he must have been coping with both weakness and pain, he could live life to the full and reach out to people. Friends may remember Frank, who came to the funeral and honoured Paul quietly: I hope we meet him again.

When Paul was in slightly better health, he accompanied me when I gave a talk to the local Theosophists on Christian mystical experience ; since I was talking personally, from my own somewhat unorthodox experience, it was good to have a friend who was able to listen deeply. Paul's faith was very Christ centred and he was no mean theologian. On another occasion, he came to hear a master of Advaita Vedanta talk to the Theosophists on realisation, as he saw it. Like a number of Hindu teachers, he claimed that what they realised was no different from what Christ realised and taught. After the main talk, Paul took him up on this and brought his critical faculties into play — dialogue involves being open about disagreements if we are to be honest and Paul's personal experience was deeply Christian. He gave me a set of poems recounting some of the key moments in his earlier spiritual life: I hope we can make them available for the memorial service which will be held at Wrangthorn church in November.

As well as attending Quaker meetings, Paul went to Wrangthorn church, where he took an active role in the Anglican service of Evensong: the people who attended have fond memories of him. When I visited Paul in St. James Hospital, the Anglican chaplain called by briefly. He told me and Paul's son that he was the one who had been learning from Paul! Later, when I visited Paul in Wheatfields Hospice, I could see why he would make such a remark.

I recall turning up at the reception desk at Wheatfields to find another visitor was there: Joanna, the priest from Wrangthorn church, was seeing Paul regularly. As we sat with Paul in his room, we were joined by Warwick, who knew Paul from a poetry group he attended. Warwick was familiar with silent Quaker worship, but now served as a deacon at All Souls church. After a while, Paul's probing questions led me to remark jokingly that this had become a "Paul Priest seminar".

Paul lay on his bed, a copy of mother Julian's "Revelations of Divine Love" beside him; he told us that he was too weak to read, but he was wholly present for us. By now, his pain was under control with medication, which was adjusted so he could still be lucid. He wished to reflect on the meaning of pain; he was not asking for pity, but inviting us to reflect on our faith together. When we are in great pain, we become almost dumb, though we may turn silently to God for help in getting through it, but Paul seemed to be asking us to consider whether the pain itself could become our prayer to God. He reminded us of St. Paul's teaching that all of creation is like a woman groaning in labour as she prepares to give birth to new life. That was how he saw it and he had on several occasions quoted William Blake's poetry to me, with its pithy reminder that in this life joy and sorrow are closely intertwined.

This was not a gloomy conversation. In his very last poem, read so movingly by his son at the funeral, he related how the prospect of death could prompt him to cry out "help" to God, but he regarded it, not as an enemy, but as something that he would be vaulting over. In conversation with us, Paul was asking us whether all prayer was a form of dying. This was no mere academic conversation and before long we were plunged into a deep, rich silence. After Joanna left, Warwick and I conversed once more with Paul, only to lapse once more into silence. The quality of these quiet times was palpably different, yet both were equally profound. I cannot recall such a fullness and depth in the silence as the one we shared in those times with Paul.

After Paul's death was announced during a Quaker meeting at Carlton Hill, I spoke briefly of this and became aware of tears moistening my eyes. At Paul's funeral, Joanna told us what a wonderful teacher he had been and I noticed that her voice was also trembling with emotion. Our times with Paul were precious, yet we are left with more than a sense of loss. He taught with more than words and he has helped us to learn how rich our lives of prayer and friendship can still become.

 

Andrew Lloyd. 3.10.2015.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments