Published: 06:00, 17 August 2020
| Updated: 09:05, 18 August 2020
A couple have been offering up their home to people seeking asylum in the UK for the past four years.
Shirley and Jon Patch, from Maidstone, provided food and a room for a man from Iraq for three years, whilst he attempted to obtain refugee status from the Home Office.
The husband and wife, both 63, discovered the charity Refugees at Home, who help asylum seekers get in contact with people willing to act as hosts whilst their asylum status is being considered by the government.
The pair decided they wanted to help those who had nowhere else to go.
Jon, a support worker, said: "We felt that there was a real need, and there was something we could offer - help, a room, sanctuary.
"A couple of months later they had a referral from the Red Cross, so we decided to meet the refugee that we were going to give help to."
Fadhil (not his real name) fled from his home country after realising his life was in danger.
Interrogated by ISIS due to his father's ties with the old Saddam Hussein government, he decided his best chance for survival was to flee.
Shirley, a now-retired dental hygienist, said: "He was terrified that one day he would just disappear and nobody would know where he was."
Smuggling himself through the borders of numerous countries, Fadhil eventually found himself in the 'Calais Jungle,' a refugee and migrant encampment close to the French port.
He then managed to smuggle himself aboard a lorry bound for Dover in 2014, where he immediately went to a police station to claim asylum.
Fadhil said: "I didn't have a choice - at that time Iraq was under IS attack and I didn't have any idea about my family or anywhere to stay, and they're watching you."
He was granted accommodation by the Home Office, only to have it rescinded when his claim was rejected.
Recounting his discovery that Jon and Shirley were going to offer him a place to stay, Fadhil said: "It was a dream come true for me. Before that time I was homeless, and even when I had my accommodation before we had to share the same room.
"It wasn't always clean and we often didn't have enough money to eat."
Now Fadhil has managed to make a fresh claim for asylum, and has moved from Jon and Shirley's home into different Home Office accommodation.
But six years on he is still waiting for his status to be granted by the Home Office.
Fadhil wants to be able to live independently and help others by teaching English as a second language, but until his status is granted he has to rely on charities and accommodation from the government.
He added: "I don't think the Home Office deals with asylum seekers in the right way sometimes."
Jon said: "A lot of people tend to think they come here, they get the full range of benefits, a free house, but that just isn't the case.
"It's very hit or miss with the Home Office, they seem to be a law unto themselves.
"There doesn't seem to be any pattern as to who will get asylum and who doesn't - some people get asylum after a couple of months, for some people its ten years."
"A lot of people tend to think they come here, they get the full range of benefits, a free house, but that just isn't the case..."
"It's quite revealing."
The couple's most recent guest fled from his home country of Afghanistan at just 15 years of age, after his father was killed by the Taliban.
The boy's younger brother was indoctrinated by the terrorist group and became a suicide bomber, but he was determined not to suffer the same fate.
After being captured and tortured by the Taliban, the boy escaped the country and spent a year travelling across the continent until he reached the UK.
Shirley said: "He doesn't even know if his mum and sister are still alive."
After a number of years living in the UK he's now been staying with the couple since 2019.
The couple are on hand to help their guests through the process of seeking asylum, which includes court appearances, meeting solicitors and back-and-forth paperwork.
Shirley said: "It's not about just giving them a roof over their head and food, it's supporting them though the process.
"They can get really down - they can't work and they'd like to support themselves but they're not allowed to."
The issue of people making their way to the UK has been spotlit in the past few weeks, as last week marked the tenth day in a row that migrants have arrived in Dover.
The UK's media have been based at the Port of Dover, as a steady stream of asylum seekers make their way to Kent's shores from across the channel by boat.
Some on social media have criticised the reporting strategy of the press, after BBC and Sky news chartered vessels to get footage alongside the boat and dinghies heading for the coast.
Responding to the backlash, Jon said: "I think they should concentrate more on the human angle, they could interview some of those people and get their stories, so people can try and see it not jut as a problem of immigrants, but a problem of human tragedy.
"Even though you can have a wide perspective of life through the media and what you see on TV, once you actually experience seeing and meeting someone from another county who's been in a difficult situation, that's when it really impacts upon you."
Although Fadhil was able to escape to the UK by lorry, he said if a boat was the only option at the time he would have taken it.
He said: "At that time, I think I would have done it."
Refugees at Home currently have around 80 households across the country helping to give asylum seekers a home, butthere are just four active placements in Kent.
Siobhán De Jonghe, senior placement coordinator for the charity, said: "Really anyone can become a refugee, so when you've got someone sitting at your kitchen table, you realise they're a normal person, facing extraordinary circumstances.
"They're doctors, nurses, teachers, parents, grandparents - they're ordinary people which is why we think it's right to give them a chance to flourish and establish their lives in the UK, and they'll be an absolute asset to our country."