Charity inspiration interview - BritCits
Sonel Mehta is the founding trustee of BritCits – a human rights charity formed to protect British citizens and residents with non-EEA family members. Through policy work, liaising with media and information dissemination, the charity has made a big difference to the lives of many families since it was founded.
Here, we speak to Sonel about BritCits' goals and beliefs, but also about the challenges they have been met with and how they have dealt with them. The hope is that other charities – both new and well-established – will be able to learn from Sonel's experiences.
When and how did the dream become a reality?
It came about after my own personal experience left me shocked and angry, and I felt I needed to do something to prevent it happening to other families. The immigration rules on 9 July 2012 were changed in such a way that even British citizens who wished to sponsor their spouse, partner or children were faced with stringent financial requirements imposed only on them. Those who wished to sponsor elderly parents had the door slammed shut, with the rules for Adult Dependant Relatives noted even by MPs as a 'ban masquerading as a rule'.
BritCits was formed as a result and has gone from strength to strength; we started as part of a group on Facebook, before formalising our status as a group around August 2012. In December 2013, we were granted status as a registered charity.
What are the main drivers behind the concept?
Ultimately, it's my belief that all British citizens have the right to live with their family, without interference from the government, especially where it's with no recourse to public funds. Love should not just be for the wealthy. The family immigration rules that came into play on July 9th 2012, I feel, are particularly hurting British citizens, making a complete mockery of family values, separating loved ones and forcing British children into single-parent upbringing.
One case really struck a chord; a girl of around the age of two had only ever known her father through Skype. Her British mum was working hard to try and meet the financial requirements, but it is not easy as a single parent also covering child care costs. One day, during a Skype call, the dad stood up and she couldn't believe her eyes: "Daddy has legs!", she was screaming. Although this is very cute, it is also incredibly sad that she only knew her father as someone with a head and shoulders.
How many of you run the charity?
There are three trustees who run BritCits, but the real credit goes to our fantastic team of volunteers who dedicate their time and skills to help people who are in a position they were once in. From graphic designing to proof-reading and blogging, and even an accountant offering his services with our accounts, we couldn't do it without them.
Have you faced any challenges along the way, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is probably that we have to juggle our full-time jobs and charity work. When it's something you feel so strongly about, though, you just have to make time for it, working evenings and weekends to squeeze things in.
Something else I find challenging is the politics. When I approach politicians and explain how the rules are affecting British citizens they are often very surprised at how detrimental the policies are. They can be sympathetic towards us, but because of party pressure they don't do anything about it – they're not proactive, and this is something I find very frustrating. Often three, four or five years will go by – which is a long time to a child without a parent. It's been a real eye-opener.
Is there any advice you could give to other charities?
Try to maintain a positive, optimistic attitude. Keep your eyes on the big picture; although we can't turn back time, we can make a change now and prevent it from becoming an issue for others further down the line. When I see reunited families it gives me hope and inspiration for the future. If you have a cause or a goal you believe in, you don't have to have a wealth of experience or lots of money – if you go after your purpose, you will be able to make a change. Don't underestimate the power of the people.
As someone recently pointed out to me: "The goal of those who work for charity is to do themselves out of a job." That's the dream.
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