Praxis was founded in 1983, by the Robert Kemble Trust. A legacy of the late Robert Kemble, which included a house he had bought in central London was to be employed to pursue his vision of social justice rooted in his Christian faith. Since its inception, Praxis has taken great care to respond to the marginalisation of refugees and migrants. In 1997, Praxis was registered as a non-sectarian charity independent of the Robert Kemble Trust, although it still maintains a close and important relationship with them.
Praxis was founded in the height of the Cold War. In this period, there were many low intensity conflicts taking place in Latin America, the Philippines, East Timor as well as Apartheid in South Africa and Namibia. Working in solidarity with these countries, Praxis created a space for exiles to self-organise and to campaign for the possibility of return. Initially Praxis was based in 12,Goodge Place, the home which Robert Kemble had bought but as activities increased, it was decided to move to Bethnal Green where we continue to rent space in the United Reformed Church building.
In this period there were major changes in the global context. The Berlin Wall fell as did apartheid. Dictatorships found it hard to hold onto power. Some refugees were able to return home, especially the Namibians with whom we had worked very closely. However, the changes brought new realities including vacuums in such countries as Somalia and intensified conflicts in Rwanda. In Europe the Maastricht treaty meant that the new free movement of labour within Europe's borders required tighter controls on incoming migration from outside of the continent. Praxis played a leading role in a network of social justice organisations called Kairos Europa, and assisted in facilitating a Parliament of the People in Strasbourg 1992.
By this time Praxis' work had shifted to supporting refugees and migrants here in the UK. The situation in sending countries was becoming more complex and the needs of refugees in this country more intense. The UK government began to introduce more restrictive immigration controls and backlogs of asylum claims created considerable hardship for those waiting for their claim to be heard. In this period Praxis begain to deliver advice and advocacy services as well as beginning to develop training courses and language courses.
The incoming Labour goverment made many changes. They introduced dispersal of asylum seekers out of London and new processes. Praxis did not seek to be part of the major contracts given to third sector organisations at the time but preferred to focus on local issues. We asserted our distinct character as a community development organisation.
The Labour government introduced many measures which were helpful to Praxis. They developed the Refugee Integration Strategy and we were able to play an important role in the community development component of this strategy. There were also many other opportunites through more generous funding to local authorities, enabling us to build our strong partnership with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
The financial crisis has made all voluntary organisations more precarious. Praxis has seen a rapid increase in the visibility of vulnerable migrants. We have become increasingly concerned about destitution, with over half of our advice clients having no recourse to public funds. Detentions and deportations increase and access to public services diminished.