Joining JRS has been a joy, in particular getting to know refugee friends, understand their needs, and offering as much support as we can. It’s been inspiring (if a little intimidating!) to join a team of such skilled volunteers and staff, who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide information, advice and support to refugee friends – all remotely, from their dining room tables and bedrooms. I’ve spent my first few months listening to refugee friends share their lives, their challenges, and their hopes with me.
Refugee friends’ lives are by nature highly transitory: prohibited from working or having a bank account, days and lives are shaped by seeking out assistance where and when they can. You are wholly reliant on others, with little agency over your own life. It takes its toll on both physical and mental health. One refugee friend, Joseph, explained to me that, before the pandemic hit, he didn’t have a stable place to live. He’d spend the night on a friend of a friend’s sofa, or sometimes in a night shelter, or in a park. During the day, he’d be on the move – seeking out a drop-in that served food, finding somewhere to charge his phone, and look for a place to sleep that night. Life got even harder when the pandemic hit, as night shelters closed and people became increasingly anxious about hosting people in their homes.
JRS helped Joseph to secure Home Office accommodation in a hotel, on COVID-19 grounds. When I think of hotels I think of a place of rest, a place of respite and of treating myself. Almost 12 months on, being in the same hotel room, with limited light, and nowhere to go during the day, with security guards at the door to the hotel, and no choice of what to eat – it doesn’t feel quite as restful.
Joseph explained that what keeps him sane and keeps him moving is his bike – it enables him to get to the shops easily, to attend essential appointments, to meet friends who stay further away. But mostly, it was great for his physical and mental well-being – being able to get out and moving in the fresh air, sometimes not actually going anywhere, just for a ride.
When Joseph phoned me to say his bike was broken and needed repairing – he was distraught. He was clearly agitated and distressed at the prospect of being without his bike for any length of time, he described to me that it was like ‘losing a limb’.
Thanks to your generous donations to the refugee friend’s hardship fund, Joseph was able to get his bike repaired quickly. Thanks to the hardship grant loaded on Joseph’s JRS prepaid MasterCard, he was able to shop around for where to get the bike repaired. He wasn’t confined to a particular repair shop because of a specific voucher. This unexpected – but crucial – expenditure and repair would have been crippling for Joseph, but thanks to your generosity, he was able to use some of the hardship grant to get the bike repaired.
When I next spoke to Joseph – he was elated, and so much calmer. You could hear in his voice the difference knowing his bike was repaired had made – something that we see as so small, actually made an enormous impact on his day-to-day life. Thank you for your continued support and generosity – it makes such a difference!
Miriam joined the JRS UK team in early 2021, leading our advice and support team.
To donate to the hardship fund visit www.jrsuk.net/hardshipfund or call 020 7488 7310