In the light of the latest government advice around the coronavirus situation in London, we have taken the decision this week to suspend our Day Centre drop-in, refugee activities and detention visiting service and move to offering phone support.
The government announced on Monday this week that the infection appears to be spreading rapidly in London and recommended people avoid gatherings, unnecessary travel and encourage those most vulnerable to complications from the virus to shield themselves from social contact as much as possible. The coronavirus is of particular concern for the refugees we support at JRS UK because many are in poor general health and almost all are in precarious housing situations. Infections potentially spread quickly in a contained environment such as our centre and we know many refugee friends travel by bus for long periods to reach us.
We are also conscious of our duty of care to volunteers and staff, some of whom themselves have underlying health issues or live with others who are elderly.
This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but we feel the decision to suspend these services for now and move to phone support is necessary for everyone’s safety. It is in line with the government guidance around gatherings and protecting the most vulnerable and in line with what many other organisations across the sector have decided to do.
Even though we are suspending a number of our services and shifting our way of providing help, we will continue to provide our refugee friends with as much support as we can, especially as they are likely to become even more isolated at this time and will struggle to survive without the financial and practical help we normally provide. In the short term, therefore:
- • we provided an advance hardship payment to as many refugee friends as we were able to see in over the last few days before the new public health guidance was announced;
- • our legal team will continue to provide phone support and progress immigration legal cases remotely;
- • our staff team will be available for phone support and advice for those in detention and those we normally see through our Day Centre;
- • we will continue to provide support to those involved in our hosting scheme but cannot currently accept new people onto the scheme;
- • we are working with others across the refugee sector to advocate for support to be put in place for people who are homeless as a matter of urgency, and for a suspension in Home Office reporting requirements.
Over the next few weeks, we will also be taking some time to think about how we can re-design our services to continue to provide practical, emotional and spiritual support to refugee friends during this pandemic. As physical presence and accompaniment form such a big part of our work and are the clearest expression of mission, we are having to do some rather creative thinking to find new ways to express our solidarity and support from a distance.
We are also coordinating with other refugee organisations to see what possibility there might be for working together. These are unchartered times – working together across organisations, across sectors who might not normally collaborate in order to protect the most vulnerable is going to be essential. It is hard to know how long this public health crisis will last, but the indications are that it may be prolonged. New ways of working and new connections with others will need to be brokered. JRS UK is committed to doing this.
If you are a supporter, thank you for your continued commitment to our work and the people we serve. Please watch this space as we find new ways of supporting refugees – we will continue to need your help, and indeed your support is going to be more important than ever.
If you are a refugee friend reading this – please take confidence that we will not abandon you during this crisis. We will continue to support you and will find new ways of reaching you.
If you are another organisation in the sector wondering how to go on supporting refugees and asylum seekers in these challenging times, do please get in touch. Just sharing ideas and experience may help us together find the way forward.
In the meantime, stay safe. We are united in prayer.
Please note: We are unable to accept new referrals for our Day Centre, legal project or hosting scheme at present. We are however continuing to accept new referrals for phone support from people within detention at Heathrow IRC.