The history of Asylum Welcome is one of dedicated and talented local people and supportive organizations, working together to provide a collective humanitarian response to the challenges faced by asylum seekers, refugees and detainees in Oxford and Oxfordshire.
Refugees in Oxford
In 1991 two community workers, Diana Tickell and Liz Humphries, started Refugees in Oxford to ensure that refugee children and their families received education, healthcare and support, and to inform teachers and social workers about the needs of such families.
On 29th November 1993 the first immigration detainees were transferred to Campsfield House in Kidlington, just outside Oxford. Local people were determined to offer their support to those held at or recently released from this detention centre. Various groups came together each month to co-ordinate their response, in a forum chaired by Alistair McKenzie of Asylum Aid.
Members of the Oxford Black and White Christian Partnership began to visit the detainees. Apart from requesting clothing, books and phone cards, detainees asked for help in finding a lawyer, an interpreter, or medical treatment, and so the Detainee Support Group was set up. Many detainees, especially torture-survivors, found that detention exacerbated their existing psychological and physical problems; in response, doctors, social workers and psychiatrists donated their time and skills to help. Local people stood bail for detainees, at their own expense, and provided them with an address, in order to secure their release.
Professor Terence Ranger, in connection with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, organized regular day-schools to educate volunteers, journalists and members of the public about the conditions facing asylum seekers, refugees and detainees.
By 1995 detainees were being released without requiring an address, only to face homelessness in Oxford, and in 1996 changes in benefit regulations led to increasing destitution among asylum seekers.
Asylum Welcome and Detainee Support
In response to the increasing need Asylum Welcome and Detainee Support was established as a registered charity on 25th Sept 1996, running from one room in Alfred Street and funded by a grant from the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice. Professor Ranger became its patron. In 1997 Refugees in Oxford became part of Asylum Welcome.
In the late 1990s the number of asylum seekers in Oxford increased significantly, particularly after 1999, when Kosovars began to arrive in Oxford. The new cash-less support system of vouchers, introduced in 1999 for all asylum seekers, caused great hardship and Asylum Welcome was able to provide essential help. A rapidly growing group of volunteers ensured that the organization was never short of support.
By 2000, Asylum Welcome had moved to bigger premises on the busy Cowley Road, featuring the distinctive doorway that forms the basis of its logo. It had set up a thriving Education Service to provide English tuition and access to further and higher education − a most important gateway for integration into British society. It had also begun a programme to work with the increasing numbers of young asylum seekers arriving in Oxford unaccompanied by parents or guardians. As it became more well known in Oxford, Asylum Welcome was able to make a significant contribution to local debates, promoting understanding of the experiences and the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and detainees. Successful fundraising enabled it to employ a small team of staff, but the commitment of its volunteer base remained its driving force.
Asylum Welcome today
Asylum Welcome today still reflects the commitment and the ideals of the many local people who dedicated their time to respond to the needs of asylum seekers, refugees and detainees in the 1990s.
Today it has more modern offices and runs a wider range of services, but it is still primarily a volunteering organization, proud of the achievements of its volunteers, especially those who have remained part of the organization since the early days.