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Dr Emma Sidebotham’s video in Tetum on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccination

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dr Emma Sidebotham’s video in Tetum on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccination

This video is in Tetum. The translation to English below was kindly provided by Dr Emma Sidebotham.
 

Hi everyone. I am Emma and I am a doctor that has previously lived and worked in Timor Leste. This message is to help ensure that as many people as possible from the Timorese community are vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccination. This is the best way we to protect ourselves, and others, from the virus – and it is an important tool to help stop the pandemic.

“Any COVID-19 vaccine approved for use via the NHS has to meet strict standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness. 

“Multiple vaccines are being developed. They will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.” 

“Ultimately, the COVID-19 vaccine gives you the best protection against coronavirus.”

I have had the vaccine already without any problems or serious side effects.

“Remember:– the NHS will contact you when you are eligible.”

I would like to say that I am grateful to the scientists and researchers, who have worked tirelessly to develop vaccines to stop this terrible pandemic. And I hope that all of you can get the vaccine quickly. 

Please continue to follow govt guidance – maintaining social distancing, wearing a face mask and washing hands regularly, to ensure that you and your loved ones remain healthy.  

Take care, keep well and keep safe.

Thank you.

Dr Emma Sidebotham


We must #EndTheHostileEnvironment so everyone can access the Covid-19 vaccine safely

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

In the interests of human rights and the health and safety of the population, the Hostile Environment in the NHS must end. Temporary offers of safety are not enough to undo the decades of harm caused by policies that have embedded immigration controls into public services. We signed this call to the Department of Health and Social Care so everyone can access the Covid-19 vaccine safely, regardless of their immigration status. Very grateful to Cllr Dr Hosnieh Djafari Marbini and proud that Oxford City Council is only one of two councils to have joined.

“Coronavirus ‘amnesty’ to get undocumented migrants vaccinated will not be enough, ministers warned. Coalition of 140 organisations write to ministers urging concrete action to end 'hostile environment'.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-immigration-amnesty-vaccine-b1799280.html 


Full press release here below:

The Government must go further to ensure undocumented migrants come forward for the coronavirus vaccine, warn local authorities, GP surgeries, charities and public health institutions

      140 migrants rights’ charities, faith groups, local authorities, health institutions and trade unions have issued a statement to the Department of Health calling for an end to Hostile Environment immigration policies in the NHS so that all migrants can access the vaccine without fear.

      Signatories include: Oxford City Council, Haringey Council, six GP surgeries and primary care networks, the Faculty of Public Health, the Faculty of Homelessness and Inclusion Health, the Refugee Council, Doctors of the World, and over 120 migrants rights charities, faith institutions and civil society organisations.

Following today’s announcement that the Government will not check immigration status for undocumented migrants, charities and health groups have warned that these measures do not go far enough.

The statement calls for the Department of Health and Social Care to guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement; and an end to all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.

The call was initiated by the Patients Not Passports campaign, including charities Medact, Migrants Organise, Doctors of the World, and Docs Not Cops.

CONTACT

Aliya Yule - 07960163915 - aliya@migrantsorganise.org

James Skinner - 07952915870 - jamesskinner@medact.org

QUOTES

James Skinner, former NHS Nurse and Programme Lead for Health and Human Rights, Medact, said:

“Today's announcement by the Government is a clear admission that the Hostile Environment is incompatible with public health. At the start of the pandemic we warned that the fear created by NHS charging and data sharing would prevent migrant communities accessing treatment for coronavirus, yet it has taken almost a year for the Government to even acknowledge the harm these policies are causing. It will be hard for anyone to trust these assurances from the Government while the rest of the NHS continues to charge people for care and share patient data with the Home Office.”

Aliya Yule, Access to Healthcare Organiser at Migrants Organise, said:

“The experiences of our members at Migrants Organise have shown that the Hostile Environment fosters a culture of discrimination in the NHS, and creates fear and mistrust. Temporary offers of safety are not enough to undo the decades of harm caused by structurally racist policies that have embedded immigration controls into vital public services. The only viable solution is the immediate repeal of all Hostile Environment policies and the creation of an NHS that truly lives up to the principle of universal access for all.”

Anna Miller, Doctors of the World UK Head of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“While we welcome the government proactively encouraging migrants to come forward to register with a GP and receive the vaccine, and GP practices to register patients, this exemption doesn’t go far enough to undo the fear and mistrust created by the hostile environment.

 

“The migrant charging policy has done great damage to the relationship between migrant communities and the NHS, creating a situation where patients don’t trust nurses and doctors and avoid healthcare services.

“All the evidence shows that removing charges and status checks for a specific health service is not enough to make sure people with insecure immigration status access that service. Primary care has always been free regardless of immigration status, yet most people without status are not registered with a GP. When rolling out the vaccine we really must learn the lessons from this.

The government also needs to do more to get the message to healthcare services. Doctors of the World is still seeing GP practices wrongly turning patients away because they can’t provide documentation, and NHS trusts trying to carry out immigration checks on people attending vaccination appointments.

Munya Radzi, founder of Regularise, said:

“In the last few weeks, several undocumented migrants have reported to Regularise that they haven’t been able to register with a GP, and that people are scared to come forward for the vaccine. The fear is still present even after the news that undocumented migrants will be included in the vaccination programme with people asking how they can trust the Home Office. Whilst it is important that the Government have acknowledged that undocumented migrants have been excluded, they must do more to ensure our communities are included and engaged with in a pro-active way in order to access the COVID-19 vaccination, and to ensure that people are not discriminated against when trying to access healthcare.”

George Miller, Public Health Registrar working for Public Health England, said:

“Being inappropriately asked to provide ID when registering with a GP is not the only barrier to accessing the vaccine. The Government needs to directly address the fear caused by the Hostile Environment in every aspect of the vaccine roll out, from work on vaccine hesitancy, to ensuring that people are not told to bring their ID or NHS number when they register.”

Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:

“We are concerned that many people seeking asylum, currently being accommodated in hotels and other forms of short term accommodation, may not have been registered with a GP and may struggle to do so without support.  It’s imperative that the government put in place a mechanism to enable this group to access the vaccine.”

Susan Cueva of the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, said:

"Although the Government have said they there will be no immigration checks for the Covid-19 vaccine, we still believe that information gathered in this process could be used by the Government to track and trace people who are undocumented with potential backlash later. People will still not trust the vaccine offer because of this. One of the solutions to the pandemic vaccination programme is to regularise the status of all undocumented migrants and those in legal process to keep us all safe.”

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, retired paediatrician and co-chair Keep Our NHS Public, said:

“There must be no barrier of fear from accessing Covid vaccinations and NHS treatment. In the interests of human rights, the health and safety of the population and undocumented people, the hostile environment in the NHS must go now, and access to vaccines is a huge step along this road.”

APPENDICES

  1. Full list of Signatories
  2. The Demands to DHSC

  1. Signatories:

  1. The Faculty of Homelessness and Inclusion Health
  2. The Faculty of Public Health
  3. Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
  4. The Arch, Homelessness GP surgery
  5. The Corner Surgery
  6. Tower Hamlets CEPN (Community Education Provider Network)
  7. Tower Hamlets GP Care Group
  8. Townships Primary Care Network
  9. Haringey Council
  10. Oxford City Council
  11. The NRPF Network
  12. Asylum Welcome
  13. ATLEU (Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit)
  14. AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees)
  15. Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID)
  16. Birth Companions
  17. Birthrights
  18. Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition
  19. Bristol Defend the Asylum Seekers Campaign
  20. Bristol Project Mama
  21. Bristol Protect Our NHS
  22. Bristol Refugee Festival
  23. Bristol Refugee Rights
  24. Bristol Student Action for Refugees
  25. British HIV Association (BHIVA)
  26. CARAG – Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
  27. Choose Love
  28. Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke-on-Trent
  29. City of Sanctuary - Birmingham
  30. City of Sanctuary Sheffield
  31. CRIBS International
  32. Daikon
  33. Defend Our NHS Wirral
  34. Docs Not Cops
  35. Doctors in Unite
  36. Doctors of the World
  37. Donate4Refugees
  38. DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts
  39. English for Action (EFA) London
  40. Every Doctor
  41. Freedom From Torture
  42. Friends of the Drop In for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (FODI)
  43. Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group
  44. Good Chance Theatre
  45. Grassroots Black Left
  46. Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
  47. Greater Manchester Law Centre
  48. Hackney Migrant Centre
  49. Haringey Welcome
  50. Hastings Community of Sanctuary
  51. Health Campaigns Together
  52. JCWI
  53. Kalayaan
  54. Kanlungan Filipino Consortium
  55. Keep Our NHS Public
  56. Lambeth Healthwatch
  57. Lancet Migration
  58. Latin American Women's Rights Service
  59. Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network
  60. Lewes Organisation in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (LOSRAS) 
  61. Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
  62. Liberty
  63. Liverpool Migrant Solidarity Campaign
  64. Manchester Refugee Support Network
  65. Maternity Action
  66. Medact
  67. Medact Dorset
  68. Medact Manchester
  69. Medact Oxford
  70. Medact Sheffield
  71. Médecins Sans Frontières UK Take Action Group
  72. Merseyside Pensioners Association
  73. Migrant English Project
  74. Migrants Organise
  75. Migrants' Rights Network
  76. NACCOM
  77. National Aids Trust
  78. New Economics Foundation
  79. NHS Staff Voices
  80. Nilaari Agency
  81. North of England Refugee Service
  82. Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum
  83. Nottingham HOST
  84. Notts Keep Our NHS Public
  85. Notts Stand Up to Racism
  86. Officers of The Socialist Health Association - Liverpool City Region
  87. Oxford Mutual Aid
  88. Pathway
  89. Patients Not Passports Birmingham
  90. PHM UK
  91. Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC)
  92. Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS)
  93. Race & Health
  94. RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research)
  95. Refugee Council
  96. Refugee Resource
  97. Refugee Support Society
  98. Refugee Youth Service
  99. Regularise
  1. Right to Remain
  2. Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
  3. Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital Campaign
  4. Sheffield Flourish
  5. Socialist Health Association London
  6. Solidarity Knows No Borders - Merseyside
  7. Southall Black Sisters
  8. Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers
  9. St. Augustine’s Centre
  10. STAR - Student Action for Refugees
  11. STARCH (South Tyneside Asylum Seekers and Refugee Church Help)
  12. Steve Owen
  13. Stockport Alliance for Equality (SAFE)
  14. Stockport Stand Up to Racism (SSUTR)
  15. Stockport United Against Austerity
  16. The Helen Bamber Foundation
  17. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)
  18. The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden
  19. The Voice of Domestic Workers
  20. Voices in Exile
  21. Waltham Forest Citizens
  22. West London Welcome
  23. Zero Covid Campaign
  24. Chorlton Central Church
  25. Deep End Scotland
  26. Deep End Yorkshire & Humber
  27. Easton Jamia Mosque
  28. Fairhealth
  29. Faiths in Lambeth Together
  30. Gipsy Hill Labour Party
  31. Hastings & Rye Constituency Labour Party BAME Branch
  32. International Child Health Group
  33. Katherine Low Settlement
  34. KoniMusic
  35. Noor Ul Islam
  36. St Barnabas Church
  37. Stockton Baptist Church
  38. The Bristol Council of Mosques
  39. The Mary Thompson Fund
  40. Waltham Forest Council of Mosques
  41. Avon Fire Brigades Union
  42. East London Unite Community
  43. Liverpool TUC
  44. Manchester Trade Union Council
  45. Nurses United UK
  46. South West TUC
  47. Waltham Forest NEU
  1. Waltham Forest Trades Council
  2. Manuel Bravo Project
  3. The Royal College of Midwives North Bristol Branch

II. The Demands to DHSC

In order to address the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen public health efforts, the coronavirus vaccine must be safely accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address.

The Government has stated that everyone is able to access the coronavirus vaccine, but in practice, people are being asked for ID, are unable to register with a GP, and are afraid to access services because of longstanding and entrenched barriers to healthcare.

Without further action, the pandemic will continue to have a disproportionate impact on all marginalised groups, including migrant communities, people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, and BME communities.

We therefore call on the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure the vaccine programme works for everyone, and seeks to address the specific barriers faced by these communities in line with calls from the JCVI.

The Department of Health and Social Care must:

  1. Guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
  2. End all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.
  3. Provide specific support to all GP surgeries to register everyone, including undocumented and underdocumented migrants and those without secure accommodation, and ensure that all other routes to vaccination are accessible to everyone.
  4. Fund a public information campaign to ensure that communities impacted by the Hostile Environment are aware of their right to access the vaccine and the steps taken above.



Dignity and respect: Is it really too much to ask for those seeking asylum in the U.K.?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Dignity and respect: Is it really too much to ask for those seeking asylum in the U.K.?

By Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome

The people who visit Asylum Welcome’s offices in Oxford come from across the world and from all walks of life. A university professor fleeing persecution, a boy whose parents entrusted him to strangers in the hope of safety thousands of miles away, a young man running from war, a woman coming to join her husband, then being abandoned with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

One man who recently knocked on our door soon after landing at Heathrow feared persecution for his sexuality and was desperate to claim asylum. A woman who fled communal violence has just obtained refugee status after thirteen years and has moved into a flat of her own, having lived on the streets for far too long since her arrival.  The vast majority who call on us for help are somewhere in between: caught in months and years of interviews, hearings, rejections, appeals, but mostly just waiting. Waiting in limbo while officials, in their own good time, make decisions about their lives.

What our refugee clients do have in common with each other is their knowledge of fear. Many lived in fear in their home country, most felt it daily on their difficult, often dangerous journey to the U.K. Despite having reached what should be safe shores, too many still live in fear for their future when they get here. They cry out for certainty, timeliness, transparency and most of all, respect and dignity.

It’s no accident that the very first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists on the inherent dignity of all people. Recognising a common humanity and treating people with respect doesn’t depend on any law, eligibility for a benefit or even on a country’s right to decide who lives in it. It’s about how we as a society choose to engage with people who have often suffered torture and trauma, and are still trapped in fear. We add insult to injury when we ignore their dignity.

Coming new to the refugee sector in 2020, I expected to hear from refugees and asylum seekers that their biggest challenge was the impossibly low level of financial support available while their claim is being heard, or not being allowed to work. Or being told where to live and who to share a room with. Or the impact on their health, education and wellbeing of their designation as ‘NRPF’; or, after the all too common rejection of their first asylum claim, the challenge of getting legal aid and the time of the few overstretched lawyers available.

But, without understating the seriousness of these and other practical difficulties that make up the “hostile environment” so proudly launched by Theresa May as Home Secretary and continued, almost gleefully, by her successors, what we hear most is much more elemental:  a simple plea for respect.  

Our clients describe long waits to meet rushed officials who are trained to disbelieve, to pick holes or find inconsistencies in stories first told in traumatic circumstances en route or on arrival. These officials have boxes to fill and deadlines to meet. There’s no room for the complexities of real lives or the impact of unrecognised PTSD.  Whether it’s the Home Office requiring  expensive travel to a hard-to-reach office simply to be kept waiting then ticked off a list; or a panel assessing whether someone really is a child, cross-examining them as if they had committed a crime; or a Council  challenging why a claimant can’t  continue living on a friend’s sofa indefinitely - those claiming asylum too often describe a starting-point  of disbelief, suspicion, open or implicit hostility, and of officials wanting a quick, simple answer. An answer that fits their box and their all too limited time and patience.

We can see this hostile approach vividly demonstrated on our tv screens, as former military camps, fenced in and distant from local communities and services, are repurposed to house the handful of people arriving after the terrors of their small-boat Channel crossing. We can sense it in the grandiosely titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’, appointed to keep our shores safe from those desperate enough to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers. But what we don’t see is the impact of every bureaucratic challenge, hostile question or snide remark, every detention and delay, on the dignity and wellbeing of people who have already suffered hugely.

We do see some examples of sensitive engagement from individuals at all levels and in all organisations. Recently we’ve seen quick and positive national and local efforts to house refugees living on the street during Covid. But these actions are not the norm. Too rarely are respect and dignity recognised as the vital prerequisite for engaging with refugees. As we face up to the likelihood of a challenging year ahead for people seeking asylum in the U.K., we could begin by reminding ourselves of the deep meaning of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration: a powerful starting point for showing our own humanity as well as our respect for those who need our help.

Volunteering with “foreign” nationals in prison

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Guest blog in AVID: Volunteering with “foreign” nationals in prison


AVID is the network of voluntery organisations providing support for people in detention. 

You can find the original blog hereFor an extract, please click here.

Asylum Welcome's Huntercombe Visiting Project is possible thanks to the support from The Bromley Trust.


Clara Della Croce, Prisoner and Detainee Project Co-ordinator at Asylum Welcome, writes about their pilot project visiting people in HMP Huntercombe following the closure of Campsfield House IRC in late 2018. Twitter:@AsylumWelcome (Approximate read time: 10 mins)

It was a busy Friday afternoon in the office; on the 9th November 2018. The volunteers and myself were trying to finalise multiple tasks, including contacting people detained at Campsfield House immigration removal centre, when the telephone rang. It was the office of the MP representing Kidlington, on the outskirts of Oxford, where Campsfield  House was. I am told that the Home Office had decided to close Campsfield House by May 2019 and this is the first time I am hearing about the closure:  I listen quietly, not quite grasping the extent of what is being said.

For a decade, I had been going to see the men in Campsfield; people who were incarcerated under an unfair and hostile detention system. Many had committed no criminal offence but were detained for ‘administrative convenience’; others, who had been in prison and already paid for the crimes they had committed, were being held indefinitely under immigration powers because they were deemed as “foreigners” and were not welcome in the UK.

I, alongside many others, had been campaigning for the end of immigration detention. So I was thrilled to hear of the closure of Campsfield, but yet, I found myself thinking a million thoughts at once. What about the people currently detained in Campsfield? Many were so vulnerable; I knew of their testing stories, where were they going? If, according to the Home Office statement, Campsfield’s closure was part of its 40% reduction in immigration detention numbers, what was next for the people affected? A happy thought also occurred to me: all detention centres will be eventually closed - was that possible?

We stood back in celebration. People around me, Asylum Welcome colleagues, and volunteer visitors to Campsfield House, all had similar feelings of incredulity and elation, but we were foremost concerned with the welfare of the people held there. Volunteers reported mixed feelings of joyfulness to see a detention centre closing but also apprehension for the men who could end up in a worse situation. These were people who explained to us that being in Campsfield was terribly depressing and stressful but that being in other detention centres, where the regime was stricter, treatment harsher and food ‘disgusting’, was far worse. At least in Campsfield, they said, some staff cared for their wellbeing. We, volunteers and people detained at Campsfield, were so familiar with the Home Office practices of moving individuals between prisons and among detention centres, and the level of distress that this practice raises for peoples’ welfare as well as the detrimental impact on their mental health. We were all very apprehensive about their future in immigration detention.

In Campsfield, volunteers provided continuous help and support to every man who sought our assistance. There was no distinction regarding their background or immigration status, we helped asylum seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking, overstayers as well as people with past convictions coming out of prison. Our visitors came from a diverse range of backgrounds and training (medical training, social workers, lawyers, aid workers, students of different subjects, and affiliations). They spoke a wide range of languages, which helped when providing emotional support in someone’s own language.  From the office, we followed cases, communicating with a wide range of people and agencies on behalf of people detained such as lawyers, probation services, family, friends, and doctors.  We also liaised with other agencies such as social services and the police on their behalf. Our volunteers with medical training saw first-hand the long-lasting effects of immigration detention on the mental and physical health of people detained and sought to provide more specialised support to our clients. We helped in practical ways and financially too by collecting belongings from police stations or previous accommodation to be reunited with someone prior to their removal or deportation, and by topping up their phones to allow them to talk to family and friends and to their legal representatives. Stories of help, support, compassion, solidarity, and lessons of resilience abounded throughout the 25 years Asylum Welcome was present in Campsfield House, sometimes every day of the week. 

By mid-December 2018 Campsfield house was empty. The remaining few people detained there were transferred to other immigration removal centres and a few got bail.  We kept in touch with some of our clients, primarily those whose bail had been granted in principle but had no suitable accommodation by the closure date. We continued to liaise with their probation officers and lawyers early into the new year. Our volunteers showed great compassion towards their ‘visitees’. When we knew where former clients were sent to, we also referred them to other visiting groups around the UK. In some cases, it was very frustrating as we did not get to know what had happened to them after Campsfield.

In the new year, everyone, volunteers and staff in Asylum Welcome were all resolute that we needed to continue supporting people experiencing detention; it was important to us to provide support to those who were excluded, isolated and often forgotten. We were aware that there were two prisons near Oxford which held ‘foreign’ nationals: HMP Huntercombe and HMP Bullingdon. The possibility of offering our support in a prison environment made volunteers rethink their rationale for volunteering; one said to me: “I have never considered those in Campsfield as people who had committed a crime, although there were many. However, I have now to be conscious of the fact that this is the case for a prison.” Above all, I personally think that what moved each one of us towards replicating our solidarity with people incarcerated in a prison was a shared sense of compassion; the thought of the “men locked up, isolated, cut off from their families, with no certainty about their futures and limited legal support. Many with poor English and so are even more cut off.” These thoughts showed us, volunteers, and staff, including myself, how crucial human contact and practical help had been and could be for many of them.

After getting consent from our board of trustees for a pilot project to get started, we contacted HMP Huntercombe whose governor was very positive about our potential support to the men there. Drawing upon our experience in Campsfield House we hoped to provide human contact and a bridge to the outside world.

Huntercombe is a Category C prison with an exclusive foreign national population where some people do not speak English at all, hence there was a particular interest in the wide-ranging language skills of our volunteers who are often able to support prisoners in their native language - a great comfort to many of them.

Huntercombe, as opposed to Campsfield, is a quieter, more orderly place, giving the impression of a calmer environment; possibly because inmates know why they are there, and when their sentences finish. In Campsfield, like all immigration removal centres, I saw people who had to cope with the uncertainty of being held indefinitely, provoking a strong feeling of anxiety regarding their future. In Huntercombe, I see that same uncertainty as to whether they would be released at the end of their sentence or transferred to an immigration removal centre and held for an indefinite period of time or if they are going to be put onto a plane back ‘home’. Huntercombe is often the last stop, within the criminal justice system, a foreign national prisoner has before deportation, hence, the anxiety and serious concern about their unclear future is equivalent to being in an immigration removal centre. Thus, the need for visitors and some human and outside contact is very similar, if not greater in the prison setting.

Even if the needs are similar for so-called ‘foreign’ prisoners and other people in immigration detention, our way of working in Huntercombe has both differences and parallels to the work we did in Camspfield.  A distinct difference is how we can attract new clients. As the prison system is much stricter, there are no open drop-in sessions like those we used to hold at Campsfield. Instead in Huntercombe, we hold group visits where we meet a group of people and explain the background of our work in the community and in Huntercombe. These group visits are facilitated by prison staff who invite individuals to meet the group in accordance with the language spoken by the volunteers present on the day and the urgency of support they require. During these group visits, we take peoples’ details and ascertain their needs; thereafter we match them with our volunteers to follow up with future one to one visits.

In recent months, since lockdown, when groups visits were suspended, prison staff have helped us to ‘advertise our support’ by spreading our flyers throughout the prison.

Communicating with someone in prison is rather difficult as they do not have easy access to telephones or internet and the number of visits and visiting times are more restricted. We soon discovered that individuals are entitled to only a couple of social (physical) visits a month but, if they don’t have a social visit, they can apply for telephone credit instead to call their family and friends in other parts of the world. Whilst some people were very eager to receive the one to one support of our volunteers, the possibility of not having credit to call their families because they received our volunteer’s social visit was a not a fair choice for them. This was only resolved when we started seeing prisoners during empty legal slots, not to give legal advice, but as a concession for a face to face support without affecting someone’s right to telephone credit.

Last March, as our one to one visits had finally begun flourishing, the threat of the pandemic and consequent lockdown suddenly made it impossible for face to face visits to continue and our services were suspended. News that people in Huntercombe during the pandemic had to cope with a very strict regime atypical for a Category C prison made our volunteers determined to help them at this difficult time. Our perseverance and determination to make the project work coupled with the prison management’s forthcoming and supportive attitude led us to re-start our services in a virtual format. Since last June, we have started video calls with our clients trying to bring some comfort and solidarity to the men who are coping with the new rigid regime. This has not come without tribulations as connections are sometimes poor, though this has improved of late. Volunteers say: “communication is not ideal, it is slow but I think this is better than no contact and the men seem to appreciate it, especially as they are having to spend a lot of time in their cells.”

Another difference between visiting in a prison as opposed to a detention centre is the stringent Ministry of Justice vetting procedure volunteers and staff must go through in order to provide long lasting support to prisoners.  The vetting is necessary for continued visits. Although all our volunteers are extremely dedicated and committed to supporting the men,  they are foremost volunteers, people willing to give their time and valuable skills, many retired from busy professional lives. Some were surprised, at least in the beginning, with the length of time that it took to gain clearance, the rigor, and strict timeline of the vetting procedure: very different from an immigration removal centre.

For some volunteers, so far, visiting/having contact with this group of men is not very different from an immigration removal centre. “Yes, they had all committed offences but quite a few of those we saw in Campsfield were in a similar position but what was important was that these men were isolated. Some have poor English and so were even more cut off. Although the men are often desperate for immigration legal advice, I think that just having contact with someone from outside who may be able to speak their language is what is important. To be non-judgmental is the first lesson, and patient, and remain hopeful that my very small contribution is of help!”

Overall, for us, who have visited both Campsfield and Huntercombe, the support needs of those we have had contact with are similar and yet the difference lies in what we are able to do. Although we provide primarily emotional support, we also signpost people we work with in prison to different agencies, raise their physical and mental health issues with prison staff and, on occasion, act as a link to immigration advisors (as immigration advice within the prison is rather limited compared to legal representation for criminal cases). But there is a degree of limitation on what is possible to do for them at present.

It has been a learning curve for me and our volunteers in different aspects, for example, prison procedures and rules and thinking through our attitude towards people who are imprisoned. I agree with a volunteer who says ‘there is a lot to learn still’ and “ I am hoping that, as a pilot project, we can still demonstrate that we are improving the lives of those we do speak with and that, with time, our support will expand and will be better tailored to the men’s specific needs.” Undoubtedly, working at Campsfield equipped us with an understanding of the isolation and anxiety experienced by people in detention as well as their limited access to legal redress and other services. We are learning that in a ‘foreign’ national prison, these challenges are even greater. While people must serve their sentence, any support someone facing additional barriers can get whilst doing so can be of help, and may potentially decrease their chances of reoffending and improve the likelihood of their reintegration into society, wherever that may be.

This article was written as part of our Human to Human Winter Appeal which you can donate to here.


COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults in English and Arabic

Thursday, January 21, 2021

This leaflet explains about the COVID-19 vaccination, who is eligible and who needs to have the vaccine to protect them from Coronavirus. Please read and help us spread the word.

COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults, English version

COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults, Arabic version 



Community Kindness 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Refugees and asylum seekers have so much to contribute to our local community, but they need your support…

Asylum Welcome is an amazing Oxford-based charity that provides life-changing support to more than 1,700 asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants each year. Our work relies heavily on the active involvement of local people.

 

In these very tough times, we are reaching out to spread the word about what we do and to see if you can offer your support. If you are already one of our many volunteers or supporters, then please accept our heartfelt thanks for all that you do. If you are not familiar with our work, then I hope you will take a moment to read about Asylum Welcome and see how you can help.

Refugees and asylum seekers are some of the most marginalised people in our community. There are many people in Oxfordshire who are facing exceptional adversity – including hunger, destitution and homelessness – and this has been compounded by COVID-19. With the right support, our clients go on to achieve incredible things and to contribute so much to local life.

Did you know, for example, that the much-loved, world-famous and ground-breaking Mini was created in Oxford by Alec Issigonis, a Greek refugee who fled Turkey in 1922, at the end of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922)?

Asylum Welcome believes that refugees and asylum seekers should feel welcome, respected and understood, be able to exercise their rights and have their cases fairly considered, and have every opportunity to develop and share their talents.

Our integrated services are delivered by 100+ committed volunteers and a small staff team, 35% of whom have a refugee background. Our work includes advice and support for adults and families, a youth service, an education and employment service, 1:1 English lessons, a recycled bike project, and a food bank and hardship fund – for the many clients facing homelessness and destitution.

Local refugees and asylum seekers rely on the kindness of people like you – and this has never been more the case than during COVID-19

A story of hope in these difficult times

Friday, December 04, 2020

COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging for us all, and particularly so for our clients. But not everything is as hopeless as it first looks.
 
Thanks to you, our supporters, we have managed to keep our services running throughout the pandemic and to provide our community with the support they need. We are helping a particular group of people right now – women and children suffering domestic abuse and violence.

My name is Caritas Umulisa - I’ve been involved with Asylum Welcome for a number of years, and earlier this year I became a member of staff, working directly with women and girls who are often in the greatest need. We’ve seen a growing number of cases of domestic abuse and violence over recent months; it’s one of the most difficult aspects of our work.

Sadly, this is an issue I know all too well through my own experience. I too fled my country, seeing domestic violence as a norm affecting my family and neighbours over 20 years ago. I sought asylum here in the UK looking to rebuild my life – thankfully, I was granted refugee status and I’ve built up professional knowledge and expertise in social care and women’s support services. So I can really empathise with those women I meet who are facing the most difficult time of their lives.

I want to share one story with you because it demonstrates the resilience of our clients in the face of great difficulty, and the best of what Asylum Welcome can do...
 
When I first met Khadija (not her real name), she was highly distressed. Khadija’s husband had been physically abusive towards her; the police and social services had got involved and Khadija’s husband had left. Khadija was now deeply anxious about the future, for herself and for her two young children.

I was shocked at her physical and mental state – she was trembling with fear, and there were clear signs that she had been beaten and hurt. The restrictions of the first lockdown were also adding to her anxiety and isolation.
 
"I was at the lowest point in my life... I felt scared about what would happen to me and I just didn't know what to do next." 
Khadija - before being helped by Asylum Welcome


Like many women who have suffered from domestic violence, Khadija’s needs fell into two distinct phases. Firstly, she needed emergency financial help to stay in her home, change the locks, and ensure that she had food for herself and her children (one of whom has special educational needs and requires additional support). Asylum Welcome immediately provided Khadija with food deliveries and access to our hardship fund, and we put her in direct contact with the Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service (ODAS).

Khadija, being on a spouse visa, had ‘no recourse to public funds.’ However, there is a concession for those who have suffered domestic violence and are at risk of destitution – and we knew how to help Khadija make a claim for Universal Credit. We managed to secure Khadija a basic income despite a very complicated process – her husband had tried unsuccessfully to claim money by fraudulently making a claim in her name. 

Whilst Khadija and her children have faced a very uncertain legal future in the UK, Khadija’s husband has continued to threaten her and to cause immense anxiety and distress. During a ‘second phase’ of assistance, we provided Khadija with crucial emotional support, and helped her to access specialist immigration legal advice and support from social services. I know from my own experience that dealing with so many issues at the same time takes a devastating toll on one’s physical and mental health. But I also know that the expert help and advice given to someone as vulnerable as Khadija brings enormous relief and boosts confidence where none existed before.

Things are now getting much better for Khadija. She has shown remarkable fortitude in dealing with so many difficult issues at the same time, and we will continue standing alongside her every step of the way.

"I really feel better since Asylum Welcome have been helping me. They make no judgements; I am free to be myself. A few months ago I thought every good thing had ended for me but at last I am hopeful that things are getting better.” Khadija - after being helped by Asylum Welcome

Stories such as Khadija’s are distressing, yet they show how Asylum Welcome helps asylum seekers and refugees facing domestic violence to cope and move forward. We know that we can only do this with your ongoing support.

With your support today we will help many more people like Khadija

Can you make a special donation of £20, £40 or whatever you can afford to help our clients cope, particularly vital during the winter cold months and even more so during the pandemic?

I hope you’ll feel able to make a special donation this winter. It will make all the difference.

Thank you and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,


PS. Khadija’s case is just one of those that I have been dealing with in recent weeks. Many domestic abuse support services were full to capacity prior to the pandemic, and the lockdown has made things far worse. Local support groups are building up waiting lists, even for those who need urgent help – here at Asylum Welcome we will always act quickly to support those in need. Thank you.









“We form each other’s family: mother, brother, sister and friend”

Tuesday, December 01, 2020
“We form each other’s family: mother, brother, sister and friend” - helping refugee and migrant community groups better support their own communities


How many of us are aware that there are several thousand people from East Timor living in our city and county? They are able to be here because of their country’s colonial links with Portugal, and EU freedom of movement. Many have only a modest education, struggle in English, are in poor housing, low paid and zero hours employment. They have been hit hard by COVID. Some are not entitled to the state support we all take for granted; a community that has been ignored and left to struggle on their own on our door steps.


Living alongside them, most closely in East Oxford, are tens of young Eritrean men, many of whom came here as boys fleeing violence in their homeland and who have or are about to graduate from council care. Ill-prepared for life and work in the UK, and often living right on the margins of our society, they come together for support, company, being there for one another as they describe it: “we form each other’s family: mother, brother, sister and a friend”. So, no wonder when one has a job, they pay for the pitch for five a side football.


While COVID has hit all of us in different ways, it has hit those already most marginalised and with the weakest family and community support structures hardest. This has exacerbated many issues, but they all build on longer-standing challenges.

The Sudanese community is much more mixed than the Eritrean in terms of people’s backgrounds and status, how long they have been in the UK and what they now do. But they recognise that their children are struggling with a world of multiple cultures and languages, and so have organised extra Saturday classes for the children within the community.

Whether migrants from East Timor, or asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Sudan, Iran and so many other countries, the reality of their lives in Oxfordshire is very different from their dreams when they started the long and often difficult journey to get here. While extended families back home wait for financial support from their loved ones across the world, many recent and not so recent arrivals in our country are actually living on the edge, struggling to keep body and soul together. For those in the lengthy process of claiming asylum, the official Asylum Support allowance of not much over £5 a day doesn’t stretch very far.

While government departments, councils and charities all do valuable work and have stepped up housing and hardship support during the lockdown, we know that many refugees and migrants are actually reliant on friends, countrymen and well-wishers for somewhere to sleep, the next meal and, just as importantly, someone to talk to who understands them.

As well as those vital individual relationships, there is a rich tapestry of community organisations across the county, linking people according to ethnicity, language, community or shared experience. In many ways, while organisations like Asylum Welcome are the front line for ensuring effective information, advice and practical support in all areas of their life are provided, these community organisations are the real front line on the human front. They give people a chance to meet, fulfil some gaps left in their lives, share, help each other and seek to better themselves.

The challenge that Asylum Welcome, helped by OCF, is trying to respond to is how we most usefully help these community organisations to best support their own communities. Some organisations have formal structures, others are informal groupings of friends and their friends. There’s no reason why they should all be the same or follow a standard blueprint. We need to work together to identify resources available in and for their communities, share our experience and expertise and explore how best they can build on their own strengths and aspirations.

In opening a dialogue between community leaders and Asylum Welcome, we’ve found that some emerging groups are asking for advice and practical assistance for engaging with their wider community, some want help with governance, including to register to become eligible for other sources of funds, some want help with finance management; some, access to funding opportunities. Some want channels to better make their voices heard; others language training tailored specifically to their communities’ needs. Many want a partner to share the financial burden of running activities that benefit their wider community, but are currently being paid for by only the few members who can afford it. As a small charity ourselves we certainly don’t have all the answers or extensive resources, but, using our rich volunteer network, the skills of our staff and seed funding from OCF, we hope we can offer a useful service that will steadily grow.

The project has only been running for three months. So far, we are in close dialogue with about a dozen organisations and groups, with more in the city and across the county likely to get involved soon. We have begun to help a number of organisations individually, have run the first training for those with shared interests, and made the first small grants. Next year we hope to bring organisations together with the hope of sharing their experience, celebrating their success and identifying areas of shared interest. We are already working closely with our colleagues at Refugee Resource, both to support groups that they identify and make use of their professional expertise in support for mental health and wellbeing.

Living and working across the world for many years, I saw how important informal and often unspoken community support is in all countries and cultures; we’ve recently seen that vividly here in the UK as countless community groups quickly mobilised around COVID. We hope that this project can help build on the best of all of these traditions across Oxfordshire, and promote togetherness and solidarity across communities.

EU citizens urged to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme

Friday, November 06, 2020

Oxford’s EU citizens are urged to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme before the deadline of 30 June 2021, and to contact the Europa Welcome service if they need help with their application.

Those who have not applied by the deadline will lose their legal rights to live, work and access benefits in the UK. 

Europa Welcome service offers help

Oxford charity Asylum Welcome has secured a new contract with the Home Office to continue its Europa Welcome service, supporting vulnerable EU Citizens to make their application. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens need to have applied for settled status by the deadline.

The Europa Welcome service, working together with Oxford City Council and other partner and community organisations, has already helped many make successful applications since June 2019.

Trained and dedicated volunteers, supported by an experienced lawyer, guide clients through the process from start to finish. The team can provide independent and confidential advice with EUSS applications. Europa Welcome offers face-to-face appointments under COVID-safe conditions and video appointments. Translation is available if needed.

How to get support

Staff and volunteers at Europa Welcome are available Mondays to Thursdays for clients and organisations supporting them to get in touch, for email or phone advice, or to make an appointment for help with EUSS applications. Further information about this service is on the Asylum Welcome website. You can also contact them on 07719128054 or by email europawelcome@asylum-welcome.org.

 

EU Settlement Scheme deadlines

Under the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement the vast majority of the estimated 17,500 EU citizens living in Oxford must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021. Those who fail to do so, barring some exceptions, will become unlawfully resident in the UK. The process is designed to be simple and easily accessible, but some people have more complex issues.

Under the EUSS, which is free to apply to, applicants who have lived in the UK for five years or more will be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain, also known as ‘Settled Status’. Those with less than five years will be granted Limited Leave to Remain, also known as ‘Pre-Settled Status’. Family members of EU citizens are also eligible to apply, even if they themselves are not EU citizens.

 

Councillor Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, Oxford City Council Migrant Champion, said:

 

“This has been a hugely distressing time for many of our residents who have had to deal with the uncertainty around their rights to live, work and access services in their home city of Oxford, as well as the horrible challenges of a pandemic. The pandemic has proven that we are only as safe as our most vulnerable neighbour. Settled status will give many of our colleagues and neighbours much needed reassurance and the safety nets we all need at this time.

 

“Asylum Welcome’s Europa service working in conjunction with Oxford City Council, will continue to provide an invaluable service not just by guiding our neighbours through this process, but by expanding the net of safety needed by us all. Please get in touch with them if you are finding that the whole process of applying for the settlement scheme is causing worries and sleepless nights.”

 

Mark Goldring, Director of Asylum Welcome, said:

“We have already helped over 800 applicants, and we know that this has brought them huge reassurance about their status in the United Kingdom after Brexit – giving them real security about their right to work and access benefits in these uncertain times. The time to act if you have not already done so, is now. 

“We know that the pandemic has already introduced some complexity and delays into the process and so we really do urge people to get in touch with us as we are here to help.”

Dr. Ruvi Ziegler, Oxford European Association, said:

“As Oxford's residents EU citizens have made invaluable contributions to the culture, prosperity, and success of Oxford.  It is incumbent on all stakeholders, the Government and all employers, institutions and local authorities to ensure that EU citizens are made aware through all available channels of the 30 June 2021 EUSS application deadline.”

ENDS 

 

Notes to editors

More information on the EU settlement scheme www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families

 

Asylum Welcome is an Oxfordshire charity that tackles suffering and isolation among asylum seekers, refugees, detainees and vulnerable migrants who have fled persecution and danger in their own countries who are seeking refuge in Oxford and Oxfordshire.

 

For more information contact:

Nazan Ozgur, Europa Welcome Project Manager at Asylum Welcome, can be contacted on 07719128054 or email nazan@asylum-welcome.org 

 

Oxford City Council Press Office can be contacted on 01865 252096 or by email at: pressoffice@oxford.gov.uk

Asylum Welcome’s report on our work in 2019/20

Friday, September 11, 2020


I’m pleased to be able to share Asylum Welcome’s report on our work in 2019/20 – work in which you have played such a valuable part. We wanted to show our loyal and committed supporters how we have spent your money and what you have helped achieve, whether as a volunteer, a member, a donor or a long-term supporter.

Before the impact of Covid, we were able to directly assist about 1,500 refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants, and through them many more family members. And in the last six months, we have adapted and, in many cases, increased our work to help those most affected and in greatest need. Many long-serving volunteers and donors have stuck with us. New ones have come along when we have needed them most. The extra needs and practicalities of working safely and effectively in a Covid environment are certainly stretching all of us and costing us more.


As we look ahead to the next six months, we plan to increase our advisory services, especially on asylum and immigration. We are already increasing our work with young people in or leaving care. We will offer more support to local community organisations run by refugees themselves and will help more vulnerable migrants struggling to establish their rights to stay in the UK post-Brexit, before the legal window closes next year.

For all these reasons we hope we can count on your support in 2020 and beyond. But for now, we just want to say “Thank You” to you for helping improve the lives of so many peoples struggling for safety and dignity in what can feel like a very uncaring world.

With deep appreciation on behalf of all those we work for and with,


Mark Goldring CBE
Director