Asylum Welcome was established as a registered charity in 1996. Our work is built on the incredible dedication and talents of local people, as well as fruitful collaboration with groups and organisations locally, nationally and internationally. Together, we provide a collective humanitarian response to the challenges facing refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in Oxfordshire.
1991 Refugees in Oxford
Two community workers, Diana Tickell and Liz Humphries, started a group called Refugees in Oxford. This group ensured that refugee children and their families received education, healthcare and support, and informed teachers and social workers about the needs of refugee families.
Members of the Oxford Black and White Christian Partnership also began visiting the detainees. In addition to requesting clothing, books and phone cards, the detainees asked for help in finding a lawyer, an interpreter, or medical treatment. In response, the Detainee Support Group was established. Doctors, social workers and psychiatrists volunteered their time and skills to help detainees with psychological and physical issues that were being exacerbated by being in detention. Meanwhile, local people stood bail for detainees, at their own expense, and provided them with an address – to help secure their release.
Professor Terence Ranger, in collaboration with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, organised regular day schools to educate volunteers, members of the public and journalists about the conditions facing asylum seekers, refugees and detainees
detainees were now being released without requiring an address, only to then face homelessness in Oxford.
changes to benefit regulations led to increasing destitution among asylum seekers.
1996 Asylum Welcome and Detainee Support
in response to an increasing need for support for asylum seekers, Asylum Welcome and Detainee Support was established as a registered charity on 25th September 1996. The charity was based in Alfred Street in the centre of Oxford; it operated out of one room and was funded by a grant from the Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice. Professor Ranger became its patron.
Refugees in Oxford became part of Asylum Welcome.
by this year, Asylum Welcome had moved to bigger premises on the busy Cowley Road, featuring the distinctive doorway that forms the basis of its logo. Asylum Welcome had set up a thriving education service to provide English tuition and access to further and higher education – a crucial gateway for integration into British society. It had also started a programme to support an increasing number of young asylum seekers who were arriving in Oxford unaccompanied by parents or guardians.
Asylum Welcome, as it became more established in Oxford, was able to make a significant contribution to local debates – promoting understanding of the experiences and rights of asylum seekers, refugees and detainees. Successful fundraising enabled a small staff team to be employed, whilst its volunteer base remained its driving force.
Campsfield House closed suddenly, 25 years after it had first opened. This decision was welcomed by Asylum Welcome. The charity worked hard to review the implications of this and to ensure that its energy and experience were used in the most useful ways. By this year, Asylum Welcome was already running a range of advisory and support services including the Welcome Centre, adult and family advice service, a youth service for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (including a weekly youth club), food bank, education and employment service, and bike and IT projects.
Asylum Welcome developed two new services, both fully funded: a visiting project for foreign national prisoners at HMP Huntercombe in South Oxfordshire (building on the skills and experience gained from the visiting project at Campsfield) and the ‘Europa Welcome’ service – a project to help vulnerable EU citizens apply for settled/pre-settled status after Brexit. Europa Welcome was a significant departure from the organisation’s usual operations. However, it was felt that Asylum Welcome was the best-placed organisation to offer this service locally, given its established relationship with the local refugee community and its familiarity with Home Office systems and bureaucracy. The Europa Welcome project revealed great vulnerabilities within certain Oxfordshire communities, such as the East Timorese community.
In 2020, Asylum Welcome applied to the Charity Commission for a slight change to its Objects and Powers to include an explicit reference to working with migrants in need of humanitarian assistance in the UK, particularly those at risk of deportation. Asylum seekers and refugees remain the charity’s core focus.
Today, Asylum Welcome 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. It has more modern offices in East Oxford, a larger staff team, and runs a wider range of services, but it remains primarily a volunteering organisation – with over 100 active volunteers.
Asylum Welcome is firmly committed to becoming more of a refugee-led organisation, working ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ refugees. This is a central tenet of the charity’s 2020-2023 strategy. Work on this is underway, including the recruitment of more people with lived experience, increased work with local refugee community groups and organisations, and a commitment to helping refugees to participate, advocate and be heard.