Dear supporters,

Our focus this month is on our work with young people, which you can read about below, including the stories of two wonderful young clients that are now working and volunteering with us, but it feels wrong to go to press this week without reflecting on current events in Ukraine. You can read our statement here.

A Ukrainian flag against a dark sky

While continuing to urge all governments to do everything that they can to find a political solution, the U.K also needs to play our part in supporting the huge number of people fleeing the attack.

We join with many likeminded organisations in calling for an immediate relaxation on the strict rules that limit people joining family members in the U.K., and the introduction of a resettlement programme, similar to the one designed first for Syrians and then for Afghans to help those for whom, depending on the outcome of the war, it will not be safe to return. The EU has made commitments on these fronts and we would do well to join in with these plans.

We also want to highlight how the Borders and Nationality Bill, currently going through Parliament, will make it even harder for any Ukrainians and any civilian seeking to escape the Russian invasion who do reach our borders to claim asylum. They will be barred entry and treated as criminals if they do make it to our shores.

We know that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers who do reach the U.K. are assessed by the Home Office as being legitimate refugees, but the legislation seems determined to ignore this reality. We can’t do our duty by Ukrainians, Afghans, Syrians or any other nationality fleeing persecution and violence unless we recognise this and withdraw or defeat the current legislation.

With many thanks and our best wishes,

Opportunities and challenges for young refugees living in Oxfordshire*

The Asylum Welcome youth service has existed since the early days of the charity, working with unaccompanied children in the city and county. It provides a space for young people to engage in positive activities and fun, and also offers access to advocacy and advice. I was lucky enough to be the youth coordinator from 2015 to early 2022, and it has been a huge privilege to work this this group of young people.

Young people arriving in the UK often have no knowledge of the asylum process and system. Their vivid hopes and expectations sit in stark contrast to the demonisation of young refugees in the media and the treatment that they receive from the Home Office. But Asylum Welcome’s service is there to support them. Our initial case load was predominantly young Afghanis whose asylum claims had been refused and rights of appeal exhausted.  Fortunately, after 2015 most were able to put in fresh claims and finally gain their status. Our work is now largely focussed on tackling the often lengthy and stressful delays in the system, aggravated by the pandemic.

Helena Cullen, until very recently was Asylum Welcome’s Youth Service Coordinator

Since 2015 Oxfordshire has seen many changes in provision, including a massive expansion of the social work team for unaccompanied children and increased provision of specialist ESOL. Another hugely positive change came out of the pandemic and the government-mandated ‘Everyone In’ provision for the street homeless, which included some young refugees.

We must hang onto these positives whilst the overall picture for refugees feels so frightening. Although we do not fully know what the Nationality and Borders bill will mean for young people, we know that age assessments will become even more contentious if the Home Office re-takes responsibility for them. The bill further reduces already limited options for refugee family reunion. Separation from family continues to be one of the biggest challenges young people face. In the rare occasions where young people have had family members join, it has been a transformative experience for all. To take this possibility even further away seems unconscionable.

When the UK has turned its back on them, young refugees show incredible solidarity and resilience from which we could all learn. Despite all that is thrown at them, young refugees will always be there for others in the community when the UK has turned its back on them.

I have absolutely no doubt that Asylum Welcome will be supporting them whatever comes their way, and I feel so proud to have been part of this team and to see Jess, Caritas, Alice and Navid continue to take that work forward.

*We encourage you to read Helena’s thought-provoking blog on our website reflecting on her remarkable seven years coordinating Asylum Welcome’s Youth Service and on the current challenges that young asylum seekers and refugees face coming to and living in the UK by clicking here.

Navid, Services Director: Asylum Welcome

Asylum Welcome has always been proud of the service it offers to all clients. Our aim is to meet their needs, promote their wellbeing and secure their future. This is especially true for vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Staff and volunteers working with them go the extra mile to ensure that they are offered the best possible service.

The Youth Service has always been identified as one of Asylum Welcome’s critical services.

A large number of our unaccompanied children come from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan.  Very often they have no family or friends, and often they know nobody in this country.  While they wait to receive a decision from the Home Office on their applications for asylum, which often does not resolve their situation, we are able to ensure their access to food, shelter, education and healthcare, as well as other basic necessities.

Young people of 15 or 16 also need support from someone they can trust and have confidence in; someone to look up to, to talk to, and who will allow them to show their real feelings. They also need someone with an understanding of their culture, where they come from, what they have been through and what their needs are. They need people who will treat them in a way that respects their dignity. This is what we do at Asylum Welcome.

Sometimes we share in the horror of the experience of receiving a negative decision from the Home Office.  Imagine a child forced to leave their country, family, friends and everything they have, because of war, politics, hunger or for other complex reasons. They arrive in this country in the hope of starting a better life. They become well integrated and seem to be thriving, and memories of the tyranny, poverty, discrimination and abuse they left behind are fading. Then, three or four years later, that hope is taken away from them by a letter in the post, denying them the chance for a brighter future.  A nightmare: not only for these youngsters but also for people working with them, investing in their lives in the UK. Asylum Welcome’s role at this point is critical. Our holistic approach and services have been generated from our long experience of working with these young people, and are designed with the aim of facilitating access to support, enabling these youngsters to fight on for their future.

We know that the new Immigration Bill will bring change. These changes will increase state hostility towards asylum seekers, and the need among our young clients will inevitably increase. So, while we continue working with our young clients, our close partnerships with other local and national organisations aiming of reducing institutional hostilities and promote fair and just treatments of asylum seekers will prove to be an important part of our work.

Asylum Welcome’s fantastic and life changing work with our young clients population is hugely due to Helena’s tireless and unconditional support and solidarity. This was partly depicted by many of these youngsters who turned up in our office at her farewell party. Our commitment and determination to deliver a first-class service that these youngsters deserve continue with Jess and other colleagues who have already started with this.

From Clients to Team Members: Young refugees shaping Asylum Welcome’s future

Helena, Caritas and Aiham from Asylum Welcome’s Youth team with three proud youth volunteers getting their training certificates


I started volunteering at Asylum Welcome in February 2021 in the Youth Service. During this past year, I have been helping with so many things, such as interpreting in Kurdish, calling clients for updates, supporting clients to register with a GP and booking appointments. I also signpost clients to other services in the community and help them to complete housing and universal credit applications.

When I started volunteering at Asylum Welcome, I was still waiting for a result on my asylum application. I was relieved to get my refugee status in June 2021, after a long 6 and a half years of waiting, refusals and fresh claims.

It feels good to be helping people going through the same challenges that I have faced, as I know how difficult it is to be in a system where you are not treated like a human, you feel ignored and neglected. Asylum Welcome is a place where people are welcome, respected and listened to. I am so happy to be a part of it.

As a volunteer, I was really well supported by Helena and the team! I have learned so many skills. This experience has helped me to get a part-time job as a Project Worker for another charity and I am happy to now be working at Asylum Welcome one day a week as a Support Worker. It is hard to hear clients going through the same problems that I did, but it makes my day when I hear a positive outcome, such as a client getting refugee status.


I do not know how to thank Helena, she has helped me so much over the past two years. Helena supported my brother in Oxford when I was living on my own in Greece. She helped him to sponsor me to come to the UK through the Dublin route. I was so happy to be reunited with him. 

When I arrived, Asylum Welcome helped me with so many things – applying for school, getting a bus pass, learning English and much more. I started going to Venda, the youth club, which runs every Tuesday. We play snooker, video games, eat pizza and have other refreshments. We also go on trips and do activities sometimes, such as going on day trips to Bournemouth. Venda has helped me to improve my English a lot!

I decided I wanted to help other people and I volunteered for the youth service. I call clients every week to remind them and ask if they are coming to Venda. I also help during the youth club, getting refreshments for people and helping wherever I can.

*Not their real names.

Caritas on our popular Venda and Girls’ Group

Our youth groups promote confidence, inclusion, and resilience – helping young people to flourish.


The Venda youth group runs every Tuesday evening, offering a wide variety of social activities including table tennis, table football, music, and computer games. Extra activities are also offered, with support from external providers. These include art sessions, discussions around wellbeing, 1:1 support, and help with homework. Activities are shaped in accordance with the young people’s needs and wishes. Food and refreshments are provided.

Caritas Umulisa photo

Venda is open to boys and girls. Most attendees are boys and so we now also run a girls’ group. Through Venda, the staff and volunteers build relationships with the young people and get to know their needs. Our staff work closely with other professionals (such as social workers) to best support our young clients. Parallel to this, the youth service provides 1:1 support on a range of matters such as immigration status, health, wellbeing, and housing. Our young clients have access to our other services such as our education and employment service and our donated bike project – which provides clients with a reconditioned bike, helmet, lights, and lock.

Asylum Welcome also runs a popular football club in collaboration with Refugee Resource and Oxford United in the Community. Meanwhile, we are hoping to establish a cricket club, in response to requests from young Afghan clients.

Our young clients have opportunities to volunteer and to provide peer-to-peer support to new young arrivals, and we have also supported young people to establish their own initiatives. This has included supporting Eritrean care leavers to organise their own football group by helping them develop terms of reference, apply for funding, and learn about risk assessments and safeguarding.

Girls’ group

The girls’ group runs every few weeks and takes place on Fridays. The sessions provide mutual support and social activities including indoor/outdoor games, cooking sessions and art activities, as well as trips to the cinema, bowling, crazy golf, and walks and picnics in the park. Like with Venda, the activities are shaped by what the girls want to do.

We also work with the girls on a 1:1 basis and do casework. In addition, we do outreach work such as running the group at City of Oxford College.