KLS co-founded Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees four years ago in the wake of the Syrian civil war and subsequent refugee crisis. Today Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees is a membership group with 300+ local residents and community organisations. They work with Wandsworth Council and landlords to support asylum seekers and refugees settle in Wandsworth, through the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
Most countries across the globe have now closed their borders in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We asked three members of Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees to reflect on the impact that the crisis might have on refugees.
Ellie Cusack, Chair of Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees, said:
“We are extremely concerned about the impact of coronavirus on refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are among the most vulnerable and isolated members of our community. While the Government’s strict restrictions on public movement are wholly necessary to limit the spread of coronavirus, they also make it much more difficult for local charities and faith groups to reach the very people who may be most in need of help, especially refugees and asylum seekers who may struggle to cope with a combination of limited English, complex health needs, and difficulty accessing digital information.
Part of our work involves finding landlords in Wandsworth who can rent their properties to refugee families through the Government’s Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme, in liaison with Wandsworth Council. We were informed last week that the Council will not be taking on any new properties until further notice as the Home Office has advised that resettlement departures for refugees has been suspended. We are deeply concerned about the millions of refugees stranded in camps which are particularly prone to the spread of coronavirus given the terrible conditions people are forced to live in and the devastating lack of healthcare, and are urging the Government to reopen this route to safety as soon as possible with responsible and appropriate coronavirus testing.
Beyond the immediate challenges of trying to deliver vital support and services safely under the current circumstances, widespread panic relating to movement and migration as a result of the pandemic could lead to a closing of minds as well as borders. We must remember that it is a human right to seek safety: Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees will continue to champion the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in our community and we encourage residents to work together to create a borough of sanctuary for anyone who needs support throughout the crisis, whatever their background.”
Eleanor Brown, CEO of Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (CARAS) said:
“Our work at CARAS has always been about building community, helping people to feel safe and support as part of a new society, and working together to thrive. The needs and challenges have shifted drastically in the last fortnight. People who were experiencing isolation and social exclusion will feel that more than ever; those living with poor mental health are likely to see their symptoms develop further; those in over-crowded housing will struggle to live safely. With the whole of society working out how to adapt to this new reality, we must not forget that for some, the challenges are greater. We are calling on councils to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum are fully included in all emergency plans, and for local organisations to work together in our responses. The challenges are enormous and will take time, creativity and determination to work around. As always, we will stand with refugees and people seeking asylum, working together for the best possible outcomes.”
Aaron Barbour, Director of Katherine Low Settlement said:
“KLS has worked with refugees, through our ESOL (English) and Love to Learn education teams, for more than 21 years. I fear that refugees and asylum seekers, as one of those key marginalised and vulnerable groups, will not be prioritised over the coming months. They will fall to the bottom of most governments ‘to do’ lists. So it is imperative that local Councils, community organisations and local residents include refugees and asylum seekers in the support they are organising in their own communities as best as they can.”