Asylum seekers and refugees join coronavirus food poverty response

Asylum seekers and refugees are rolling up their sleeves and volunteering with The Salvation Army’s coronavirus response by packing essential food parcels or cooking meals for those going without a hot dinner.

They include husband and wife, Fadi and Lina from Syria who arrived in Sutton, south west London, in April 2019 with their three young sons through the community sponsorship of refugees programme. During the coronavirus pandemic they have taken to cooking meals for their vulnerable neighbours. Lina said: “In Syria you know everyone in every neighbourhood, you’re united by the same enemy, all suffering the same which is what we are now seeing in the UK only in a different way.

“People are taking a neighbourly approach and helping others and that is a way that we thought we could help in these difficult times, by leaving food on the doorsteps of the vulnerable within our neighbourhood.”

Many of those volunteering are barred from working and earning a wage because of their status as asylum seekers. This has not prevented them, however, from using their time and energy to support those in the community who need some extra help.

Major Nick Coke, Refugee Response Co-ordinator for The Salvation Army said: “Asylum seekers and refugees have lots of different skills which could benefit their new community. The specialist skills of doctors and nurses are very much in demand, but they are unable to practise if they are claiming asylum and often qualifications obtained by refugees in other countries aren’t automatically recognised. But they have not been deterred and are choosing to volunteer during the Covid-19 crisis to support those living around them.

“There is a lot to learn from people who have been through challenging times and previous experiences. With refugees and asylum seekers their experiences have given them a real level of resilience.”

Other examples of asylum seekers and refugees volunteering around the UK include:

  • In Hythe, Kent, a Syrian family of five, who are sponsored by their local Salvation Army church, have been cooking a hot evening meal each night since lockdown for their next-door neighbour who is a key worker. They observe social distancing guidelines by leaving the food on the doorstep.

Major Coke continued: “The pandemic has shone further light on the injustice on asylum seekers not being able to work, particularly given that there are some who have medical training but are not allowed to contribute when it is really needed.

“The level of volunteering further shows that asylum seekers and refugees have much to offer our communities during ordinary times but they are proving it during this national crisis with their selfless support of others.”

The Salvation Army is a member of the Lift the Ban coalition calling on the Government to allow people seeking refugee status to have the right to work. The growing coalition has a wide-ranging and diverse membership of more than 200 organisations including refugee support agencies, faith and community groups, think tanks, and businesses.

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