Catholic charities supporting refugees through Covid-19

No. 7 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the temporary suspension of all refugee resettlement to the UK, including families arriving under the Community Sponsorship Scheme. But members of the Caritas network have continued to support refugees and asylum seekers who are already living here, during the lockdown.

Caritas Salford accommodates ten refugees and asylum seekers in pods on a car park at the Cornerstone day centre in Moss Side, Manchester. “They are dependent entirely upon charity and have very little control over their day to day lives,” said Director Mark Wiggin, “and this can bring a great deal of stress and anxiety as their activity is greatly restricted.”

He said that during the pandemic, Caritas Salford staff have been on hand 24 hours a day to support them. “Many are strong and have endured many hardships before coming to this country,” he said, “but the current difficulties can and do put additional strains on the mental health and wellbeing of some.”

In London, George O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Cardinal Hume Centre, said its immigration team is continuing to provide legal advice over the phone and sometimes in person in order to sign or process urgent paperwork.

A priority is those whose “leave to remain” status is ending and who need help with renewal to ensure they keep their rights to work and reside in the UK.

The team is also helping those who have lost  jobs because of the crisis but have no recourse to public funds, and 26 immigration clients – mostly with children – have been given supermarket vouchers.

The Centre remains open 24 hours a day. “It is perhaps not a heroism that matches the efforts of those working for the NHS in critical care, but it is a vital part of keeping society going and protecting some very vulnerable lives” George said.

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK reported that the loss of drop-in services has left destitute asylum seekers without food or cash to pay for mobile phone credit. JRS UK has delivered 270 parcels of essential food and toiletries across London in the last few weeks along with mobile phone top-ups. A credit scheme has been organised to get emergency hardship grants to people safely. JRS UK has arranged creative activities and prayer on online platforms to help ease isolation.

Staff are working from home, but director Sarah Teather said they are “busier than ever”. She reported that “destitute asylum seekers have been facing an emergency situation since lockdown and JRS UK has had to respond at speed, radically changing the way it works to take essential help onto the road and provide support by phone.” 

JRS UK has been called upon to provide “intense levels” of emotional support and casework as people they support face street homelessness because of a breakdown in informal living arrangements. “We hear heart-breaking stories every day from those unable to access housing or food” said Sarah. “I am hugely grateful for our supporters for responding to our emergency appeal in this time.”

This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.