COVID-19 and the Alyth Refugee Drop-in Response
The Alyth drop-in for refugees is a small charitable organisation run by volunteers. We provide social Sundays, outings and a choir. Our aim is to reduce social isolation, to build friendships and to help refugees integrate into life in the UK.
The refugees we help live on the margins of society. Many have pre-existing mental of physical health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and back pain. The majority are unable to work but those who do are in the gig economy on zero hours contracts. They all live on a very limited income but are adept at budgeting to the last penny. Most live alone or are single parents.
Even in normal times this group is always at risk of falling through the gaps in terms of support, but the COVID-19 has made the situation even more critical. There is no financial security, limited access to resources and fragile social relationships. Without internet access there is no Skype or WhatsApp groups. In many cases there is not enough food or money to pay for utilities. On top of this, people are housed far from their friends, so isolation and loneliness are a real problem.
Our volunteers are now stuck at home. Many of us are bored, we miss our friends and the ease with which we can be entertained or get our shopping. We also missed our Social Sunday Refugee drop- in so around March 27th we reached out by telephone to our top 60 attendees. From these phone calls we managed to find out how this vulnerable group of people are coping with the Covid-19 outbreak. The following is what we found:
- D suffers with Diabetes and was hysterical with fear. ‘I don’t want to die’, she screamed down the telephone.
- A is from Somalia. He was petrified that if he went outside he would be picked up by the police. He is very frightened of the police because of what he has witnessed in Somalia.
- AX developed chest pains and called the ambulance. He was advised to get himself to the hospital. On returning from the hospital, the ambulance crew had broken his door down to gain access. An honest mistake but who will pay for the repair?
- F suffers from anxiety and craves conversation and company. However she only has limited credit on her phone to talk to people.
- H has not left the house as he thought he wasn’t allowed.
- A has run out of credit on her phone. She cannot even text to ask people to call her.
- R likes to read but cannot get to the library and has no books.
Those working in the ‘gig economy’ have lost their jobs, as businesses and individuals have cut back. These workers need help to access the benefits to which they are entitled. In the meantime, they have no money: C is not needed to give out the Evening Standard; A is no longer needed to clean offices; N is not needed to work in a restaurant.
Many of or refugees are left choosing between the extra electricity costs of staying at home and food:
- E spends all day in bed wearing her clothes and a hat. This is to save electricity.
- C has a growing son who has a big appetite. She has no food and is also spending more on heating her house during the day.
- M is disabled and lives with his father who speaks no English. They have run out of food and are very confused.
- S is unable to access benefits and can no longer get hot meals at community centres.
In summary, it is not surprising that a good proportion of the refugees we support are terrified. Most are left isolated and lonely with limited ability to connect with the outside world, friends and family (no Wi-Fi, no TV and difficulty getting phone cards). They are faced with daily difficult choices such as between heating or food. And mostly, they miss the ability to connect- most of the refugees we support live a long way away and travel large distances to get to us when times are good (e.g. Croydon, Leytonstone, Hounslow etc.) They miss the drop in and other things that made their lives bearable.
What is Alyth Refugee Drop-in doing to help?
- We have created a fund to help with emergencies.
- We have linked a volunteer with a refugee for frequent phone calls.
- We have delivered food parcels to those who cannot get out, either by finding volunteers who took food or by linking up with other organisations/foodbanks
- Each refugee was given £20 in lieu of the events they would normally attend.
- We are showing that we care, we are thinking of them and that we are still here
And of course that helps the volunteers too.
The Alyth Drop – in is run by Cheryl Brodie and Debbie Rose. Extra emergency response co-ordinated by Ben Brodie.