I was working at a university library but have always been interested in asylum and refugee issues. You know that asylum seekers and refugees are around - but a lot of them are living under the radar, they’re not that visible maybe. It was an eye opener really, to know that there are all these people who are getting by on almost no resources. You feel as if you’re helping.
What are the best and worst things about this work?
A lot of it is quite frustrating because there’s a limit to what you can do. But people are very grateful for the extent to which you’re able to help them. It’s a nice atmosphere to have people from all over the world working together - not just the clients, but the volunteers are sometimes a cosmopolitan group of people as well. It’s an interesting place to work.
What is the one biggest change that is needed for asylum seekers in the UK?
The legal system. The whole system, the legal framework, the restrictions on what people can do here, are all geared up to make people go back to the countries they’re from. But in my experience, hardly any of them do. Even living as they do in London with no resources - they rely on charities for food and clothes and real basics - they still choose to carry on doing that, rather than go back to their countries. People have real reasons for coming here, and it’s a frustration for us when we can’t help as much as we’d like because the law is as it is.
Are there examples of when the system can work?
There was one man who we worked with last year. We haven’t seen him for several months as he’s now living in a different part of London. He rang me in January to say happy new year, and I was waiting to hear what he needed help with. But he didn’t need help - he had just rung me up to ask me to lunch. I went to see him and his family, it was nice.
That family got loads of support because, along with Refugee Action, we found a couple to host him when he was here on his own (before his wife and sons moved out here to join him), and that family have been a massive help. They’ve done loads for them. That is sometimes what happens with hosting. We’ve used that system for several of our clients. If people have spare rooms in their houses and they’re willing to let asylum seekers who are otherwise homeless stay in their houses, that’s really good because it gives them a grounding in this new country. It’s good for integration, although it does depend on the individual. It’s not the answer for every asylum seeker.
We are looking for volunteers to help every Thursday at our day centre service in Kennington with Peter. The role involves helping day centre clients with queries and advice, and general assistance in providing our overall day centre service. No previous experience is necessary. Go to our volunteering page to find out how to apply.
As a small local charity providing a crucial service for hundreds of people, SDCAS relies on donations to fund its work. If you can support us financially every month, you will be making a huge difference. You can join our Friends scheme on our donating and fundraising page, or make a one-off donation - £10 a month, or whatever you can afford, makes a big difference to the charity. Thank you for any support you can give us.