During the pandemic, the ASHA charity has faced some difficult times. However, the volunteers and employees are still ensuring that everyone is staying safe and healthy.
The asylum seekers and refugees catered for by the charity are still dependent on gaining access to supplies and its employees are finding every way possible to ensure they receive them.
Jackie Gregory works at ASHA as a ‘women’s well-being worker’ and is assisting with a children’s play scheme, helping on the advice desk and befriending.
Gregory spoke about what the charity is doing to help asylum seekers and refugees during the pandemic.
“The charity has continued to supply food to those who need it, giving food out at the door of Asha- so nobody enters – and people queue up in the car park,” said Gregory.
ASHA had support group meetings on weekly basis such as, ‘Women’s and children’s Saturday morning’ that have been cancelled to ensure people are given extra support where needed.
Gregory is one of the many who is going above and beyond, she said: “I ring people regularly and have given support in getting prescriptions, dropping off books to read, organising food parcels, general chats to let people know their rights, there was confusion about taking the hourly walk”.
The charity is ensuring they are staying fit and healthy by providing some of them with bikes and sending wellbeing packs out.
Not only is it important to the charity that people stay healthy but also that the children are still getting some form of entertainment and engagement.
“we send out a video of a member of staff reading a children’s story each week and a happy song with subtitles via WhatsApp to help keep spirits up and let people know that we are thinking of them and they have our support” Said Gregory.
ASHA relied on a lot of funding, which provided supplies and support to the refugees and asylum seekers.
With Covid-19 having an impact on the economy, it has also caused issues to the funding the ASHA charity will usually receive.
Gregory said: “We are having to re-allocate the funding we have to make sure priority needs are met”.
Not only are the employees going above and beyond they are also willing do have a decrease in their pay to ensure the charity are getting funding.
Gregory said: “some of my hours will be cut so the money can be used to supply food. This is fine by me as there must be a list of priorities.
“Some people have donated which is great but really it needs more funding from the big funders.
“We have applied for a £20,000 grant to buy tablets and internet access to help the children to keep on with their schooling”.
The charity has seen a drop in donations of food because people are not shopping or able to go out and give. ASHA have also found supermarkets are not able to provide left over food.
Gregory said: “supermarkets haven’t had so much left-over food or ability to manage the system to get the food to us, so ASHA is using its own funding to buy food.”
Even with the pandemic happening, there are still refugees and asylum seekers struggling to find a bed to sleep in at night.
SERCO is an accommodation provided by the government which “rents houses from the private sector and allocates these to asylum seekers”.
Gregory said: “sometimes this is hostel-type accommodation. Some don’t have housing and have to sofa surf.”
With regards to the Covid-19, and people having to ‘sofa surf’, and to date, none of the refugees and asylum seekers have contracted the virus.
Gregory said: “They are afraid of going out and staying in”.
“However, they are also coping better mentally than expected. Some have gone through worse before. Travelling for days in the hull of a boat from Libya for example, so they are resilient”.
“They are perhaps more used to being isolated than us”.
Refugees and asylum seekers go through a huge application process once they come into the UK.
Despite the virus happening around them, they do have some pressure off their shoulders.
Gregory said: “At the moment they don’t have the pressure of the Home Office deciding their applications”.
“They don’t have to go and see immigration or their solicitors as everything is suspended, so in some ways they are having some mental relief from all the usual stresses that they have.”
ASHA Charity and the pandemic.
The charity helps more than 900 refugees and asylum seekers that come from almost 50 countries worldwide.
Their main aim is to provide help and support to refugees and asylum seekers when they arrive in the UK.
The charity ensures that the asylum seekers and refugees have access to food and good quality clothing.
A statement explained: “We began by collecting food to give asylum seekers a little extra at Christmas – but before long, they were looking to Asha for help every week.
“Living on a limited income of £5.39 a day for an adult, the smallest crisis can leave an asylum seeker without cash.
“A growing circle of faith groups, other organisations and individuals supports us by donating food.
“No-one in need is turned away, although there are occasions when stocks become perilously low.”