The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants works to create a strong, positive, community for people who have been displaced from their countries of origin due to persecution, war, and poverty.
We create a sense of belonging and comfort for those who have left their homes. We provide practical tools and structure to help displaced people to rebuild their lives. We link asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with local people to build a stronger community for everyone.
We are proud to be supported in our work through grants from funders including The People’s Postcode Trust, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief and The Henry Smith Charity. Find out more here.
Update on Coronavirus:
For existing clients: Please see our Coronavirus Client Support page for information and guidance regarding other charities throughout the pandemic.
We are offering an online version of our regular English classes and activities. Please see our Activities during Coronavirus Homepage for our Activities Timetable and more information.
We are also regularly updating the website with English Language worksheets and resources to help our clients continue learning English at home.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
We’d like to update you on how we have supported our clients throughout this crisis:
On 23rd March we had to make the very difficult decision to temporarily close the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
For 23 years we have always been there for our clients – a welcoming and open door that provides a friendly face, support and classes. This is the first time we have ever had to take action of this kind and we found it very hard. As our supporters and friends, you will know that the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who rely on us are some of the most vulnerable people in London. They are often homeless, sleeping on friends’ floors, in hostels or in some cases on the streets. Many are barred from working and receive no financial aid. Many are alone, having left their friends and families in their countries of origin. This period of ‘lock-down’ has been very challenging for them and we have been deeply concerned about their physical and psychological well being.
We spent the last few days we were open giving out hardship packages for emergency travel to essential appointments, to help people buy food and top up their phones so that we can keep in touch while we are unable to offer normal services. Little did we know then that this support was to form the basis of the support we gave going forward.
We have continued with the Support Packages on a fortnightly basis, providing in many cases the only supplies that our clients have had access to. This has become the backbone of the support we have been able to provide throughout the entire lockdown.
At the very beginning of the lockdown we developed a plan that identified the key areas with which clients needed support, the 3 point plan. Throughout the crisis we have developed this continually at every twist and turn that we have had to negotiate and it is our intention to carry this work through to the autumn term while keeping an open mind on how we will be able to open our physical Centre safely to our vulnerable clients.
Here is a reminder of the 3 point plan:
1. Emergency Support Packages
- Food and Supplies
Of the 150 clients we support, around 90 people are classified as asylum seekers. Many of these are destitute which means that they receive no government support and are barred from working. A great deal has been done by communities to reach vulnerable people during the crisis, such as the Mutual Aid schemes. However, the destitute asylum seekers who rely on us will most likely find themselves outside these schemes because of their difficulties with English, their lack of internet access, because they don’t know how to get involved or ask for help and because of their fear of being detained. They have had extreme difficulties accessing even emergency supplies so these Support Packages have been a lifeline.
Lockdown has been very hard for everyone, but for our clients it has been frightening and challenging in ways most of us would find difficult to imagine. These long months of isolation have been particularly hard for those who have experienced torture and violence in their pasts. For others who usually rely on us for basic supplies, lockdown has meant not knowing where food would come from.
As we have been operating this scheme ourselves, in-house, it has been a huge logistical operation which involves checking in regularly with each person individually by phone to make sure they are at the address we have for them and organising a delivery of the things they need. This has been quite an undertaking with many challenges including language barriers and little access to phone and internet but we have succeeded in sending out Support Packages every two weeks since 18th March. We are committed to making it work going forward into September because we know that our clients continue to face extreme difficulties even with the lifting of restrictions.
- Phone Contact
Under normal circumstances our clients lack social networks and are isolated. Now, because of the government advice to stay at home through the past 5 months, we fear that their isolation has become a serious issue leading to a compounding of mental health problems and anxiety. We have stayed in telephone communication with all of our clients throughout this uncertain period and have a secure sense of the continuing work we will be doing with them as we move forward towards the autumn term.
Many of our clients use Pay As You Go phones and run out of credit. We have been doing everything remotely including remotely topping up clients’ phones for them so that we know they can call us about anything and, of course, in an emergency.
- Oyster Top Up
The government advice is to stay at home but some people need to honour and keep essential appointments and may need emergency travel. We have been able to remotely top up clients’ Oyster cards when they needed it.
2. Support Service
Our Support Service is a key part of our usual offering. Through the Support Service we listen to clients’ problems and work with them to resolve practical issues such as asylum claims, accessing health services and accessing secure housing. Before the coronavirus crisis, we had a huge number of Support Service issues we were working through with people. Those issues have not gone away and we need to make sure that we stay in touch with our clients to continue to support them and help them find solutions. We have developed a remote system to identify and work on resolving these issues. We have worked across our staff team and everyone is working to identify and help solve clients’ problems as they arise.
3. Schedule Language Learning sessions for clients to access
We have set up and have developed regular online meet-ups for our clients who do have internet access. English language lessons and practice are vital to the wellbeing of our clients and to the positive impact on their social development. Additionally perhaps the most important things we offer at the Centre are a friendly face, kindness and a place to relax and chat. We hope that we can replicate these to some degree through the regular Zoom sessions that we have now set up. We have also done this through choir and book group sessions. Our Art and Writing project has been continuing through regular sending out materials and activities for clients to participate in creative expression and give a focus to those who gain positive experience from this.
We have overcome a great many challenges and we are sure more still lie ahead for us and we ask for your continued understanding and support during this continued extraordinary time. We have been humbled by the resilience and determination our clients have shown, but we know that for them the crisis is not over.
Looking ahead, the road to recovery will be long and difficult. Our clients don’t have jobs to go back to now lockdown is easing, or families who have been waiting to reunite.
The Autumn Term
During the autumn, we plan to run a pilot period during which, subject to funding, we will send Support Packages to those who need them, whilst continuing our online sessions and regular phone calls. We also hope to reopen our Centre on Cross Street to a limited number of people, one day a week to provide that human contact all of our clients have been so desperately missing.
We will let you know how things are going and keep you updated with our newsletter. If you don’t already receive our newsletter, and would like to, please subscribe through our website at http://www.islingtoncentre.co.uk or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m sure that as a result of the crisis we have all been asking ourselves deep questions that may take some time to answer. In the meantime, if we take a moment to reflect on a comment from one of our clients from the depths of lockdown, it is clear that we can support each other if we continue to work together:
‘All centres are closed now so all the usual support systems are all gone and this money from you was, and is, a lifeline. If this money wasn’t there I will in fact have to go without sometimes.’
Our appeal at this difficult time
We have been working with our patron, Juliet Stevenson, to present the work we have been doing during the crisis and to appeal for help to ensure we can continue to support our clients through these incredibly challenging times:
The people who come to us are some of the most vulnerable in London.
They live in insecure accommodation – often homeless, sleeping on friends floors, in hostels or in some cases on the streets.
Many are legally barred from working and receive no financial aid. All are alone, having left their friends and families in their countries of origin.
We fully support the government’s actions, social distancing and restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus, but for the people who rely on us, this continues to be tough.
This has come at a time when we are already facing a shortfall in our budget for the year and are concerned increased need for direct support to our clients is under strain. As the weeks go by, the needs of our clients will not diminish and in order to continue to support them we are seeking financial donations wherever possible.
Regrettably we are unable to accept any physical donations in kind like food or toiletries at this time. But please see our donations page for further info on donating specific items:
We need your support now more than ever before.
Please help us by donating here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1015304&stop_mobi=yes