Grant helps group stay in touch with lonely asylum seekers

A CHARITY supporting asylum seekers and refugees will be able to provide them with urgently-needed food parcels thanks to a grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s coronavirus response fund.

The Harbour Project in Swindon has 200 asylum seekers and 300 refugees on its books, many of whom rely on visits to its drop-in centre for help with food, companionship and reassurance. Among the visitors there are 47 different nationalities, including Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

CEO Claire Garrett said: “As an asylum seeker people are entitled to £37.75 a week and are forbidden from work. They can’t have a driving licence, so they are dependent on walking, cycling or public transport. When the supermarkets are so low on food it is very hard for them to go from shop to shop to find what they need.

“Because the Harbour is open every day, we top people up, effectively. We provide coffee, tea and biscuits, sometimes we have toast in the morning and once or twice a week we’ll have a hot meal. We also have a lot of donations of food coming in from churches, schools and supermarkets. But now that the Harbour is closed because of the coronavirus, we aren’t getting the donations and people can’t come in for help. All of that top up has gone.”

The £4,500 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund is allowing the Harbour Project to buy supplies for food parcels, which will be delivered by volunteers. Mrs Garrett said the renewed contact is as important to the asylum seekers as the food itself.

She said: “At least two thirds of them are single and many are living in shared houses, possibly even in a shared bedroom, so there is a lot of nervousness for them about that. People are typically very alone at the moment, they already have the trauma of whatever has happened in their country of origin, the trauma of the journey here and the trauma of waiting for leave to remain. They are very frightened by the virus and they are asking us ‘am I going to die?’.

“This grant will really help a lot of very vulnerable people. It is a means of staying connected with our visitors and making use of our volunteers and we are very grateful for the support.”

The charity’s staff have been calling its visitors to check on their wellbeing and answer questions. Mrs Garratt said: “Most of them don’t have WiFi so they may not be getting all the information they need. We’ve made 100 welfare calls  in the last week. At least people know there is someone there thinking of them."

Pictured: Harbour Project staff are keeping in touch with asylum seekers who have been confined to one room