The Oldham Unity Project: working with Refugees in Oldham
The Oldham Unity Destitution Food Project has continued to provide help to those refugees who are destitute. This, particularly, covers those who have recently arrived and because the wheels of government offices turn slowly, haven’t yet received any financial assistance. Also, there are a number who have been here for up to 20 years and their case hasn’t been resolved. Where the refugee is ‘in between appeals to the Home Office,’ when their case for asylum has been rejected, there is often a period of time when they do not receive any state assistance. Unfortunately, sometimes this can go on for a considerable time.
Life has been even more difficult for all refugees, whether destitute or not, during Covid. Isolation, lack of language skills and fewer language course opportunities, as well as less opportunity to meet up with their few acquaintances and fellow nationals has merely served to exaggerate their plight. Opportunities to obtain help in food, money, clothing & hot meals dried up.
For the Unity Project things slowed down during Covid and it was not possible to give out food, clothing and a hot meal every Thursday, as before. Neither were refugees able to come and socialise - a vital time when isolation can quickly lead to depression. Throughout the pandemic money has been given out, every Thursday, (apart from ‘lock down’) to those who qualified for help, but those attending fell to small numbers.
Since November 2021, volunteers were allowed to attend on Thursdays, but under strict Covid regulations. At first the numbers attending were very small, but as the threat of the pandemic has subsided, more have come along. At present there are about 30 attending each fortnight. In order to cut down travel time and reduce the threat of infection, half are given 2 weeks' worth of money (£25 x 2). It is thought that if numbers continue to increase the Project may need to reduce the amount of money given! Discussion is ongoing with Council coordinators about how we can help any Ukrainians, although most will probably have government benefits.
The Project is still not providing food, but tea/coffee and biscuits are now available and they can stay and chat, play games and discuss problems, talk about their situation with Red Cross volunteers and have a sympathetic ear.
More efforts are being made to help asylum seekers who have been here some time to have specialist legal help to resolve their case. This obviously can be expensive. There is a permanent financial balancing act and as more come along outgoings rise quickly.
The situation in Ukraine brings into sharp focus the desperate life changing problems for refugees and serves to remind us of the challenges which may arise for the Project in coming months.