I’ve been a volunteer with JRS for about three years now. During that time I have always worked in the Day Centre on Thursdays, which is run by the JRS team of staff and volunteers who work directly with destitute refugees. But COVID19 has meant that the Day Centre can no longer function, so I work by phone checking the addresses and needs of the people who used to come to the Day Centre so that help can be sent to them wherever they are.
They’re sent a monthly grant for small expenses, mobile phone top-ups, food parcels (adapted for those who do not have access to a kitchen), toiletries and, for those with very young children, nappies and baby food. And they still have access to advice and legal help. What we can’t send is the companionship and friendliness of the Day Centre, where they used to come each week for a chat, access to a range of support and advice services, and lunch with their friends – sadly a food parcel, however welcome, is no substitute for a nice lunch with friends, which they could look forward to every Thursday.
Now that COVID19 is here, there is no lunch for the friends on Thursdays. There used to be around one hundred and fifty people there each week. I miss that too. I have loved my time working with JRS – to me it has felt the most worthwhile thing I’ve done. The friends – we refer to them as friends, not as asylum seekers or refugees – are people who have had to flee their own country from fear of abuse or persecution. Some of them have been tortured, or have fled to escape being murdered. When they arrive here they do not know whether they will be given any help at all, or even whether they will be sent back into the danger they have just left.
For the friends JRS helps, we are a lifeline. At a recent survey, around 60% of them had been street homeless within the previous year. Most of the rest are sleeping on the floor of a friend’s home. Many find it difficult to get the help or advice they need, and some find they can’t get the legal help they need if their application to remain is refused unjustly. Or they may need help to get appropriate medical services – sometimes doctors refuse to see them.
This week it is Volunteers’ Week. Over the years I have been involved in various volunteer roles. If you are thinking about volunteering, check out the charity or organisation you are wondering about joining. Are you really needed, and will they offer you a clear and useful role? Will they provide training to help you do that task better? Is there regular support where you meet with other volunteers and staff to share successes, queries or problems? Do they offer you occasional supervision to check that you are happily involved, and for you to hear about any concerns they may have about the way you work?
JRS has provided the help and support I need to be able to help refugee- and asylum-seeker- friends to find a home, peace and happiness here in this country, and to leave behind a stressful and dangerous life. To be allowed to help them in JRS has been a great blessing for me and I hope that my work there has brought peace and joy to those who turn to JRS for help.
Volunteer at Jesuit Refugee Service UK.
Join Fr Mike and volunteer as part of JRS UK’s Emergency Response Team for COVID19