The pandemic has seen an outpouring of mutual support across the country but, particularly for refugee and migrant communities, there is a risk that not everyone will benefit equally. To mark Refugee Week, Sian Rees from Refugee Solidarity South East explains the importance of working together and ensuring that no one is left behind.
“I have been involved in various mutual aid groups in the south east from the very beginning of lockdown, and was looking for ways to make myself useful. Together with a woman called Keeley, I noticed there were individuals and communities that were being missed out in mutual support networks. We wondered what was happening with refugees and people seeking asylum, and we wanted to make sure no one was falling through the gaps.
“I got in touch with a lot of refugee organisations in the south east, and found one of the biggest issues was that food banks – which people were really relying on – had closed. So we looked for ways to partner with other people and set up a food box delivery service.
“We got together with Lana from Catford Community Fridge to set up this service and started a WhatsApp group which has been really helpful to connect with volunteers, organisations and people who need help. Next, we got a warehouse space thanks to Greenwich Refugee Aid and Community Enterprise (GRACE), and we started taking donations to distribute to other organisations that weren't doing food boxes. Now we also do fundraising events with a global focus, for example raising money for charities in Greece.
“We want to challenge relationships and power dynamics with people from migrant communities, and make sure everyone’s voices are heard.
“Organisations we now have a strong relationship with include Lewisham Churches for Asylum Seekers (LEWCAS), Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers, and the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network. The immediate gap we wanted to fill was the food stuff. All these charities were not equipped to suddenly become delivery services, and we were able to help with that. There has been a lot of gratitude and appreciation for the food boxes.
“Building connections has been so important. We will have people saying they have no laptops to access services, and then there will be someone from an organisation supplying laptops saying ‘we can get them to you’.
“Times are changing now. We still haven’t heard that food banks are going to be operational again and Lana can no longer help us with the food boxes, so that’s going to be a struggle in the coming month.
“Nunhead Knocks provides us with a generous amount of weekly food donations which is really valuable because, if we are going to supply these food boxes ourselves now, we will heavily rely on regular donations from mutual aid groups. Besides staples like pasta, rice and tinned goods, moving forward it would be nice to provide fresh food as well.
“As people start going back to work, we have volunteers dropping off which means we can miss out on food when it is available. The need isn’t going to go away, but it’s going to be hard keeping doing everything we are doing now with fewer people.”
Sian says the best way to support the continued provision of food boxes to their network is by making a donation, visit the group’s GoFundMe page. You can also find Refugee Solidarity SE on Facebook and Instagram, and to volunteer with them you can contact Sian at email@example.com.
Nunhead Knocks is working with various other refugee and asylum seeker organisations in South East London. All of these groups, now more than ever, would benefit enormously from donations and volunteers. They include:
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