The government has abandoned thousands of child refugees who had hoped to find sanctuary in Britain. While Amber Rudd, the home secretary, was closing the door on the so-called Dubs children, however, a loose network of volunteers and small charities has been working to assist them and refugees who are already in Britain. Many volunteers, inspired by their time as unpaid aid workers in the Calais Jungle, have helped to set up schemes enabling refugees to make a new life in Britain.
The projects include a trauma centre in East Sussex, an educational charity for women in Birmingham, free bicycles for asylum seekers in London and bread-baking courses to help refugee women integrate into the workplace.
All have been set up by volunteers who filled a gap left by mainstream charities struggling to help with the refugee crisis.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was among those who condemned the decision last week to end the Dubs scheme, under which as many as 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees aged up to 15 would have been allowed to come to Britain.
The scheme will be closed after only 350 youngsters have been brought here. A debate on the issue will be held in the Commons on Thursday.
Many of the younger refugees who have made it to Britain are struggling to cope with losing their homes, their families and their identities.
Lilian Simonsson is setting up a residential centre in Lewes, East Sussex. It has been a steep learning curve for the filmmaker. She was volunteering and running a writing workshop for young people in the Jungle when she realised that getting to England was not going to be the end of their problems. She is hoping that many of the staff at the centre will be former refugees.
A pilot project called Enthum House supported by the Sainsbury Trust will care for six 16-to-18 year olds. Ms Simonsson, 41, said: “These are the most vulnerable children because they don’t get the support from social services the younger ones do. They are put into hostels and left to fend for themselves. If they are welcomed into a warm and caring and human environment often their trauma gets resolved within a year, but if they are met with a really bureaucratic or hostile environment that trauma prevails.”
The Bike Project, based in Denmark Hill, south London, has provided 3,150 bicycles for refugees since it was set up four years ago. Jem Stein, 29, its founder, said: “I met a refugee at university and saw the difficulty they have getting around on the £36 they are given to live on each week.”
The charity employs seven staff including three bike mechanics and a cycle instructor. Some of the more valuable donated bikes are sold to pay for essential safety equipment such as helmets, lights, reflective jacket, gloves and a lock. The charity also runs courses teaching refugee women how to cycle, giving them a freedom many have never experienced.
Last year the author Tess Berry-Hart wrote Cargo, a play about refugees set in a dimly lit shipping container. The run at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney sold out. She is looking for a producer for Dirty Girls, a musical about female volunteers who travelled to Calais full of high expectations but little experience.
Ms Berry-Hart said: “Long-term volunteers often spent their life savings or inheritances or have given up jobs and careers to help, but they’ve been left traumatised and broken through seeing what refugees have gone through and being left in the cold by NGOs. It is about the failure of international aid, the failure of governments, and the love of ordinary people helping ordinary people. There is a libretto called the WTF Chorus which is completely composed of people singing “what the absolute f**k”.
The E5 Bakehouse in east London has run four courses teaching refugee women how to bake bread. Each eight-week course was attended by eight women.
It was the idea of Andrew Lawton of the Refugee Council and run by volunteers. Mr Lawton said: “Refugee women have often suffered unspeakable violence and loss in their home countries. They arrive in Britain with their lives in tatters. The project was initially set up to help refugee women overcome the barriers they face in finding work, but also in recognition of the social isolation that many refugee women often experience. They are ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances.”
Meena is the Pashtu word for love. Liz Clegg, who founded a centre for women and children in the Jungle, is setting up a centre in Handsworth, Birmingham, to help plug some of the gaps left by hard-pressed local authorities.
She said: “Our target group is the same as Calais, which is women and children and in particular unaccompanied children. It’s about enabling every child to reach their full potential and to thrive. We can provide English lessons, educational support, homework clubs. It can be very difficult for these children to integrate, we help give them a bit more confidence and independence.”
Bed for a night . . . or a month
Refugees at Home, which was set up by the former BBC journalist Sara Nathan, matches homeless refugees and asylum seekers with hosts with a spare room. Since it started in February last year it has provided 14,848 nights’ sleep.
Ms Nathan said: “Every one is a night not spent on a night bus, on a park bench or exchanging a bed for sex, all the things a person has to do when they are on the street.”
The charity has registered and vetted hosts across Britain, mainly in London but also in Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Brighton.