With the JRS supporting asylum seekers
Due to the restrictions of the Pandemic the usual JRS activities were suspended leaving our refugee friends without what was a vital support and lifeline for many. Their sense of isolation increased as did their struggle to survive, since they were no longer able to access the services that helped them meet their essential needs.
Before the pandemic they would visit the Day Centre, chat with their friends, have a hot meal, and receive various forms of help. Due to the restrictions arising from the spread of COVID- 19, this was no longer possible. Creative ways were found to enable as much support as possible to continue; one of these being the formation of a group of Phone support volunteers. Faced with increased loneliness, isolation, fear, and insecurity many of the more vulnerable were needing this emotional support and friendship. With the closure of the usual activities, I became part of a team offering accompaniment through weekly phone calls. I have 10 refugees on my list.
Sometimes it is a question of a friendly chat, letting them know that they are not forgotten. On other occasions there may be concerns that need attention, shortage of food, toiletries, phone top ups, medical concerns, anxiety, fear, stress… When this arises, a report is given to one of the staff, who organises a response. What is remarkable is that in the midst of a situation of abandonment and destitution they will always ask, “how are you”, and express interest, gratitude and appreciation for the smallest help received.
One of the greatest challenges faced by the asylum seekers is the lack of accommodation. Often, they must resort to sleeping on night busses, depend on a friend who may give them a sofa for a few nights, or else find a corner somewhere on the street. The hosting scheme organised by JRS is a wonderful opportunity for some of them to receive secure, friendly accommodation in a family or with a religious congregation.
The community I live in has the privilege of hosting for nearly four years now. Normally, our guests stay for a period of 4-6 months and then move to another hosting place. We have a one-week break before the next guest arrives. Our present guest, originally from Ethiopia, has been with us for one year now. She arrived just before the pandemic was declared and lockdown became law. She will be leaving us shortly and we will welcome another one. We will miss her.
Each guest makes her own unique contribution to our lives. We learn a lot and get real insights into the experience of so many who find themselves in a foreign country, with no friends and totally destitute. We marvel at their ability to survive and often we say to ourselves that we would find it almost impossible to walk in their shoes for one day, let alone one week. We gain so much from our daily interactions with our guests, who come from several different countries; some may have been in the country for +18years without any response or support from the government. Our experience of hosting enables us to keep in touch with the reality of people “on the move”, opens us to the pain and struggle of people we wouldn’t, normally, be living closely with, and it relativises our own struggles.
Sr. Margaret Muldoon
St. Gabriel’s Road