Third sector organisations: An oasis for asylum seekers and refugees in the wake of Covid-19?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Negative discourses around migration have created a hostile environment for asylum seekers and refugees. Having often had horrific and unimaginable experiences in their home country – and endured dangerous passage to claim asylum, refugees need places to feel accepted, recognised, to heal, reconcile in their host communities and to share their experiences of daily life and trauma with others.

Prior to the emergence of Covid-19, third sector organisations like charities, faith-based organisations and non-government organisations have provided asylum seekers and refugees with this ‘safe space’. These organisations have facilitated access to formal, informal and semi-formal social protection and are sites where asylum seekers and refugees gather together for information sharing, resources (i.e., food banks) and support. These locations also foster social connections among asylum seekers and refugees, which are vital to their successful integration and inclusion.

The forced closure of certain businesses deemed non-essential – including some third sector organisations – in response to the pandemic has potentially deprived asylum seekers and refugees of an invaluable and highly valued resource. The closure of third sector organisations during regional and national lockdowns has surely changed how third sector organisations provide asylum seekers and refugees with social protection.

As a result of Covid-19, asylum seekers and refugees’ access to third sector organisations for social protection has changed. The operations of many third sector organisations has moved to virtual environments, and while this has been positive through enabling asylum seekers and refugees to remain engaged in integration activities and receive support, virtual environments pose certain barriers. They inhibit casual social interaction and can burden those with low English language proficiency or poor internet technology skills. Additionally, in recognition of deprived asylum seekers and refugees’ often desperate need for material support, especially food, many organisations have delivered dry rations.

In the wake of Covid-19, it appears the third sector has come to the rescue of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Third sector organisations’ active involvement in helping asylum seekers and refugees throughout the pandemic emphasises the importance of the third sector in supplementing social protection. Their efforts both before and throughout the pandemic should be acknowledged, and caution should prevail whenever considering withdrawing, reducing or altering the services of such organisations, especially in times of crisis.

Niroshan Ramachandran is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

COVID-19, (im)mobility and Health Inequalities

Covid Anniversary Blog

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on human mobility and migration.

Governments across the world took extraordinary measures to curtail international travel and movement of peoples whilst simultaneously calling all their citizens to return home. Domestic systems of disease management followed including enforced quarantine and closed borders. The pandemic was initially thought as an equalizer; a global phenomenon and suffering, and a common basis for global solidarity, but it has been anything but.

One year on and the new understanding is that COVID-19 and (im)mobility has exposed even more global and local inequalities. The way nation states regulated (im)mobilities may have changed, but the fundamental principles that guided the unequal treatment of some groups and forms of movement have only gained more traction.  While access to and practices of movement – be it international or local – are known to be uneven and as such to generate more inequalities, health (im)mobilities have been little scrutinised, and less so in relation to ethnic and racial diversity.

The reasons are manifold. A Global Society on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health Conference has shown that the approach of nation-states has been that of bio-security and not that of a right to health. Facing various issues of access to healthcare before the pandemic, economic migrants and refugees have not been meaningfully included in the emergency resource allocation during the past 12 months. The impact of these policy gaps on the health attitudes and experiences of these groups following the pandemic makes scapegoating potentially high.

Furthermore, the attitude of nation-states towards measuring the impact of COVID-19 in relation to race and ethnicity varies greatly, and sometimes there are also differences between states and local authorities. This variability has consequences for gaining an understanding of patterns at local, national, regional and global level and for comparative analyses to take place.

The bio-security agenda may lead to even deeper mobility inequalities, not least because of harsher immigration restrictions and lower accountability for policy-makers at national level. As a new era of bio-politics dawns in the wake of COVID-19 it is likely that little may change for racial and ethnic inequalities, particularly for migrants.

Dr Zana Vathi is a Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. She also an ISR Fellow and Director of the Migration Working Group, North West.

Image by AlexSava

Windrush as Watershed? Revisiting migration policy and practice in the UK

In the volatile COVID-19 era, the shift of the UK government away from the ‘hostile environment’ may come as a surprise to some. Priti Patel’s statement on the 21st July 2020 on a more compassionate ‘people, not cases’ approach to immigration in the wake of the Windrush scandal contrasts sharply with Brexit and its aggressive approach towards immigration. The significant impact of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on the mental health, wellbeing and belongingness to Britain among EU citizens is said to be huge. The plight of EU citizens and consistent activism to make EUSS accessible, particularly considering the increased barriers towards the vulnerable EU citizens groups since COVID-19 struck, is ongoing.


The 1948 British Nationality Act conferred unrestricted entry and the right to live and work in the UK on citizens of the UK’s colonies and the Commonwealth. The act was intended to attract workers from the colonies in a bid to address labour shortages in post war Britain. Between 1948 and 1973 approximately 550,000 West Indians migrated to the UK. The 1971 Immigration Act introduced stricter immigration controls, requiring potential migrants to have family in Britain or apply for a work permit. Whilst this act effectively ended the Windrush migration, it also gave indefinite leave to remain to all those who arrived up until 1973.

The ‘Hostile Environment’

Between 2007-2018, UK government’s immigration policy focused on the creation of a hostile environment for so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants. At the centre was the burden to prove/document the right to live and work in Britain, which determined access to employment, housing, bank accounts and health care. Given the nature of the Windrush migration between 1948 and 1973 many had never regularised their status and could not document their right to remain. From late 2017 the press ran stories of the Windrush generation and their descendants risking deportation, facing homelessness and unemployment and being refused medical treatment. The international community responded swiftly, whilst at home the Church of England started a petition for an immigration amnesty for the Windrush migrants and the scandal led the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd to resign in April 2018.

The impact of Windrush

The true number of victims of the scandal remains unclear. The Home Office believes that 160 Windrush migrants were incorrectly detained or deported since 2002. Up till May 2020, 60 people had received compensation and 1257 had applied, but the scheme is deemed not fit for purpose because it is not easily accessible by claimants.

COVID-19 pandemic and backlog built-up

The ongoing pandemic appears to have had some impact on figures relating to immigration in the UK, risking to create a backlog of cases with the potential of placing migrants at risk of immigration control measures.Applications for the EU settlement scheme numbered 67,300 in April 2020 – a decrease of 46% on the previous month.Asylum applications and initial decisions have also fallen during lockdown.

A systematic scrutiny of migration governance and management is needed so that impactful precedents such as Windrush do not remain grouped under specific case studies. In light of Brexit’s strong anti-immigration focus and the further complications of migration management due to the ongoing pandemic, the new ‘people, not cases’ approach will likely fail to materialise. The UK immigration policy should not just be reactive to system’s failures, but take a human rights approach to migration which should pre-empt major violations and disruptions of migrant-origin people’s lives.

Dr Zana Vathi is an ISR Fellow, Director of the Migration Working Group – North West, and Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University

Samantha Carney, is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University

Image: Steve Eason 

Coronavirus and Calais refugees: How can you stay safe without soap?

“There is sickness and we can’t wash our hands” – Iranian refugee.

France has been in lockdown since 16 March with strict rules limiting movement outside homes but what does this mean if you haven’t actually got a home?

There are around 1200 refugees living rough in the pas-de-Calais region. They are in constant fear about their health and supplies of food and water as COVID-19 takes away much of the support they had.

Care4Calais (C4C) is a volunteer run charity delivering essential aid and support to refugees across Northern France and Belgium.  It is a charity well known to many staff and students at Edge Hill who have raised funds or worked for the charity as volunteers.

These refugees live in very poor conditions, exposed to the elements with a poor diet and a lack of readily available medical care. They are now living in constant fear of the virus due to the lack of running water and soap.

An emergency appeal by Care4Calais recently resulted in a fast response from three companies, The House of Botanicals (a gin distillery in Aberdeen), International Water Solutions in Romford and L’Oréal Paris. However, there is a constant need to replenish supplies as the French authorities deny access to running water for washing.

Since the start of the lockdown, many of the NGOs who previously provided essential support to these already vulnerable people have made the difficult, but understandable decision to suspend their operations. One of these, Refugee Community Kitchen had provided hot meals to refugees in the area every single day since December 2015.

Recently, C4C surveyed 150 refugees across Calais and Dunkirk to gather data on the impacts of Covid-19. The results are interesting.

Almost half (48%) of those surveyed have been in Calais for three months or less. This is a reminder of how transitory the population is. It contrasts with ideas of a ‘permanent’ unwanted presence in the region.

Coronavirus was a primary concern for only 14 of the 150 refugees who responded. Nearly three times as many said they were most fearful for their most basic needs of food, sanitation, shelter or clothing. How can this be? Perhaps when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, a potential illness no matter how threatening, becomes secondary.

As the lockdown has continued, C4C has had to focus almost entirely on supplying food. The regular distribution of clean clothes and supplies of washing facilities more or less ceased resulting in many refugees having to survive wearing the same dirty clothes for weeks.

This has resulted in a rise of conditions associated with a lack of basic hygiene. The need for clean clothing including footwear is a major concern for the refugees while C4C’s ability to meet this need has been compromised by the difficulties in obtaining donations and the lack of volunteers needed to deliver them.

C4C’s survey also showed that most people (86%) had serious reservations about using the shelters set up by the French authorities. This was mostly because the refugees knew this would mean abandoning their dreams of reaching the UK but also because they feared heightened exposure to coronavirus in confined spaces.

The refugees are in more need than ever before.

Dr Mike Stoddart is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and a member of the Action For Refugees Network at Edge Hill University.

RefuAid seminar results in action for refugees

Organised by the Action for Refugees working group, and supported by I4P, the RefuAid seminar held at Edge Hill University’s Ormskirk campus on 20 March had delegates enthralled by the presentations, not least by the moving testimony given by former client Naima, who told us about her former life in Libya and the role played by RefuAid in turning her life around. RefuAid co-founder, Anna Jones, explained how the organisation provides practical support to refugees and asylum seekers in key areas of access to language support, education and employment.

Anna Jones, co-founder of RefuAid, at the Action for Refugees seminar at Edge Hill University.

The audience for the seminar included academic and support staff at EHU as well as visitors from the local community. It was particularly pleasing to welcome a number of refugees and asylum seekers on campus.

Immediately following the presentations, delegates were able to engage in discussion with both the RefuAid representatives and Action for Refugees group members. Much of this discussion concerned the practical support that delegates from our refugee community wanted from RefuAid and from Edge Hill University.

Feedback from delegates has been overwhelmingly positive with many delegates taking the time to thank the presenters personally for the seminar. One email received from a delegate since the event included the following, “I’m so pleased to be at the university and thank you for the help you have given me.”

Since the event, applications for support from RefuAid have been prepared by some delegates with the help of Action for Refugees group members. Referrals have also been made to other organisations with a view to providing expert support for individuals to gain employment. Plans for future working between RefuAid and the University are being put in place. Action for Refugees is keen that the knowledge exchanged at this event will provide a basis for a fruitful partnership with RefuAid that will reflects principles of inclusivity, equity, and social justice.

If you would like to find out more about the work of Action for Refugees, please visit the group’s blog.

Mike Stoddart is Senior Lecturer in Further Education & Training and Action for Refugees Member at Edge Hill University

Dr Julia Hope: Children’s Literature about Refugees

Visiting from Goldsmiths’ University, last week Dr Julia Hope shared her wealth of experience from her PhD research and a decade as a ‘refugee teacher’, working with children from a refugee background in the classroom.  Sponsored by 4P this event took place on the 14th May.

Her paper explored the range of ways in which children’s books can support children with a refugee background to recognise themselves in fiction, as well as the opportunity for children without these experiences to develop empathy and understanding. Her examples demonstrated that even very young children can through discussion and art demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the reasons people leave, and what it might be like to come to a new classroom, a new school, a new country.

Feedback from the session was excellent. One delegate stated, ‘Excellent session –   thoroughly enjoyed it. Thankyou!’ Another, who is a trainee teacher commented, ‘We need more talks like this.’ Students and staff plan to read more of the titles Julia included in her presentation, approaching them critically, and seeking to undertake research in the area. Others reflected on the way the session would help in the classroom to work with refugee families and children.

Charlotte Hastings is Research Projects Coordinator for the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Action for Refugees Research Group

Following visits to the Calais “Jungle” by Mike Stoddart, Martin Ford and Umit Yildiz in 2016, Action for Refugees was established to coordinate the work of faculty staff on this important social justice issue.

In July 2017, I4P and the Faculty of Education supported a one day conference that brought together academics, activists and members of refugee communities to explore good practice, find out about the challenges of the field, and look to develop work that would make a tangible difference in terms of research and teaching.  Attendees praised the opportunity to meet refugees, network with colleagues and the diverse contributions from NGO and academics.

As part of this event, the Dean, Dr Lynette Turner and the Director of I4P, Professor John Diamond committed to support future collaborative work that would ensure all ITT programmes reflected refugee awareness and that the university’s facilities were available to support refugee initiatives.

Staff and students came together in June 2017 to host a group of local refugees on campus, with the support of West Lancashire CVS.

These groups worked together to learn skills in stop-motion animation, and competed in a ‘friendly’ football match using the university’s sports facilities.

The group has expanded to include colleagues across the university’s three faculties, and works collaboratively with student group ‘Global Unity’.

In October I4P supported an Action for Refugee event where Dr Melanie Baak, visiting lecturer at the Glasgow ‘GRAMNET’ refugee project, shared her research on refugee education in Scotland and Australia with a packed audience of staff and students.  In December colleagues raised over £100 to support Care4Calais, and donated sleeping bags and warm clothes for the now displaced refugees in Calais. Mike Stoddart updated the faculty on his experience visiting Calais in January 2018.

Future plans include:

  • collaborative ‘open days’ to include a focus on wellbeing and team building
  • hosting academic specialists in refugee research (funded by I4P)
  • research into the accessibility of ITT programmes on campus
  • lobbying on bursaries and scholarships available to refugee students at Edge Hill
  • working with the Arts centre to welcome refugee theatre on campus

If you would like to find out more about the work of Action for Refugees, please see the group’s blog.