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C4s Secret Millionaire supports project giving a lifeline to destitute asylum seekers

By March 15, 2010November 1st, 2016Press release

A project that will provide a lifeline to destitute female asylum seekers in Leicester will become a reality, with help from Channel 4’s ‘Secret Millionaire’.

The Fresh Start Project will provide six months of shelter and support to asylum seekers who have not had their cases accepted but have not returned to their countries. The scheme will help the women to find a sustainable solution to their cases and end the cycle of destitution.

The project will be launched in the next few months following a televised donation of £15,000 by Jahan Abedi, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune in property and who is the son of Iranian immigrants.

Fresh Start will be run by Refugee Action, and is receiving extra support from the British Red Cross and the Anglican Diocese of Leicester and local fundraising efforts. Refugee Action and its partners are continuing to fundraise for the project. Mr Abedi will be seen making his donation on The Secret Millionaire on Monday 15th March at 9pm.

Mr Abedi came to Leicester towards the end of last year and was moved by the plight of homeless refused asylum seekers who were too afraid to return to their countries and felt their cases had not been properly heard. He met with Aidan Hallett, the Deputy Manager of Refugee Action in Leicester, and was keen to help fund a project which could provide a solution to the desperate situations of the people he met. The Fresh Start Project was just that scheme.

He was particularly moved by the story of Roseanne, a Rwandan woman in her 50s who had been homeless for many years. He was keen to see her housed and, following the intervention of Refugee Action, she was able to visit a solicitor and has since been granted leave to remain.

Aidan said: “We were surprised but extremely grateful when we realised Jahan was actually a millionaire and wanted to help people who were in this vulnerable state. He agreed with us that it is not acceptable to leave vulnerable women on the streets and was keen to provide some support. The Fresh Start Project aims to help those who have fallen through the net and make sure they are reintegrated into the asylum system. The project will employ a support worker and recruit specialist volunteers to help the residents work through their cases and find a sustainable resolution, whether that is obtaining some form of status or returning to their countries voluntarily. Guaranteeing six months of accommodation and support will provide the breathing space people need to think seriously about what options they have and make decisions.”

Under the current asylum system, if someone is refused asylum they are given 21 days to sign up to return to their home country or they lose all rights to support. As asylum seekers are not permitted to work, many end up homeless and desperate and often don’t access support and advice to help them come to terms with that decision or to reopen their cases.

Aidan added: “We want to see sustainable solutions to this devastating problem so that there are fewer people on the streets of our cities and more who are either gaining protection or returning home voluntarily. Thanks to The Secret Millionaire, this important issue will get the attention and the support it deserves,” Aidan explained.

Nick Scott-Flynn, head of refugee services for the British Red Cross said: “Mr. Abedi’s input to this project is to be commended as a significant contribution to addressing the complicated issue of destitution amongst refugees and asylum seekers. Many of the people that we work with have no recourse to any other means of support and are suffering enormously. However with appropriately timed help such as that provided by Fresh Start we have a very real prospect of enabling them to find a way out of their destitution. We applaud Mr. Abedi’s gesture and urge others with means and ability to lend a helping hand. This is for the benefit of the whole community, not just the individual refugees and asylum seekers. Furthermore we believe that providing support in this way alleviates humanitarian suffering and treats people with a dignity that they deserve”, he added.


For more information or to arrange photographs or interviews please contact Julia Ravenscroft, Press Officer at Refugee Action, on 0161 831 5454/ 07771 748 159 or Dan Hodges on 0207 654 7707/ 07713 621 252.


  • Refugee Action is an independent national charity that works with refugees to build new lives in the UK. With more than 28 years of experience in reception, resettlement, development and integration, we provide advice and support to asylum seekers and refugees in 11 regions across England