Refugee Action works to connect, inform and support frontline UK refugee and asylum organisations across the country. As Guest Editor I had the opportunity to speak to Lora who is leading their Coronavirus Response project.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
We support some amazing organisations across the UK to work more preventively so they can reach people before they are in crisis. During COVID our work has had to shift to the changing needs. In the first week of lockdown we interviewed our partner organisations to identify their biggest concerns and how they were starting to respond. This evolved into our Coronavirus Response Project.
Can you tell me more about the Coronavirus Handbook you created?
We created the Handbook using the information we gained in interviews so that other organisations could share ideas and resources. This then grew into a much bigger piece of work. We identified key areas of concern that organisations were facing during lockdown, including distributing emergency payments, overcoming digital exclusion, reopening services and maintaining wellbeing.
I come across a lot of people seeking asylum who don’t have access to Internet, what more do you think can be done to help organisations support their clients to access the internet?
We’ve seen some amazing practice with organisations fundraising to donate phones, tablets and laptops, making data top ups and offering support. But it’s not consistent. You could be in one area and have access to this support but if you live elsewhere this provision may not exist. There are calls for the Home Office to put internet into asylum accommodation. We’ve now seen how essential this access is, it is a basic utility.
What has been the most rewarding thing about working on this project?
There’s been a lot. It’s been really exciting to work at a fast pace. My usual projects run for a few years, but this is much more instantaneous. We’ve been able to identify the biggest needs for organisations and respond to create resources quickly which has been great. Our next focus is about how organisations can meaningfully involve people with lived experience. It will be exciting to see what comes from that.
I think that’s really interesting because engaging Experts by Experience can be difficult. I volunteer and sit on a board and it’s not easy, there needs to be support and guidance for people…
We’ve seen organisations involve people with lived experience at some levels, maybe they volunteer of take part in surveys. Engaging with people with lived experience is harder now we are working remotely. But we a held panel with those with lived experience via zoom recently and it was one of the most engaged sessions we’ve had. If you combine digital access and the want to involve people with lived experience, there are so many more opportunities emerging now. Our overall goal is full representation, having people on the board, informing decision making. Something that we have striven to achieve at Refugee Action with now four members of our board with lived experience.