18 March 2020

Following the new recommendations from the UK government, it was with a heavy heart that we decided to cancel all face-to-face events, campaigns and volunteering projects to protect the health and well-being of all our members and the wider community. The STAR staff team are now working from home until further notice and can be contacted as usual.

However, the work of STAR is very much continuing! In a time of crisis it’s even more important that we all come together with a message of welcome and stand in solidarity with refugees and people seeking asylum. Read on to find out more and what you can do to help.

How does the outbreak of COVID-19 affect people seeking asylum and refugees?

This is a very difficult and worrying time for everyone but even more so for certain groups in society. There are many things about the UK asylum system and life in the UK for refugees or people seeking asylum that could mean they are more at risk during this virus outbreak.

They are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions and the impact of hostile environment policies means that many find it difficult to access healthcare. People seeking asylum are not allowed to work and have to live off around £5 a day. Those at the end of the asylum process find themselves forced into destitution and those granted refugee status are given a very short time period to find new accommodation. This all means people are often living in extreme poverty in crowded, poor quality housing and are more likely to experience homelessness. People seeking asylum can also be locked up indefinitely in immigration detention centres where the conditions and poor healthcare increase the chances of widespread outbreaks.

On top of this the charities and organisations which provide vital support like drop ins, food banks, social activities and legal advice, are having to cancel or scale back services.

Information and guidance

A number of organisations are trying to keep updates going on how COVID-19 affects refugees. Check them out below and share where possible:

Guidance from STAR: Guide for COVID-19 mutual aid groups for supporting refugees
Guidance from JCWI, Migrants Organise, and Medact: Guide for mutual aid groups for supporting migrants
Right to Remain guidance on changes to the asylum system

Refugee Council is providing regularly updated information on Changes to Home Office Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to COVID-19

Watch this video of MD Abir, Northumbria STAR’s president and Refugee Week Leader 2020 speak on how he and other people seeking asylum have so far been affected by the current situation.

In response to this many organisations, including STAR, are working together to ask the government to take urgent measures to protect people. There have already been calls to suspend hostile environment policies and release people from detention. We will keep you updated with any developments.

What can you do to help right now?

Access to testing and treatment of COVID-19

Make sure people know that there will be no charge for any testing or treatment of COVID-19 no matter what their immigration status is. NHS trusts have also been told that they do not need to carry our checks on immigration status. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-entitlements-migrant-health-guide

Share translated information about coronavirus

Many people seeking asylum in the UK do not speak English making getting the information they need about the current situation very difficult and causing fear and confusion. You can find really helpful translated guidance in a huge range of languages from the Big Leaf Foundation and Doctors of the World. As the advice is changing regularly, the charities creating this guidance are doing their best to keep up but please make sure you are sharing the most recent information. You can share the guidance online and with local community groups.

Join (or set up!) a local COVID-19 Mutual aid group

COVID-19 Mutual Aid is a grassroots network of groups across the UK to mobile local people to support those in their communities who are vulnerable. There is also a London group which is focused on supporting refugees and migrants. Anyone volunteering in Mutual Aid groups can share this live document on supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who might be in difficulty as a result of Covid19. Please share widely.

Get supporting people through online volunteering

Just because we are social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t be social (at a distance)! There are many volunteering efforts being done online and we are working with our STAR groups to help them to move projects online where possible. There are also many existing online projects, including RefuNet (an online tutoring platform for refugees), Help from Home, and UN Volunteering from Home Let us know if you know more activities!

Sign up to volunteer with the NHS

You can sign up to be a community response, patient transport, NHS transport or check-in and chat volunteer here.

Organise online events

With face to face events cancelled why not organise online events through Zoom, Twitch or other platforms including virtual film screenings, panels or talks, concerts or more – get creative! Watch this space for more ideas and actions!

Take action online

You can still keep up the pressure for changes to the hostile environment and asylum system from your living room!

– Sign and share this petition asking for asylum seekers to have the right to work.
– Add your name to JCWI’s open letter to the government.
– Sign this EMERGENCY PETITION calling the government to protect people in immigration detention from COVID-19.

How do we support members of communities facing discrimination?

COVID-19 does not discriminate and the containment or spread of the virus is not based on ethnicity/nationality and yet embers of some communities are experiencing acts of racism, discrimination and verbal/online abuse with the outbreak of the virus. People seeking asylum from other affected countries are in no way more likely to have the virus than anyone else.

We need to work together to make sure that these communities feel supported and know that these acts of discrimination should not be tolerated. It is likely that we will see a spike in online abuse and racism and we ask that you call out racism online and offline.

Stop Hate UK are providing anyone experiencing or witnessing such discrimination with a confidential 24-hour third-party reporting service. They also provide Hate Crime reporting information in other languages, please email [info@stophateuk.org] to receive this information. You can report hate crime here. We ask that you stay safe online and offline when calling out hate crime.

Stay safe and well!

Please follow the official guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19! Loads of us will be spending a lot of time at home, some of us on our own or with people for a period of time longer than we used to so it is important to look after your mental health.

– Here is the official* stay at home guidance from the government.
– Mind has released guidance on COVID-19* and caring for your mental health during self-isolation.
– Here is a guided meditation by Hitendra Solanki – mindfulness and wellbeing advisor and lecturer at London South Bank University.
– Being on social media can be tiring so switch off when you need to and take breaks.

Where can you find more guidance on the virus?

– UKCISA have guidance for international students
– The NHS advice page
– The Public Health England website and Twitter page
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website
GOV.UK website
– The World Health Organization

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