Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Digging deep to help refugees during Covid-19

Julene Brown reflects on the works of Barnet Refugee Services (BRS).

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Art workshop with BRS
By Julene Brown 22 February 2021

Refugees and asylum seekers are people with the potential to live brilliant lives if we give them the chance. 

Although the route that asylum seekers take to enter a new country is often difficult and traumatic their journey doesn’t end once they have reached a safe country: BRS is here to help them become equal and valued members of their new communities.

The pandemic has exacerbated the struggles that refugees and asylum seekers face in Barnet, being housed in hotels and hostels with no end in sight. Usually, successful asylum applicants would be dispersed into society to begin their new lives, but this can’t happen right now so they are often stuck in one room, sometimes with strangers, waiting for news.

Asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work or apply for benefits, so they rely heavily on the food and services provided by these hotels and our local authorities. Unfortunately, this isn’t always adequate. We have seen a big increase in clients requesting our services since the start of the pandemic. Many don’t have clothing for the cold weather, or laptops and phones to access online services. But as always, in tough situations, we have dug deep to help those in need. With the help of incredible organisations such as Goods for Good, Barnet FoodShare Coop, CommUNITY Barnet and many more we have been able to offer some assistance to the most vulnerable. 

Moving our services online hasn’t been easy either. Many of our services, such as our counselling services, or our mentoring project, ideally require an element of human connection. But we’ve learnt to adapt to the digital world, and we provide all our services virtually, including our weekly Tuition and Homework Club, which helps children with English, Maths and Science. One of our clients expressed her gratitude for the tuition:

“Thank you so much for helping me during this pandemic to provide tuition for my children. Especially for women like us who did not get a chance to complete their education back home and are struggling to help their kids here. My children’s tutor is great, he helps my kids with their homework, Maths and English. He also helped me apply for good schools for my year 5 son.”

Our mentoring project has been successful in helping refugees to integrate into their new community here in Barnet, finding their path in life. Many of our mentors are volunteers, some are even former clients of ours who want to give back to the community. 

One mentee told us that, “I was fine with cleaning jobs before my mentor but after our sessions, I found out I can accomplish more.” Seeing the journey of our mentees who have been given the resources to fulfil their potential has been extremely rewarding and we look forward to continuing this work.”