Update from Refuge Support Devon
18th September 2015
Given the recent burst of activity with regards to refugees and asylum seekers in Exeter and the UK in general we thought it appropriate to send an update to you about our proposal.
We have been totally overwhelmed by the support shown by local people in the last couple of weeks. Not only have we seen a huge increase in the number of volunteer applications coming in, but also we have been extremely encouraged to see a real change in attitude amongst the community as a whole. Whilst we have, along with the City of Sanctuary movement, been putting pressure on local authorities for the last few months to do more to welcome refugees into our city – it is clear that there has been a real turning point and we have managed to galvanize a great deal more support than we thought possible.
This was really evident at the recent compassion rally outside the cathedral, on what became a national day of solidarity with refugees (September 12th). As you will see in the photos below, hundreds of people turned out to show their support and prove to the council that there is a real desire to welcome refugees here. It was particularly inspiring to see and hear from refugees themselves supporting the idea and expressing an interest in volunteering to show new arrivals round and use their own experiences to help others find their feet. Refugee Support Devon volunteers attended and we raised an amazing £2000 towards our work through collection buckets! Our trustees were among the speakers on the day, alongside an Exeter City Councillor who spoke wholeheartedly about the need for the council to “play its part”.
It has been confirmed that Exeter will become a dispersal area very soon. This means that, upon arriving in the UK and claiming asylum, people will be sent to Exeter to be accommodated while their claim is decided. This accommodation is in the form of shared housing provided by a private contractor to the Home Office, Clearsprings. However, this will not bring funding from the Home Office nor Clearsprings (who fulfill their contractual obligations only and do not provide support for the integration or wellbeing of their tenants). As a result, our plans to develop a Welcome Project will be vital and will need to be put into action very soon. It is likely that the dispersal properties will be in some of the larger surrounding towns as well as Exeter which will have huge implications for our outreach work and we expect to rely on volunteers living outside of Exeter (who will be trained centrally and supervised regularly) to meet these people on arrival. It may also increase our need to cover transport costs for refugees and asylum seekers themselves to access our service and others in the city centre, in addition to volunteer expenses.
There has also been interest in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme amongst the City and County Councils. This is a scheme that already existed in some other cities but will, as a result of the recent announcements from the Prime Minister, be scaled up to accommodate 20,000 people over the next 5 years. These people will be brought here from refugee camps in places like Turkey and Jordan, in collaboration with the UNHCR, and will have refugee status on arrival. However, if Exeter signs up, these people would also benefit from the Welcome Project as they would not know the UK, Exeter or indeed anyone here very well.
We feel confident that this is a really positive step for refugees and asylum seekers in Exeter and hope that our work will continue to be at the heart of the welcome they receive here.
Please do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any further questions,
Project Development Worker
Refugee Support (Devon) , Exeter Community Centre, 17 St Davids Hill, Exeter,EX4 3RG
Tel: 01392 682185
Fax: 01392 435850
In the news:
Exeter City Council make plans to take in refugees:
Exeter Pledges/petition support for refugees:
Exeter City of Sanctuary page:
Hundreds gather in Exeter to support refugees:
Support from Ben Bradshaw MP: