Guest blog – Funding Refugee Action

“The Co-op Foundation has been instrumental in helping us respond to the Afghan refugee crisis. The grant has helped us adapt quickly and increase our frontline team’s capacity to support and safeguard the Afghans resettled and help those who are not getting the support they deserve. It brings us a step closer to a fairer and more welcoming UK” – Louise Calvey, Head of Services and Safeguarding at Refugee Action 

This September, we committed the largest single grant in our history in response to the Afghan refugee crisis.  

Led by our IVAR principles of flexible funding, we committed to awarding £250,000 to Refugee Action within days of liaising with their team. Our unrestricted grant would help to provide immediate support for newly arrived Afghan refugees and fund longer-term activity, too. We led from the front within the Co-op as part of its wider help for the refugee sector. 

Two months in from our first conversations and our funding is now being directed to where it can make the most impact by Refugee ActionHarbi Jama and Ali Noyce from Refugee Action can now update on you on what they’re doing and how they’ll work in partnership with refugees to make a difference… 

Standing up for refugees and people seeking asylum

Refugee Action collaborates with 150 local charities to support refugees UK-wide.  

A key part of our mission is to work with and empower refugees to influence the issues that matter to them.

The Co-op Foundation grant came at a crucial time for us. It allowed us to direct much-needed funds to where they are most needed. Only two months after our first meeting, funding is being used to: 

Navigate an emergency response at speed

People escaping the crisis in Afghanistan arrived in the UK with little more than the clothes on their backs. A number of refugees have now been housed in holding hotels for months as they await more suitable accommodation. Whole families are in single rooms. 

It was an unprecedented emergency that required us to respond incredibly quickly to support people who fled with nothing. At this time, the Co-op Foundation stepped up and gave us unrestricted funds. This has been incredibly impactful because it enabled us to start upscaling and create a whole new frontline service to meet the emergency needs of people fleeing Afghanistan. Our team of specialist staff are now based within the hotels working with refugees to help them access health services, understand their rights, identify safeguarding concerns, and receive clothes and other necessities, like mobile phones and data. 

While we are now working with local authorities to support people in these holding hotels, the Co-op Foundation’s commitment enabled us to navigate this emergency holistically and at speed. Not only are we there to support Afghan refugees through this traumatic time, but we are also advocating for them and others seeking safety on a wider scale to make sure the UK is a welcoming place for refugees in the future.

Shift power  

Refugee Action is on a journey to fundamentally shift power towards people with lived experience and to embed an anti-racist approach in all that we do, internally and externally.  

We’ve now created a new Senior Leadership role that will lead a department focused on achieving these ambitious aims. We’re also collaborating with the sector to support others in their work to shift power. The Co-op Foundation’s support will enable us to be really ambitious in these plans, empower people with lived experience, and make sure their voices are heard. 

Adapt Asylum crisis services

Our Asylum Services project staff and the Safeguarding team have been carrying out complex and challenging casework with Afghans already in the UK asylum system. They are far from home, incredibly distressed, worried for their families, and struggling in the immigration system. Our teams have the expertise to offer advice and wellbeing support to make sure they are safe.

In August and September 2021, we saw a 41% increase in the emergency support needed by people from Afghanistan already in the UK asylum system before the current crisis. We expect countless more Afghans to arrive and claim asylum over the coming months. The Co-op Foundation’s support means we are able to flex our casework in response to this emergency need and ensure our Asylum Services team is on hand to help refugees access housing and financial support, alongside wellbeing and immigration advice.

The asylum system isn’t just a challenge for adults arriving to the UK. It is often an incredibly difficult process for children and young people, too. Our Children and Families project, in Yorkshire, helps young people to restart their education, make friends and plan for their future. We offer young people one-to-one sessions to help them with any learning needs, and we organise trips and group sessions to give these children an opportunity to socialise with other children, which is so vital to their mental wellbeing.

The impact of the work we are carrying out is best summed up by our Trustee and Expert by Experience (EBE), Cathy Lebadou. She said: “[There is] so much chaos out there and in the current asylum system; for once, we want to wake up, and there is no news of the world further collapsing. It’s initiatives like these that give us hope as asylum seekers and refugees. A big thank you to The Co-op Foundation for the donation; it will help make finding refuge more dignified and Britain more welcoming.”  

Next steps for the Co-op Foundation

Through our experience with Refugee Action we have learnt that sometimes being adaptable and flexible in how we fund isn’t enough – being a responsive funder is also crucial. As a result, we have been able to support a charity doing life-saving work to create meaningful change in a very short space of time. This learning experience has been invaluable for us as we strive to fund in a way that works for our partners.  

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