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We get charitable status!

April 20 2018

Friends of Refugees has been working to prevent or relieve poverty among refugees living in Bedfordshire, the surrounding area and worldwide since 2015. They collect and distribute clothes, toiletries, toys and medical supplies; they also provide support services and advice. Founding member Tim Douglas explains how it all started and some of the things they do.

“Like many others, I saw the body of young Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in the summer of 2015. It was heartbreaking. His family had been trying to get to Greece, after escaping Daesh and the war in Syria. I saw there were groups of caring people springing up around Bedford, wanting to help. We decided we could be stronger as a single larger group, so Friends of Refugees was born. Since then we’ve collected tons of clothing, bedding, food and hygiene aid. We’ve taken much of it to France, but have also helped in Syria, Greece, Lebanon and Turkey”.

One of the young asylum seekers Nouh Issa told us why Friends of Refugees has been so important to him and how things might have turned out without their support.

“When I got to Bedford I knew no one and it was scary. But a friend from Ireland introduced me to Friends of Refugees and from my first meeting I knew these were people I could trust. Now I feel I’m part of the family. I feel loved and cared for. They help me practice English, give me opportunities to integrate with the community, help me understand our cultural differences and give me confidence. I give back by volunteering and interpreting meetings with other refugees. I hope all young people like me can benefit from this help and care”. Nouh Issa.

As well as the on-going collection and distribution of essential items, Friends of Refugees runs targeted campaigns like the brilliantly successful #Boots1000 in collaboration with dozens of other groups around the UK. Thanks to generous donations the group were able to send 1000 pairs of brand new waterproof boots to where they are desperately needed. However Friends of Refugees isn’t stopping there, they are developing plans to provide much needed support services which aren’t currently available for asylum seekers in Bedfordshire; services such as temporary accommodation, with support from a charity called ‘Sanctuary Hosting’ and support to vulnerable, unaccompanied young asylum seekers. Friends of Refugees has grown to such an extent that the obvious next step was to become an official charity. Tim tells us why this is important.

“The amount of aid we collect continues to increase, and we’re working with other groups around the country to increase the speed and reduce the cost of transporting it. We’ve also begun to support refugees who are resettling in the Bedford area, both families and unaccompanied children. We want to make sure there is emergency accommodation for those who need it, so we promote the scheme with Sanctuary Hosting where people can register their spare bedrooms. We are inspired by the work of Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, and want to set up a scheme to befriend the kids that arrive here alone. These are early priorities for us. This is not about duplicating the work of any other organisation, but simply filling the gaps to provide essential support that no one else provides. And, being independent of the state and local authority, we can provide oversight and campaign to ensure those statutory bodies meet their obligations properly.”

Finally we asked Tim what he would like to say to people who are critical of refugees in our community.

“I’d say how lucky we are to have been born in a place and time that is relatively peaceful. We are human beings first, with a moral obligation to help others at a time of crisis and great need. In every society around the world, refugees who are supported go on to make a positive cultural and economic contribution to their adopted community and we can all do more to help the current crop of refugees integrate by welcoming them here.”

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