Asylum seekers in Ipswich face loss of 'lifeline' advice service
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 December 2019 | UPDATED: 06:17 11 December 2019
Refugees facing tough challenges while trying to settle in the UK could be left bereft without "lifeline" advice unless an Ipswich-based support service plugs a £20,000 funding gap.
The drop-in advice service has been a core part of the work of Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS) since it came to the county in 1999.
After 20 years of helping people with issues such as immigration advice, employment rights, accessing English language tuition and avoiding poverty, it says: "Demand for our services has never been higher.
"We act as a vital lifeline for many people who don't know where else to turn, and our specialist work eases the pressure on other services."
But SRS is now about to lose cash from the Big Lottery, which has given grants to the organisation for nearly 12 years and is currently its biggest funder.
That has left a shortfall of £20,000 - with SRS saying it may have to severely reduce the advice service, which helped 1,000 people last year, if it cannot plug the gap.
SRS has now launched a crowdfunding appeal, setting an initial target of £10,000 - although it is keen to raise more if possible before the Big Lottery funding ends in February 2020.
Martin Simmonds, communications officer for SRS, said: "We will continue to provide support in some form, even if we are volunteer-led, but it will impact on the service.
"We are not going to shut up shop completely and leave the people who need our help abandoned.
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"We're trying to fill the hole as much as we can to protect our service, which supports really vulnerable people.
"We're often the first welcome and listening ear that people come across when they've reached the UK.
"It can be quite an impersonal system that people find themselves in and just having somewhere where people can listen to them can be as useful as anything."
Mr Simmonds argued that other advice services in Ipswich might also feel the effects of the loss of SRS' services - because refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK would have to go to them instead.
He added: "Ipswich has done a pretty good job of integrating people.
"Every community has its tensions but the refugees we have helped have become part of the community."
He pointed to how one refugee helped in the organisation's early days is now a GP in Suffolk, while another Rwandan genocide survivor is now a social worker in Ipswich.
"It is in everyone's interests that we maintain this service for a relatively small amount of money," he said.
The crowdfunding page for the appeal reads: "The people we support have fled violence, persecution and conflict, and have often experienced arduous journeys and been separated from loved ones.
"Our advice service helps them to begin rebuilding their lives in safety."
To donate to the appeal, visit the crowdfunding page here.