Refugee Council – Sarah Sonne

Sarah Sonne - Refugee Council

Sarah Sonne

Refugee Council


Refugee Council’s Sarah Sonne is the Project Manager for the NET National Refugee Crisis Project a consortium of Refugee Council, Scottish Refugee Council, Welsh Refugee Council and Bryson Care in Northern Ireland.


Life with coronavirus has been tough for everyone but it’s been disproportionately hard for the people who turn to us for help. This amazing grant from the National Emergencies Trust will fund a freephone Infoline that will make sure that people get the support they need.


Whilst a lot of services have moved to online delivery, many refugees and people seeking asylum have found it impossible to access information online.


Asylum accommodation does not have Wi-Fi and people living on asylum support of just £5.63 a day cannot afford data. Scottish Refugee Council found that 30% of the people who turned to them don’t have a smartphone and only 5% had a computer/tablet. Even for those with a smartphone, there is little they can do without data or phone credit.


Consequently, refugees and people seeking asylum have been struggling with everything from getting Covid19 information in their own language, to finding food banks, to advice on how to submit their asylum claim during lockdown – because the rules say that they had to attend in person at one of just seven centres around the UK.


Many refugees end up homeless when they have been given the right to remain in the UK because they have just 28 days to set up a bank account, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live before they are evicted from their asylum accommodation. It’s not easy to find the money for a rent deposit when you are forbidden to work and you’ve been living on asylum seekers allowance! In just the first few weeks of the pandemic, the percentage of people calling us who were destitute rose from 7% to 25%.


We’ve also seen increases in the number of calls about domestic violence. To make sure that we can deal with these more complex situations, NET’s grant will fund additional specialist caseworkers. They will be there for people like Mary (not her real name) who had been suffering horrific abuse from her husband. I have to admit that the email she sent us brought tears to my eyes.


“I am going into emergency accommodation with kids. I can’t believe I will finally be free. The past few days has been quite overwhelming for me. I will take it a day at a time so see what the future holds. You have been amazing dealing with me with all my emotions being all over the place. But your support I truly appreciate. Words are not enough for me to show my appreciation. Thank you and God bless you.”


The NET grant will help in a lot of other ways too such as with digital inclusion. For example, in Scotland, it will fund a Keyworker to support families for the next eight months. They will touch on issues such as access to health, education and asylum procedure and access to digital devises and support with digital skills. In Northern Ireland, Bryson’s Care are going to provide broadband and tablets to make sure that asylum seekers can access essential services online.


Refugees have experienced huge loss and horrific experiences and it’s not surprising that they are five times more likely to likely to have mental health problems that the rest of the UK population. Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen a 20% increase in referrals to our mental health service. The grant will fund therapists so that we can reach more adults and children in urgent need of mental health support.


I want to say a big thank you to the National Emergencies Trust and their donors. This grant will make such a difference to thousands of people during this hugely difficult time. Without it, we would have been forced to turn them away.