“We’ve pretty much changed more about the way we work in the last four weeks than in the previous four years,” says Phil Davis the Hope Projects Coordinator.

Examples include devising new rules for residents to implement the CV19 restrictions, and then the job of actually explaining them in a dozen or so languages. New rules for Hope’s employees as they look after residents whilst keeping a safe distance. New mechanisms for us to hand out money for asylum seekers to buy food. A new policy context as the government realise that making asylum seekers homeless is a health risk to the wider public, and new legal practices as the asylum system grinds slower than ever.

But what has it been like for the clients? Hope Projects currently houses about 30 refused asylum seekers from 14 different countries stretching from East Asia to West Africa. The oldest is well into her 70’s the youngest in her 20’s, they come from all sorts of working and cultural backgrounds, and are now all in lockdown with people they never chose to share a house with, and whose language and beliefs may be incomprehensible.

In one house we have a Pentecostal, a Muslim, a Buddhist and an Orthodox Christian. The potential for dispute is obvious, but Amanda Green, a Hope Housing Support Worker, says “they are doing great, helping each other, protecting the vulnerable, and keeping the house beautifully clean every day: they’re an inspiration.”

I phone ‘Peter’, an asylum seeker in his 50’s: “a lot of difficulty,” he tells me in rather halting English. Hope has recently provided Wi-Fi and a laptop for lockdown for each house, and he is doing some online classes, but he is lonely, bored, and sometimes depressed. “My English is improving and I am learning new words,” he says and he appreciates all the calls from Hope’s staff and friends. “When it is over I hope there will be more humanity, more respect, more patience. Also people need to think about time, how important it is, and not just try to make money.”

Another call to a different Hope resident echoes the same thoughts; Mohammad is in his 40’s and is also struggling with isolation, but grateful for the help he receives as a medically vulnerable person. “We need to get back to our natural settings: less tension, more harmony, more respect,” and adds “less emphasis on money. Humans are social animals.”

Mohammad’s skills as an IT expert have come to the fore in Hope Projects’ response to the CV19 crisis. He helped set up the laptops that Hope purchased for each of the asylum houses, and he now gives free daily on-line classes in English and computing to eight Hope residents in other houses. In his spare time he is helping scientist friends back home to develop a new app to monitor CV19.

Residents studying at Mohammad's online classes

With mobile phone propped up on a coffee mug, its time for Mohammad’s online class

I move over from audio to a video call, and now I can see Mohammad is sitting out in the sunny garden – a good sign I feel. “I really appreciate the house, the garden and the trees,” he smiles, but I can feel his loneliness too.

Mohammad is trying to make the most of the time in isolation by making time to reflect on life and to meditate. “I am finding out more about myself; I am ringing the bells inside me.” I suggest that we can feel more complete when we are able to contribute to the community. He agrees and says that he has been helping a guy who helped him when he was homeless prior to coming to Hope Projects. We agree to talk again next week; I ring off and I reflect that he has helped me too.

Text: George Reiss

Images: Tsehay Bogale