An Introduction to Refugee Support Devon
In 2001, Refugee Support Devon (RSD, formerly Refugee Support Group Devon) was formed in response to needs presented by asylum seekers who were living in Exeter. In May 2002, the RSD became an independent charity governed by a management committee which is an elected group of local people, asylum seekers and refugees who volunteer their time and energy.
Initially asylum seekers were arriving in Exeter under the government’s National Asylum Support Services (NASS) and supported by Devon County Council. However, due to lower numbers of asylum seekers being supported in this way and the ending of the local authorities’ contract with NASS in 2005, RSD now assists asylum seekers from a much wider range of backgrounds and needs. We help asylum seekers who are supported by friends and relatives, or by themselves, and growing numbers of refugees who have settled in Exeter or who migrate here from other cities. We also help women and their children who have come here to settle with their refugee husbands. As conflicts and political situations have changed, so too have the nationalities of asylum seekers and refugees in Exeter and Devon and so too have the circumstances in which people arrive here. Since 2016 RSD has also been providing welcome support to refugee families from Syria who have been resettled in Devon through the national government schemes.
Refugee Support Devon’s Main Aims are to:
- Promote the well being of all asylum seekers and refugees in Devon and to assist them in making informed choices about adapting to life in the UK.
- Encourage the positive participation of the wider community in the lives of resident asylum seekers and refugees, and to raise awareness of the general public about the misinformation and prejudice surrounding asylum seekers and refugees.
- Provide a voice for this community and make representations on their behalf on issues such as: the voucher system, UK immigration policy and UK dispersal policy.
Our Main Areas of Work are:
Information and Support Service: Short-term help through our drop-in services (general and VPRS-specific) which run several days a week, advising on everyday tasks (utilities, telephone conversation), job applications, benefits, and housing support.
OISC Level 1 Immigration Advice Clinic: Drop-in service providing advice legal matters relating to asylum seeker and refugee applications, indefinite leave to remain, British citizenship and British naturalisation.
Outreach Support: Provided to refugees and asylum seekers living throughout Devon under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
English Language Proficiency: Provision of English classes for clients and/or 1:1 tutoring.
Education and Employment: Assistance with applications for further education, and employment.
Women’s Network: A group for our female clients which holds monthly activities for themselves and their children.
Community Allotment: Provision of fresh produce throughout the spring, summer, and autumn for our clients.
In cases where people are in severe financial crisis RSD may be able to help apply for funds and additional help such as referrals to food banks. When our own funding permits RSD is able to help with small financial aid from our Emergency Fund.
RSD is able to offer much more practical support to individuals by working closely with other organisations and supporting people to access services vital to their queries.
Annette Hughes – Manager. Part time 4 days Mon – Wed & Fri.
Neli Montes de Oca – Casework Coordinator. Neli oversees the Exeter Drop-in Service and coordinates volunteers providing ongoing outreach to clients. Part time 3 days Tues – Thurs.
Tameem Shaaban – Resettlement Coordinator- providing welcome and support services to families resettled in Devon through government schemes, predominantly refugees from Syria. Tameem is based in our ‘hub’ office at Teignbridge CVS in Newton Abbot. Full Time Mon – Fri.
Sahar Al Naas and Souad Fadel – Resettlement Coordinators- as above, but based in our Exeter office. Full Time Mon – Fri.
Denise Parker - Education and Employability Coordinator. Denise coordinates ESOL and other education projects and is developing services to help people move towards employment. Part time flexible.
Trupti Desai – Administrator. Part time Mon – Wed.
Nick Floyd – Administrative assistant. Part time Wed – Fri.
Jenny Longford (Chair) - Teacher (retired), formerly manager of Community Education (ESOL) at Tower Hamlets College, London.
Christopher Hill (Treasurer) - Retired accountant, with strong links to a range of local charities. Former RS(D) trustee, returning in May 2017 as Treasurer.
David Mezzetti (Company Secretary) - Social entrepreneur. Former advisory teacher and business owner. Trustee since 2003.
Peter Bainbridge - Retired Further Education senior inspector, formerly LEA Director of Education. Former Trustee Age UK.
Robert Mycock - Head of ESOL, Exeter College. Linking RS(D) with refugees and asylum seekers in English language learning.
Elena Isayev - Professor of Ancient History, Exeter, working on migration past and present. Led projects Future Memory engaging refugee and non-refugee communities, treasurer for Reid Trust and Council of University Classical Departments.
Bernadette Chelvanayagam - Former Trainer and Community Development Worker, now retraining and working in Criminal Negligence Law.
Liz Oxburgh - Retired IT Project Manager, long-time supporter of RSD and more recently, active volunteer assisting with awareness-raising events.
These roles are supported by a team of approximately 80 dedicated and skilled volunteers.
“In our thoughts always – Vanessa, champion volunteer, passed away spring 2011 and Fran Jenkin, Chair and founder member of RSD, passed away summer 2010″