A group which aims to become the “voice of the voiceless” has been launched to reach out to refugees and asylum seekers in Sunderland – and the people who can help them.
The organisation aims to support those who have come to the city as they seek safety and mental health help, with people from African countries and Syria among those supported.
We made people aware that refugees and asylum seekers here in the North East are not as privileged as they are elsewhere, because they don’t have access to and my research has found inequality in society compared to down south.Augustina Pemu
Its leader, Augustina Pemu, who is supported by her husband Lucky, has been helping people she has come into contact with through her work as a midwife at Sunderland Royal Hospital and also through their shop and drop-in centre, the Afro-Caribbean Place, on Hylton Road, for more than a year.
Now she hopes to gather more support for Refugee and Asylum Seekers’ Support Association (Rassa) following on from her celebration held at Bede Tower.
It brought together a host of representatives, including Sunderland’s Mayor Alan Emmerson and Sunderland City Council officers, the city’s Sunderland UK City of Culture 2021 bid, Newcastle University, NHS and the North East Regional Refugee Forum.
Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, also travelled from London to find out more about the work Rassa will be doing.
Among the stories they heard was from one doctor who had practiced for 19 years in her home country of Libya before coming to the UK – but her claim to become an asylum seeker has been turned down twice.
Augustina, who is known as Tina and is studying a Phd at Newcastle University in health economics and maternal health for refugees and asylum seekers, has lived in the UK for 11 years after moving from Nigeria.
She said: “We wanted to celebrate our diversity, not just for immigrants and refugees but for Sunderland.
“The chief executive of the Refugee Council said he did not know there was anything like this going on in the North East.
“We had people from every aspect of our community and asylum seekers and refugees, who were able to meet people, and we also had some immigration lawyers who were able to tale to them as they are very worried about their immigration status.”
The association is planning to launch a food bank-style project for those it helps and is also preparing for Refugee Week, which will run from June 19 to 25.
For more details about Rassa can call (0191) 5143308 or 07853 189 596 or email firstname.lastname@example.org