AS THE colder nights draw in and with a refugee crisis still raging in Europe, Oxford-based charity Asylum Welcome has launched a desperate appeal for funds.

The charity, based off Magdalen Road, has offered food, clothing, English lessons, advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford for 20 years.

Now staff say the need for help is more urgent than ever, as Oxford faces the dual pressures of a harsh winter and incoming Syrian families.

Director Kate Smart said: “We are getting busier as an organisation. We are seeing a larger number of people coming to us, with more complex needs.

“Some of those are destitute. We have recently set up breakfast clubs and more people are coming with small children, asking for winter coats.

“We divide our time between helping people and fundraising. The more people support us, the more we can spend time doing what we do best.”

Last year the charity supported about 850 people in Oxford, many of whom have not been granted refugee status and cannot work legally.

Asylum Welcome is now beginning to set up contingency plans for when the first Syrian families arrive in Oxford.

Over the next five years, 20,000 refugees from camps near the Syrian border are to be offered shelter in the UK. So far Oxford City Council has promised to house at least 10 families, and West Oxfordshire District Council has said it will take in six.

Ms Smart added: “We are working in the context of an extraordinary external environment. On TV screens we see people moving in large numbers through Europe and we don’t know what will happen down the road.

“There’s going to be a difference between the kinds of people coming from the camps and those who come here spontaneously.

“They’re likely to be less physically fit, less able to make the journey, and more likely to have injuries and family needs. We would prioritise intensive English classes and help to get those able to work into work as soon as possible.”

About 120 volunteers support the charity, which relies heavily on local donations. Political and religious leaders from across Oxford have united in their support.

Among them is city rector the Very Rev Bob Wilkes, who is also the charity’s chair of trustees.

He said: “The needs of refugees and asylum seekers has not had this level of public attention for a long time. Asylum Welcome is known in Oxford for having a lot of experience and it’s very important to get behind it.”

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