When Ismail heard his baby cry in the night, he despaired. He knew there was no milk in the house, and that his one-year-old son would be given water in his bottle — yet again.
“He cried and cried because he was hungry and didn’t want water,” said the 29-year-old father of three. “It was heart-breaking, but we had run out of milk and didn’t have money to buy more.” Ismail added: “It has happened twice in the last month. I don’t care about myself eating and my wife doesn’t care about herself, but we do about the babies.”
Ismail, an asylum seeker and human rights activist from Afghanistan, has been hit hard by the cost of living crisis. He, his wife and three children survive on £225 per week, which they use to pay for food, living expenses and transport. “Prices are going up and things are getting harder,” Ismail said. “Everything is more expensive — nappies, travel, food.”
A light in the darkness for Ismail has been Action for Refugees in Lewisham (AFRIL), a small charity that helps refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrant families in south-east London to lift themselves out of poverty. AFRIL is one of eight charities being funded with a £31,250 grant out of the £250,000 pot of funds raised for our Winter Survival Appeal from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, with grants administered by the London Community Foundation.
The charity made contact with Ismail and his family while they were living in an asylum hotel in Lewisham. His wife was pregnant and there were no cooking facilities and the food provided by the hotel was so bad that one of his children developed malnutrition.
AFRIL stepped in to help the family get their own flat — issuing legal proceedings when a request to move on medical grounds was ignored. They are now in self-contained accommodation where they cook their own food. AFRIL paid for a car to move their belongings and helped them find medical and maternity care in their new area.
Since the cost of living crisis began, AFRIL has seen a 93 per cent increase in demand and a rise in its costs, but without more funding, the charity, like many others we are funding, will have to scale back its services. Which is why our joint Christmas campaign with Comic Relief is so vital to so many.
Sophie Wickham, director of AFRIL, said: “The families we support were already in poverty and have now been pushed by the rising cost of living to the edge. Many were being informally supported by people they know, but the impact of the cost of living crisis on those people, too, means they are no longer able to help others as much as they would like.”
AFRIL provides crisis support and longer-term programmes to tackle underlying problems that lead families to poverty. The charity offers advice and advocacy, including in complex areas such as housing and welfare.
It also runs the Rainbow Club Supplementary school every Saturday, a food bank and an allotment. Working with Southwark Law Centre, the charity provides free legal advice for those without legal aid.
'If it wasn’t for AFRIL, I would be begging on the street'
“If it wasn’t for AFRIL, I would be begging on the street,” said Oluwaseun, a 58-year-old grandmother from Lewisham who became the sole carer for her granddaughter after her daughter died this year.
AFRIL’s food bank give her supermarket vouchers, fresh food and toiletries, and the Rainbow Club has been a lifeline for her granddaughter. Legal advice from the charity prevented the pair from being separated and helped them obtain housing and income, as Oluwaseun is unable to work. She is waiting for the final resolution of her immigration status and the pair survive on just over £100 a week.
For Ismail, the impending decision on his asylum status weighs on his mind. “There is no way I can go back to Afghanistan,” he said: “The most important thing is that I am safe here and feel positive for the future of my wife and babies. AFRIL has been amazing.”
Names of beneficiaries have been changed.
How you can help
£10 could provide a nourishing meal for a Londoner every day for a month
£20 could provide a duvet and pillow to a young person helping them sleep at night
£50 could contribute to a new school uniform for a child fleeing with a parent from an abusive relationship
£100 could provide 400 meals for families at a local community centre
£300 could pay for all that’s needed by a family expecting a baby, including new cot, mattress and pram
£1,750 could get a truck packed with enough food for 7,000 meals
In a nutshell
We have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis
To make a donation, visit comicrelief.com/wintersurvival