Foodbank offering lifeline to foreign students left destitute by pandemic
- Credit: Newham Community Project
A Newham foodbank initially set up to distribute 30 parcels a day is now experiencing five-hour queues as international students flock to receive assistance.
Set up by the Newham Community Project (NCP) during Ramadan last year, what started as a modest demand has soared to the point that some 2,000 students now rely on the service.
The Recorder spoke to the NCP's co-ordinator and wellbeing manager Rozina Iqbal, who offered an insight into the plight of this lesser-seen group.
It can be misunderstood that No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) only affects those with pending immigration status.
However, foreign students are subject to the same requirement while they study, meaning they cannot access the welfare system: "They are allowed to work normally, but when the economy closed, they were the first to lose their jobs. There is a stereotype that all foreign students come from wealthy backgrounds – it's not the case.”
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As a result, huge numbers have come to rely on a service that was only intended to last the length of Ramadan.
A consequence of the demand is that on February 17, for the first time, the NCP was forced to turn away around 300 people.
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The act of having to do this was "devastating and heart-breaking", says Rozina, who believes such an emotional burden is “not fair to grassroot organisations”.
NRPF has faced scrutiny throughout the pandemic, with Rozina specifically slamming the treatment of a group who bring in "around £20billion a year".
Beyond government help, the NCP has been in correspondence with universities, though talks are yet to yield support.
Having been forced to turn people away despite exhausting the next day's supplies, volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure the same did not happen on Tuesday, February 23.
While 1,000 students - many picking up for more than one person - received parcels, some waited until after 10.30pm due to a five-hour queue.
Yet they have no alternative, and while this remains the case the NCP will be there: "We will do everything we can to keep it going."
With the organisation entirely reliant on donations, Rozina urges the government to either "lighten our workload or fund it”.
To donate, visit muslimgiving.org/newhamcommunityproject
Contact Rozina at email@example.com or on 07535 652755.
Founder Elyas Ismail can be reached on 07876 506815.