London refugee centre closes - due to lack of need

 A Catholic charity in South London which has housed more than 2,500 asylum seekers and refugees since it started up ten years ago, is closing down - because of lack of clients. Oaklands Refugee Services, which runs three hostels, began as a parish venture, in 1989. For two years, the Refugees Arrivals project, run by volunteers, accommodated more than 1,000 refugees in the hall of the Servite church in Fulham, west London. In 1991, the charity was officially launched with the opening of the house in Honour Oak. The local Catholic and Anglican and Methodist parishes worked together on the project. Sr Agnes Szraga said: "In those early days I can remember local people walking up the path with furniture and carrier bags full of groceries for us. So many people were so supportive." In 1996 a woman's hostel, Julie House, was opened nearby. Two years later a third hostel was opened in Catford. Newly-arrived refugees were sent to Oaklands by local councils and social services, and at one time they were barely able to cope with the number of referrals. However, since the introduction of the government's dispersal policy, sending refugees away from London and the south east, the number of referrals has dried up. Project leader Fr Nick Martin said: "The community here has been so welcoming to asylum seekers. We feel sad this project is coming to an end. However our expertise will not be wasted." Fr Martin explained that the team would be moving to Glasgow to work with asylum seekers who have been moved there. He said: "One of our tasks will be to go on to estates and explain who the refugees are and why they are moving to the area. I hope the experience we have gained in London will make a useful contribution up there."

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