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Wymondham man’s phone credit scheme for asylum seekers expands

James Pearce, 32, has started a service whereby refugees and displaced people can have their phones topped up with credit, to stay in touch with the outside world and keep them safe.

James Pearce, 32, has started a service whereby refugees and displaced people can have their phones topped up with credit, to stay in touch with the outside world and keep them safe.

Archant

It started as a means of making sure asylum seekers at the Jungle had the means to phone home and call for help if they got into trouble.

Syrian refugee children peep through the perimeter fence of an old former basketball court that is now their school playground in a refugee camp. PICTURE: Jane Barlow/PA Wire Syrian refugee children peep through the perimeter fence of an old former basketball court that is now their school playground in a refugee camp. PICTURE: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

And now the Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced People group, started by James Pearce, has grown to support thousands of people in countries as far afield as Serbia, Greece and even Lebanon, and had also taken on a safeguarding function.

Mr Pearce, 32, who grew up in Attleborough and now lives in Suton, near Wymondham, said the group had so far provided 17,000 mobile phone top-ups worth £20, totalling £350,000.

He said the group’s focus had shifted since the Jungle was demolished in October.

Mr Pearce said: “Everyone was moved onto various places and we are continuing to support those people but we are going to stop that on March 1. “That’s a long enough period for people to get themselves and their asylum applications together.

“Because there is such a massive volume of people asking us for support we are trying to focus on the most vulnerable.”

Asylum seekers can request a mobile phone top-up from the group, which works via Facebook.

Mr Pearce co-ordinates a team of about 20 volunteers to process the requests, and if legitimate, the applicants are given £20 mobile phone credit, paid for by donors in the UK and abroad.

Mr Pearce said the recipients used the credit to call home, organise their asylum applications, and some had even called for help when they were trapped in the back of lorries.

He said the group had sometimes become the first port of call for refugees seeking help.

Mr Pearce said that in one example, a 16-year-old living in a tent in an abandoned railway yard in Italy had contacted the group, and they were then able to call in government services to help that person.

Mr Pearce said: “It’s taken on a safeguarding role, which has grown as the group has become better known.

He added: “We’ve managed to establish good contacts in Lebanon and other places, so we are able to make sure that the funds are getting to vulnerable people.”

Mr Pearce said there were now some refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan volunteering with the group’s administration team.

For more information, search for Phone Credit For Refugees on Facebook.

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