International students in Bedford “starving” in coronavirus lockdown

Charan Sekhon, chair of the Seva Trust, has been delivering to students "who have nothing to eat".

Bedford based SEVA Trust UK have been carrying out emergency food drops to international students who are “actually starving” after being trapped here by the coronavirus lockdown.

The charity have been delivering food parcels since 25 March, but the situation has deteriorated fast with many students in shared accommodations no-longer able to use shared kitchens.

With demand growing they contacted Sri Guru Ravidass Sabha (SGRS), Bedford who are serving hot meals to NHS front line staff and needy people.

Coordinating their efforts they have donated 230 ready cooked meals and financial donations via SGRS to their ongoing project and to support Indian students.

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, Chair of the SEVA Trust, Charan Sekhon, said they’ve been inundated with cries for support after the Indian High Commission listed them as a coronavirus support group.

“We have been delivering free hot meals to students in and around Bedford for the past month now,” said Charan. “We started as a small project with limited funds without knowing the scale of demand.

“We are mainly an educational charity not emergency response charity but we decided to help local communities and students.”

Many students are alone

Bedford based Agency for Culture and Change Management ACCM(UK), Bhagwan Valmik Sabha, British Ravidassia Heritage Research Group, and the MK Sikh Temple as well as two national students unions are also now supporting the effort.

The students they are helping are mostly studying at Cranfield, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire universities.

Speaking to The Guardian, Charan said: “I don’t think universities fully understand what is going on.”

“Many of these students have been doing cash-in-hand or hourly-paid jobs, which they have lost.

“They can’t get home to their families, and they feel alone and don’t know how to access help like food banks.”

A spokesperson for the University of Bedfordshire says: “Students don’t always highlight their difficulties and don’t contact our support team.

“We would urge students who are struggling to get in contact straight away. The university can provide care packages and financial support as well as help finding work”

Cranfield University says it is aware of only one case of hardship. “Our student support and wellbeing team is looking into the details and will offer help,” it says.

The University of Hertfordshire says is it offering wellbeing support, care packages, accommodation and food vouchers and has set up a new fund to help students in hardship as a result of the pandemic.

International students living in Bedford receiving free food parcels from SEVA Trust UK

BAME elderly also at risk

However, Charan says that it’s not just students who are in need with other vulnerable groups now leaning on them for support.

“We are now starting to receive calls from the elderly in hard to reach BAME communities,” he said. “They are living alone without any family help and many don’t speak English.

“Four organisations are working together and in parallel to their efforts, this has helped SEVA Trust UK to focus independent efforts on students and the BAME elderly who do not have any family support.”

India banned all international flights from 22 March, with only two-days for students to arrange to get home. Flight costs also increased from £300 to £2,000 leaving thousands of students trapped.

The Guardian reports, that India is the fastest growing market for British universities. Nearly 27,000 Indian students came to the UK in 2018-19.

International students can pay up to £38,000 a year in tuition fees to study for an undergraduate degree at a UK university.

Indian student groups and charities say many Indian students are not from wealthy families, and have to rely on part-time jobs to cover their living expenses.

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