As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to gather momentum, with increasing numbers of people being diagnosed and fatalities rising, thousands of international students are trapped in the UK, isolated and lonely, cut off from family and friends, and worried about the future.
Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International, a UK based charity supporting international students, said; “Large numbers of international students returned home before travel restrictions were imposed however, we estimate over 100,000 international students remain stranded in the UK with nowhere to go and without the support of their families.” Regional Manager, Pete Edwards, said “significant numbers” of international students were stuck in the UK. He also explained the contrasting ways different nationalities were responding to the crisis. “Some Chinese do not want to go home and be the ones to produce a ‘second wave’ while African students are not wanting to travel to make things worse there.”
Like many similar organisations Friends International’s ongoing programme of events to support international students has been severely curtailed. The organisation has moved swiftly to setup a raft of international student events online, so that they can continue the important work of growing friendship and faith with international students. Through its Mobile App students can gain access to practical help for those self-isolating, Zoom Cafés each run locally in one of Friends International’s 40 local centres, as well as digital links to host families who will be on hand to support international students. Around the country Friends International are stepping up to meet the challenge and using creative ways to support international students including online cooking groups, exercise groups, Bible studies, and film clubs.
Friends International works to grow friendship and faith for international students and one Chinese epitomised the transformation that faith can make. She said: “There was coronavirus in China before I was a Christian and I was very afraid. Now there is coronavirus here in England but I am peaceful – all because I have become a Christian. I never imagined what difference it would make to me! Now I am telling my fearful friends that they need to read the Bible”.
Tower concluded, “International students are now among the most isolated in our communities due to the coronavirus restrictions – struggling to access health services, money for basic living expenses and many having to move on from their campus accommodation. It is now critical that government minsters work closely with the universities, to respond to the plight of international students at this critical time.”
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