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On 24th June 1992, SOCOA (Solidarity and Community for Action) was born through the will of a small group of African refugees wishing to form an association. The aim was to help African refugees in jail in Great Britain, and those affected by illness, loneliness, bereavement, or homelessness.
Our first location was 5, Leicester Place, Leicester Square, WC2H 7BX. The group elected Fr Emile Nkumu as Chairman, who at the time was volunteering as assistant priest under Rev Jacques Coupet (OP). Our earliest activities were monthly masses at Leicester Square, weekly detention visits to French-speaking refugees in Pentonville Holloway Prison, Harmmondworth and Haslar and home visits to assess the needs of newly arrived refugees. We offered them not only support and friendship, but also gifts of food, basic necessities and toiletries in an effort to help them overcome isolation.
We organised family visits and cultural activities as well. One year later, Fr. Emile was sent to service Brixton as an Assistant Priest. and the activities of SOCOA were transferred to that area where we continued to serve the prison population and make referrals for legal representation as required until 1997. We also conducted our work from an office at King’s Road, Chelsea where Bro. John Camilleri worked as a part-time coordinator for three years, along with Citra, a legal representative to help refugees. In 1997 we moved to St Joseph Catholic Church, 68 Grange Park Road, Leyton, E10 where we opened a day centre with the support of Fr Denis Hall as a parish priest and a group of nuns and lay people.
They later founded the Redbridge Refugee Forum. From 1998 we operated from St Michael’s Church, 54B Stockwell Park Road, SW9 ODA and from St Luke’s Church, Baxter Road, Ilford, IG1 2HN where we were awarded the Community Legal Service Quality Mark for the Office of Immigration Service Commissioners. Because of the revamping of the premises at Baxter Road, we had to seek office at the Cardinal Heenan Centre, 326 High Road, Ilford, IG1 2QP. We are currently at 253, Lavender Place, Ilford, Essex, IG1 2BQ. We continue to serve refugees, asylum seekers and all other persons who come to us for advice and assistance.