Supporting Young Refugees and Migrants in Challenging Times

Please help support young refugees and migrants in need

Since Dost was founded in 2000, in response to the needs of children who have arrived in the UK alone seeking protection from violence, abuse and persecution in their home countries, there has never been an ‘easy’ time for young refugees and migrants. However, the current climate is a particularly challenging time for these young people and those who seek to offer them support.

Challenging times: From Brexit to Trump

Even pre-Brexit, funding and support for young refugees and migrant programmes was limited at best. It has now been cut even further. 2016 was a particularly challenging period, with Brexit and the Leave campaign resulting in increased hostility and violence towards those seeking safety in the UK. This has been compounded by the election of President Trump in the US, and his abhorrent approach to immigration, which of course has a global impact not limited to to those seeking asylum in the US.

The most pressing matters for us here at Dost concern the immediate safety of those children arriving in the UK. We, and our fellow Refugee Children’s Consortium members, are now fighting against the Government’s recent decision to close a safe route for unaccompanied minors seeking protection in the UK. The ‘Dubs amendment’, an agreement under Section 67 of 2016 the Immigration Act, required the Home Office to transfer these at-risk children to England and Wales, in consultation with the Local Authorities. The closure of this scheme comes following earlier restrictions on eligibility according to age and nationality and we believe that its subsequent sudden closure suggests that the Government was never fully committed to protecting vulnerable children, who will now become even more likely to be targeted by human traffickers due to the lack of safe alternatives. We strongly oppose the scheme’s closure and are calling on the Government to re-open it. A high court challenge to the decision to close the scheme is due to be heard in early May.

Although the political environment has mobilised sustained activism, bringing more of us together to protest, and petition the Government to show our dissatisfaction, this alone is not enough.

Providing Practical and Emotional Support

With an estimated number of more than 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe, we are seeing an unprecedented number of young people referred to us and arriving directly on our doorstep, seeking both practical and emotional support. Many have left their home countries having lost everything and in fear of their lives, and have nowhere else to turn.

At Dost, we have a policy of not turning away any young person in need. We may be the only adults that they can trust, and we have a duty of care to provide a safe space for them in a hostile world.

MPs have now voted to trigger Article 50 and although it is still legally possible to cancel Brexit we must not be complacent. If Brexit does go ahead, this would mean that we will lose access to the avenues of justice available to us as part of the EU, so these young people need us more than ever, at a time when we have the least resources to provide assistance.

We are doing all that we can but we need your help. If you would like to help us continue to provide essential services to all those who come to us, please consider donating towards our work.

Donate Now

We welcome every donation, whether it’s a one-off text or a monthly contribution. Every penny goes towards making a positive difference to the lives of the young people we work with, whether directly through our 1:1 support or indirectly through our advocacy and consultation work. If you would like to make a private donation, please contact us for details of how to do this.

Thank You for Your Contribution!

Sharing Real Practice Experiences with UeL Students

Dost was founded in 2000 by Yesim Deveci, to help young refugees and migrants arriving in the UK get into education. Throughout her 13 years as Director, Yesim’s experience of doing casework, advocating for and providing therapeutic support to the young people she worked with expanded the role of Dost to the more holistic ongoing support that we provide today. Seeing what worked best over the years helped her to develop The Dost approach. This relationship-based model has been proved to have a transformative effect on the lives on the young people we work with and it continues to underpin everything that we do.

Yesim is now leading the way for the next generation of those who will be working in the third sector in the near future, as a Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial studies at the University of East London.

Swaliha BaxDost’s Psychosocial Worker, Swaliha Bax, was recently invited by Yesim to present a guest lecture to a group of her students on their third year of the Psychosocial Studies with Professional Practice degree. She was of course was keen to go and share her experiences.

Swaliha presented a brief history of her professional journey so far and some of her experiences at Dost, ending with a real case study so that she could reflect with the students on what she has learned in practice. The presentation was well received by the students, who are preparing their final coursework – a reflective essay on their own journeys and what they’ve learned while on placement – with several staying behind afterwards to continue the discussion.

Swaliha says:

I was moved by the level of thoughtfulness in the room. As well as asking questions about what it was like working with unaccompanied refugee children, we also had a good discussion around how we might create lasting change by consulting with the system at large. I was also moved by the effect that sharing a current case study had on the students, some of whom became very emotional as I shared experiences endured by a separated refugee child.

It was my first time sharing my journey with others so in order to make it relevant for the students, I tried to think back to what it was a like being a student myself who had dreams of combating social justice and contributing to society. To this end we discussed the value of volunteering in areas of work we are committed to, while on the path to employment.

Yesim says:

“It was great to have Swaliha come and share her journey with the students, so they can see just one of the paths that they could take when they complete their placements, and sharing the case study is a great reminder that the learning is ongoing in practice and doesn’t end when they finish their degrees! They really enjoyed listening to Swaliha and many were keen to ask more questions about professional practice even once the lecture was over.”

If you would like any member of the Dost team to present to your organisation or university, please do get in touch. We can present on any topic within our range of experience, to meet your needs. We also have existing presentations on:

  • Age Assessments – Professional Considerations and Impact on Young People
  • Asylum Process/ Uncertain Journeys
  • Mental Health and Resilience With Separated Young People
  • Dost’s 360 Approach

All of our consultancy and training work is underpinned by our approach, and we aim to include input from our young people wherever possible, to ensure that the content remains up to date and relevant, and continues to engage the very people we are trying to serve.

Newham Collective Visit to Calais Refugee Camp

At the start of this year, following our appeal for items to take to Calais, we headed to the ‘Jungle’, loaded with blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, torches, warm clothes and other winter essentials thanks to all of your generous donations.

Led by a group from the Newham Teachers Association, we travelled with members of the Newham Labour Party, Newham Pakistani Forum and a group from Newham Stand Up To Racism, stopping on the way at the Care4Calais, which provides aid to the camps, to help with food distribution while we were there.

Appalling conditions and increased violence

Our visit coincided with a press conference in the camp given by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot, who condemned the state of the camps, saying “These conditions are a disgrace anywhere. We as human beings have to reach out to fellow human beings.” This was following the demonstration we joined, alongside refugees and French supporters highlighting the appalling conditions they are forced to live in.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, although unfortunately reported otherwise in the media. Those in the camps though, did report an increase in violence against refugees, in the form of tear gas being fired regularly into the camp and incursions by the police and racists who attack them. The police presence was much higher; the motorway exit to the camp was sealed off and there were convoys of CRS riot squads moving around it.

As for the conditions – it’s one thing to hear about how bad they are but another to experience it. While we were there, there were workers collecting rubbish in the camps but this was only a recent development, as the result of a court ruling won by Doctors Without Borders, which obliges the authorities to do this. A large strip of the jungle has been bulldozed flat, destroying all the all the tents and huts that people were living in next to the motorway. The French authorities have provided shipping containers with bunks, which some refugees have moved into, however there are no cooking facilities, toilets or communal areas. These bunks will provide space for 1,500 people, which is only a quarter (if that) of those in the camp. Many more can’t move because there is no space for them, or won’t because it will mean much tighter control and the possibility of deportation.

Dost Caseworker Diana Seretis was overwhelmed by what she saw, saying, “What I saw and experienced was overwhelming, and only a window into the world of some of the most vulnerable people throughout Europe.”

Sending support

Between us, the groups that made up this Newham convey donated 930 Euros to Care4Calais on this trip. Altogether, Newham conveys have taken more than 6,000 Euros, ten car loads and a transit van full of essential supplies. We have already been back once during February to help with food distribution and will definitely be going again. As Diana put it when speaking of a young boy she connected with over a donated football (you can read her full personal account here):

“I know firsthand the ways in which children like him could be helped, and it is a tragedy that children like him are trying to survive in dangerous and appalling conditions. I can’t know all of the daily dangers and struggles he and so many others are facing, but I do know that they are all human beings being treated as less than that.”

The Calais ‘Jungle’ – Holding on to Hope Despite Horrible Conditions

Dost Caseworker Diana Seretis shares her personal reflections on our recent visits to the Calais ‘Jungle’:

Calais has often been painted in the media as a place of constant rioting and danger, with unruly people living in filth by choice. Adult men are usually the focus of most photographs and the reports, along with these skewed images, suggests them to be the aggressors.

Of course I had been wanting to give my time and help directly, however, I had no idea what to expect. What I saw and experienced was overwhelming, and only a window into the world of some of the most vulnerable people throughout Europe.
To start with, we brought the clothing and supplies we had to the warehouses operating outside of the camp. This is where supplies like food parcels, clothing, blankets, tents – everything really – is sorted and later distributed throughout the camp. These warehouses were filled with bustling groups of volunteers, all working in an organised fashion. It was humbling to witness and, for a short time, be a part of such an amazing operation. These are people who spend their spare time working tirelessly, in cold warehouses and temperamental weather conditions, to bring the daily necessities of life to thousands of people who would have none of it without them.

After delivering and sorting supplies, I knew it would be time to move on to ‘The Jungle’, as it’s called – the refugee camp. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The weather was cold and rainy, the tents and makeshift housing sitting on smelly mud as far as the eye can see. There are overflowing portable toilets and makeshift water pipes flowing in troughs. Initially, many of the people living in the camp were curious as to why we had come. I told them I was there to help, to show solidarity with their cause, and to lend my voice to theirs.

A daily struggle

There was to be a protest that day, with Members of Parliament coming to see the situation for themselves and speak on the way in which these people are being failed daily. The march was a peaceful one, with both people living in the camp, and some from outside, walking together. Within the first half hour of my marching near the back of the group, French police began to aggressively drive their vehicles in and out of where people were marching. I remember seeing one young man almost hit where he was walking, and he quickly scurried out of the way as the police screeched to a halt. At this point, I was aware that nothing good was going to happen, as the group seemed to be closed in on from the back and confined to the street where they were walking. Suddenly, a police officer exited his vehicle with a can of tear gas and his gaze met mine as I began to back up to the side of the road. It was then that I realised how much of a daily struggle it was to peacefully fight for their rights. My group and I decided to return to the camp and were met by a van there, with extra supplies that needed distributing.

As a long queue formed, I began distributing the food and speaking to each person. I suddenly realised that this feeling of helplessness, and the looks of pity that they are often met with, must be slowly destroying their confidence on top of living in these horrible conditions. The more I made sure to look each person in the eye and smile, ask how they are doing, talk to them like a human being, the more the cracks in their sombre faces started to appear. I began getting laughs and jokes from many of them, while some came up to talk to me more and tell me about where they are from. Some shook my hands and thanked me for the food, making a lasting impression on me as to how they could be so thankful for this situation. There are no words to describe the feeling of meeting people who seem they could have so little hope, but instead still have gratitude and positivity beyond comprehension.

Hope prevails despite horrible conditions

This realisation was confounded by the conversation I had with two people living in the camp – the first, a young man from South Sudan, and the second, a young boy from Afghanistan. I was approached by the young South Sudanese man after he had received some boxes of biscuits and wanted to thank me, and shake my hand. He told me where he was from and that he had been in the Jungle for around five months. We spoke about where members of his family are, and joked about a few things. I made the decision to ask him just how things are back in South Sudan, and could these conditions he is living in really be better than where he had come from? I have read countless reports on the atrocities that are being committed in his homeland but nothing makes it clear to you like someone telling you that this was better. He told me that it was “so much better” with a look in his eyes that told me he had seen things that I couldn’t begin to understand. If living in the inhumane conditions I saw was that much better and safer than where he had come from, I can only let myself imagine how much worse life can get. It would be impossible to ever argue politics with someone who had that look in their eyes.

The second of my most memorable interactions came on my last visit to The Jungle. I had made my way this time into the very heart of the camp, where there were schools and libraries set up for the children. No one talks about just how many children and young people are alone and fending for themselves. It is a shocking number. After walking through some of the school ‘rooms’ set up, I entered a small room full of shelves of books. There was no-one inside except for a small boy reading a book in silence. I looked around for a moment and then decided to approach him. I said hello and smiled to which he replied the same, with a smile on his lips and in his bright, green-hazel eyes. I said, “Do you like football?”
“Yes, of course!” he replied, with a look that said it should be obvious that he does. I reached into a bag I had been carrying and revealed a football that had been donated in London. I stretched it out to him and asked if he would like it. The response I got from him was one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced, his face completely lit up. He thanked me profusely and couldn’t stop smiling. I began to ask him what his story was and who was he here with? He told me that he is alone, with his 14 year old brother, and they have managed to find an empty caravan to ‘live’ in for now. While we were talking, I asked him to tell me what it is like being here. His expression became very serious and he said – in near perfect English – that it was “horrible.” He said it is “so bad here.” I just looked at him with nothing but an attempt at understanding and the frustration that if I could just help him get to a safer place, there were ways to help him pick up the pieces of his life.

Over and over again, I have had people in the camp ask me if I have travelled from the UK, why is no one letting them get there, and especially, why are the children not being taken to help at least. I have not been able to answer satisfactorily on any of these occasions and it’s an empty feeling to look at people in that situation and not be able to offer more.

The young boy from Afghanistan that I gave the football to asked me if I could please take him with me. That is a feeling I will never forget. Many of the young people I work with at The Dost Centre are his age, from his background, and have even spent time in The Jungle. I know firsthand the ways in which children like him could be helped, and it is a tragedy that children like him are trying to survive in dangerous and appalling conditions. I can’t know all of the daily dangers and struggles he and so many others are facing, but I do know that they are all human beings being treated as less than that. When given safety, basic needs are met, and there is someone there for these young people to talk to and trust, they have the ability to reclaim this humanity and innocence that has been stolen from them. Their resilience is truly astonishing, and a testament to the human spirit.

Knowledge Sharing with the Fostering Network

At Dost, our overarching aim – the reason behind everything we do – is to improve the quality of life for young refugees and migrants, including children seeking asylum, victims of trafficking, undocumented children and those newly arrived in the country.

The most direct way we do this is by working one-to-one with the young people who seek our help, or are referred to us. We advocate for the best interests of each individual, while developing the strong relationships that define our approach, and allow us to provide emotional and social well-being support for every young person we work with. But our work doesn’t stop here.

We also engage practitioners, policy makers, the media and the public on issues that affect young refugees and migrants in order to bring about positive and lasting change in policy and practice. One of the ways we do this is by sharing our knowledge, through consultancy, presentations and training, on a range of issues relevant to those organisations who also work with young refugees and migrants.

Fostering NetworkOur most recent series of training sessions was with The Fostering Network, who invited us to deliver a workshop on New Arrivals: Supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking and separated minors to an audience of 70 foster carers, residential carers and social workers. The workshop covered topics including age assessments, common issues with the the asylum process and children’s mental health. All of those who attended said that the session gave them practical tools to better support the young people in their care and one supervising social worker said that the workshop had reinforced the importance of…

“…the need to be extra sensitive and child friendly when conducting the age assessment interview”

We delivered our second workshop for the Fostering Network in January and look forward to working with them again in future.

If you would like to talk to us about working with your organisation, please do get in touch. We can create bespoke training that meets your needs, as we did for the Fostering Network, and we also have individual presentations on:

  • Age Assessments – Professional Considerations and Impact on Young People
  • Asylum Process/ Uncertain Journeys
  • Mental Health and Resilience with Separated Young People
  • Dost’s 360 Approach

All of our consultancy and training work is underpinned by our approach and we aim to include input from our young people wherever possible, to ensure that the content remains up to date and relevant, and continues to engage the very people we are trying to serve.

Dost Youth Club is Moving!

Dost’s youth club, which currently runs every Tuesday evening out of our offices at the Trinity Centre in Newham, will be moving next month.

The youth club forms an integral part of our youth and education programme for all of the young people we work with. As well as weekly activities including sports, various creative projects and one-off events funded by the Jack Petchey award scheme, the youth club also helps our young people develop essential life skills, offers practical English classes and an opportunity to spend time with their peers and develop strong relationships both with our volunteers and with each other.

It is these relationships that form an integral part of Dost’s holistic approach. Positive relationships have been proven time and again to be the single most important factor in helping young people become healthy, well-adjusted adults. This is even more true of those for whom past experiences may mean that they find it hard to trust the adults around them. Building this trust takes time and commitment and many of our young people often attend youth club for some time before more actively asking for our help.

As we are seeing more and more young refugees referred to us, often in emergency situations, as well as those who drop in, the youth club is becoming busier and the space we have been using at Trinity is no longer fit for purpose. So, as from next month, the youth club will be moving to the Carpenters and Docklands Centre in Stratford. This space is better equipped for sporting activities and will allow us to run two sessions a week – a sports session on a Wednesday evening and the usual youth club session on a Thursday.

The first youth club in the new location will be on Thursday 10th March and as from this date, our Youth Work Programme Manager, Marian Spiers, will be permanently based at the Carpenters and Docklands Centre. Our caseworkers will remain at the Trinity Centre but there will always be at least one caseworker available every Thursday, should any young people wish to drop in for one-to-one support.

If you have any questions about the youth club, or would like to volunteer (we are always looking for new volunteers!), please get in touch. Youth club will be at the Carpenters and Docklands Centre in Stratford from 5.30 – 8.30pm every Thursday from 10th March and young people are welcome to drop in during this time.

Bringing Warmth to Calais This Winter

Back in November, we appealed for you to send us supplies for those stuck in Calais through the cold winter months and we are very grateful for all the contributions we have received so far.

We have now set the date for our trip and will be leaving London this weekend. So, if you have been meaning to drop by with your unwanted blankets, sleeping bags, torches and anything else that would be useful as the temperature drops, please do so as soon as possible! You can find us at the Trinity Centre in East Ham.

As well as providing practical items that will help to keep people physically warm, we also want to provide emotional warmth to those in the camps, many of whom have either lost family members or had to leave them behind, not knowing whether they will see them again. Some of our young people know this experience first-hand and wanted to share their personal messages of support.

 

So that we could all contribute something that would reach as many people as possible, we got in touch with the fantastic project, Birds Crossing Borders, to request some of their ‘birdcards’ – a beautifully designed set of six postcards – on which all of our staff and young people wrote messages of empathy, support and hope. Birds Crossing Borders will be taking these cards with them in February and we hope that this human connection will offer at least a little comfort to those who need it most.

The original Birds Crossing Borders deadline of 20 December has been extended, so if you are moved to send your own message, you can still order your free set of postcards now. If you have supplies you would like to donate, we are still accepting walk-in drop offs until this Friday 22 January.

Christmas support

DosttwitterXmas2015This week we are finishing off the year with our annual Christmas gathering, a chance for all our staff and young people to have a bit of fun before we close for the holidays.

Following the party on Tuesday 22nd December, Dost will then be closed until Monday 4th January. However, should you need help urgently, you will be able to contact our Psychosocial Worker Swaliha Bax, who will be available over the holidays (apart from Christmas and New Year’s Day).

If you need help on one of the bank holidays, please contact The Refugee Council, who are open over the Christmas period, or The Samaritans, who will be able to offer immediate support.

We will be back in January, when we’ll be finalising the details of our trip to Calais and sharing more news on what we’ve been up this past month. In the meantime, we wish you all hope, love and a safe place to stay during the holiday season.

 

 

Calais appeal – we need your unwanted items!

This year, Dost has seen an increasing number of young people facing emergency situations and our response to this has been to develop an emergency fund specifically to provide financial assistance to those in immediate need. As part of our holistic approach, we also provide emotional and practical support for all the young people who reach us.

But of course there are many young people who never reach us. As well as helping those who do, we also want to provide where we can for all those refugees and migrants facing a cold winter in Calais this Christmas. That is why we’re appealing for your help.

We are heading to Calais early in the New Year, to provide winter essentials for those who are stuck in camps there. Although all donations are welcome, the items we are focusing on are:

Winter Supplies

  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Torches and lanterns

As there is no electricity in the camps, many people are using candles for light and warmth, which of course pose a significant fire hazard and will not be practical during the winter months.

If you are based in (or near) East London and are able to provide any of these items, we are happy to accept donations to our office (located within the Trinity Centre). Along with your donations, we will also be asking our young people to share their experiences of living in Calais as well as sending messages of support to those who are still there.

A big thank you in advance for anything you are able to offer! If you would prefer to make a monetary donation, please contribute to our emergency fund, to help provide immediate support to those most in need.

 

 

 

Setting sail to learn new skills with Cirdan

Last month, a group of young people from Dost made the most of their half term week, embarking on a sailing adventure with The Cirdan Sailing Trust, which specialises in enabling disadvantaged young people to experience the challenge of life at sea.

rsz_sailing_resi_1

Fourteen young men aged between 15 and 19, from Eritrea, Albania, India, Bangladesh, Syria and Sudan, took part in the voyage from Weymouth to Gloucester, covering a distance of 295 miles over seven days. The purpose of the trip was not only to learn more about sailing but also to experience living and working together as a team over a long period, to help these young men develop confidence in themselves, tolerance of others and improved independent living skills.

Marian Spiers, our Youth Work Programme Manager, shares her thoughts on the trip:

The journey started well, with us all traveling from from London to Weymouth by train and spending the day exploring and buying the food we needed for the week that we were to be at sea. We set off early the next morning and sailed for 10 hours on calm seas until we arrived at Dartmouth. The weather then changed dramatically and when we left next morning, the sea was very rough. This was quite a frightening experience and after a few hours of very slow progress, we had to turn back as the wind was getting stronger and the waves higher. We spent the next day in Dartmouth again, where some of the young people learned how to drive the small motorboat.

On the third day we left again and although the sea was still rough and it was now raining heavily, we were able to make better progress. We sailed for 28 hours without stopping and the group was split into three, with everyone needing to do three hour stints at a time of being on watch, helping to sail the boat, put the sails up or down and generally being on hand if needed.

 

After 28 hours of very little to no sleep – as it was too rough downstairs to get any rest – and no food, we stopped for a few hours to cook and eat together. Many of the young people experienced sea sicknesses and found it very challenging to be on board. Some of them had also had bad experiences in their past on the sea and found it particularly frightening. After our short break, we set off for another 21 hour sail, this time accompanied by a school of dolphins, and eventually arrived near our destination the evening before our bus back to London.For some of the young people, this was their first time venturing outside of London. Many of them have not been in the UK very long, so this was an interesting experience for them to see more rural life and the coast of Britain.

During our week-long experience, everyone had to take turns cooking, doing dishes and serving and tidying up/ cleaning the boat.  When we were not sailing, we played board games, watched a film and helped each other with homework. Even though some of the young people found aspects of the trip very challenging, they felt a sense of achievement after having completed it and since returning, many of them have spoken about it positively, saying:

“It was good to work in groups, to communicate with each other and we had a good time with members of staff.”
-Endri, 18

” You know the first time, we was scared and after will be ok, so it is not so bad.  We saw a lot of things and we learn.”
– Yakob, 16

“Sailing is good because I saw jellyfish and dolphins.” 
– Baha, 16

This trip was generously funded through the Jack Petchey Foundation’s 15th Anniversary Grants as well as individual funders through Cirdan.

If you would like to help us support our young people, many of whom arrive at Dost in emergency situations, we would welcome any donations to our new Emergency Fund, which has been developed in response to the increased number of young refugees we are seeing in immediate need.