Last month, we walked from Park Lane to Parliament Square, alongside thousands of others who had gathered in London, to let the world know that people across the UK feel that refugees are, and should be, welcome here. This march came shortly after David Cameron issued a statement saying that the UK will accept 20,000 more Syrian refugees over the next five years. While we welcome this, we also feel that much more needs to be done. We have responded to the crisis as members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, alongside more than 40 other organisations, calling for the UK to support and do more to ensure safety and stability for refugee and asylum seeking children and families.
The day of the solidarity march and the ongoing response from the public to the current crisis is a wonderful reminder that when humanity pulls together as just that, and we recognise each other as human beings, we see our similarities rather than our differences. But how do young refugees feel once they are here? Do they really feel welcome? We spoke to some of our young people about their experiences, and they said:
“I don’t know, maybe not. You don’t know what to do, what it is, you don’t know anything when you first come.”
“I felt generally welcome when I arrived. But I came here when I was 10 years old and didn’t speak the language, so you know what kids are like. But everything got better in a couple of years.”
“No, I didn’t really feel welcome because I didn’t speak a word of English.”
“Yes, of course I feel welcome- 100%.”
“Honestly I did not at first moment and that wasn’t nice at all but it got better after a while.”
“Yeah I feel I was, I was given support with education, I was granted Refugee Status, and I’ve been supported with whatever I want.”
The people these children come into contact with when they arrive in the UK can make a huge difference to how they feel. Here at Dost, as well as providing practical support, our relationship-based model ensures that we are meeting the complex emotional needs of every individual who comes to us. As well as developing relationships with those in our care, we also help them to foster positive relationships with each other, slowly rebuilding their often shattered trust in humanity. And this environment yields positive results, with many of those we’ve helped describing Dost as ‘a home away from home’. When asked whether they felt welcome at Dost, the responses where overwhelmingly positive:
“Absolutely I did. Warm atmosphere, kind and caring people and a lot of other nice things helped me to feel welcome.”
“Yeah! I was talking to Marian first and then Kerrin. She would open up her heart and it was easy to talk to them.”
“Yes! Especially when I met Marian because she’s so happy, I was like what kind of person is she? She’s very kind. I also met new people here and improved my English, if I make mistakes in my English she corrects me. I love this project.”
Some of our young people shared much more on their thoughts about Dost, community, identity and hope earlier this summer, when they took part in the Talking T-Shirts project with the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP).
So, what can we all do to make refugees feel more welcome? Well, some people are offering space in their homes but if you’d like to offer other practical help, you could volunteer your time – either with a local charity (we are based in East London and are always looking for volunteers) or by taking part in a fundraising event – or you could donate to one of the many organisations arranging for aid in the UK to reach those stranded in Calais.
Dost is starting an emergency fund for the increased number of young people we see, who are facing emergency situations, as well as planning a trip to Calais to distribute winter essential supplies such as blankets and flashlights. If you would like to contribute, please consider donating via our JustGiving page or contact us to find out how you can get involved.