Recognising the value that asylum seekers and refugees contribute to society

Sian Finn

Since August 2016 Time Together has brought almost 100 volunteers and refugees and asylum seekers together.  As the project co-ordinator I recruit volunteers who are from different areas of the UK and the world. 

They have a variety of reasons for wanting to mentor a refugee or an asylum seeker.  It can be for experience alongside gaining a degree, or about meeting someone from a completely different culture to their own.  Some volunteers are retired and have time to offer.  We also have new residents to the West Midlands who see this as a way to meet new people.  Mostly it’s about wanting to welcome those who have been through the most harrowing of life circumstances and showing their fellow humans kindness and compassion. 

While some of the media would have you believe that most people residing in the UK are hostile to refugees and asylum seekers, many of our volunteers take the opposite stance and see the value in what refugees and asylum seekers contribute to society.  The experience of meeting with their matched participants can offer insight into an incredibly complex immigration process.  Our volunteers can help guide their partners through difficulties and challenges that life throws at them as a refugee and asylum seeker living in the UK.

Our participants are from all over the world including Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran, Malawi and Malaysia. Our referral partners identify our participants as being socially isolated and in need of one to one support.  Once assessed, informed and interviewed by the project co-ordinator, they are matched to a trained volunteer mentor.  Their volunteer will help them focus on their current situation and refer them to any service or support they could access to help improve their wellbeing. 

They are there to offer practical solutions to problems:  for some it’s about increasing their English language skills or gaining employment.  For others it could be getting specialist therapeutic support to help cope with past traumas.  For our asylum seeker participants, it can be about utilising their knowledge and skills by finding educational/training/volunteering opportunities in their communities while they are unable to work.  Having someone to talk to and to be listened to without judgement over a cup of tea on a regular basis is sometimes all our participants need. 

Twice a year Time Together organises a tea party for volunteers and participants past and present, allowing all parties the opportunity to keep in touch and to touch base with the project co-ordinator.  At our most recent festive tea party participants and volunteers all got into the Christmas spirit and enjoyed a TimeBank Christmas quiz. It also got very competitive on the pool table!  It was a lively afternoon with music, games, laughter and people meeting for the first time over tea and cake.  Based on the success of the tea parties we are looking to organise more social opportunities in 2019.  It’s a joy to see people socialising, laughing and sharing experiences with people they would never normally meet. 

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