Supporting refugees in the UK, Part 2

Supporting refugees in the UK, Part 2

How easy is it for individuals to provide hospitality and a welcome to refugees coming to Britain?  In the second of three articles Andy Vivian focusses on how to go about volunteering with refugees once they have been settled in your part of Britain.

After a refugee has gained their official status, they will still need assistance to find a permanent home and a guiding hand to help them settle in this country.   To this end there are many organisations which support refugees and most of them have a role for volunteers…

A good place to start your search for a voluntary role is your local authority. Councils work closely with refugee charities in their area. You can use your postcode to look up your local authority.  Not all local authorities are accepting refugees but those that are should be able to put you in touch with a provider, be it a council department or a local charity that might be looking for volunteers.  In England and Wales some, but again not all, counties and metropolitan authorities submit to the government a list of tasks where more voluntary help is needed in their patch.  This information is then used to create a volunteering webpage where you can offer your skills in relation to specific tasks listed for your area. 

Should you get a negative reaction from your local council, you could try to approach a local charity directly.  One way to discover who is working with refugees in your area is to do an online search using the term ‘refugees’ and your local county or metropolitan area.  Most organisations will have a section on their website called ‘Get involved’ or ‘Volunteer’.  If you are lucky you may be in one of the eleven areas in England which have a refugee charity working under the banner of an organisation called Refugee Action.   They have a page for would be volunteers on their website including a list of volunteer vacancies.  What I also liked about Refugee Action is the advice they give on a page called Here’s how you can help refugees

Grassroots initiatives

As the refugee crisis has grown, there have been a number of citizen-led initiatives, inspired by a sense that the West in general and the UK in particular should take more refugees.  The general banner for this movement is Refugees Welcome.  Local committees campaign on behalf of refugees and try to help them settle and feel welcome.  In the UK, the movement is coordinated by the social justice campaign, Citizen UK.   You’ll find a list of Current Local Groups with email contacts on the Citizen UK website.  These citizen groups help refugees in a variety of ways such as

  • English classes in the community
  • talking to schools
  • helping find furniture
  • decorating properties
  • taking families to appointments
  • hospital visiting 
  • running community cafes to bring local people and refugees together
  • mentoring individual refugees

Quite a number of Refugees Welcome committees now have their own website or Facebook page.  If you use their contact email address as the term for an online search, you may well be able to track this down.  Alternatively, the Citizen UK website invites volunteers wishing to help refugees to register their interest online.  Their volunteer application form is being administered by Avaaz.   Read their Frequently Asked Questions to find out more.

Another network which aims to promote a welcome for refugees is the City of Sanctuary movement.  Their specific aim is to encourage an atmosphere of hospitality and inclusivity in local communities.   The movement started in Sheffield in 2005 and 90 towns and cities have now enrolled.  The movement isn’t just about refugees but this is their main thrust at the moment.  Some of the groups are still in their initial stages and keen to recruit more volunteers.  There’s a list of existing groups on their website.

Finally, if you don’t succeed in finding a local group that needs your help, there is one simple way to express your solidarity with refugees – a Refugees’ welcome message board on the Refugee Action website where you can leave an encouraging message to new arrivals.

The next installment is about how you can join with others to sponsor a Syrian refugee family under the UK Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Families Resettlement Scheme.

Image: By DFID - UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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