New volunteer Sarah Appleton reflects on how joining Hope English School has opened her eyes and challenged her preconceptions.
Before I joined Hope English School, I was ignorant about the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. Of course, I cared about them. I believed that they should be welcomed into our country, and given the help and support they need. I believed that we should offer a safe place where they can rebuild their lives.
But I stopped there. My belief carried no conviction. My assumption that the government was looking after the people that come here for refuge released me from the need to care anymore. My ignorance let me forget.
But since working here, my eyes have been opened to what it actually looks like to be an asylum seeker or refugee in the UK.
Being forced to live on £36.95 a week and forbidden to work.
To feel the frustration of being unable to make a contribution to society, despite wanting to, and facing the judgement that comes with that.
To be isolated from those around you by language barriers, with language lessons having waiting lists up to 3 years long.
Pregnant and vulnerable women being housed in dangerous, unsanitary, and unsuitable conditions.
To face homelessness and greater poverty when you finally receive your refugee status (if you’re one of the 34% lucky enough to be accepted),
To have your bank account refused because you haven’t been told what documents you need, or because the bank itself doesn’t know.
To be left alone to work out the job market and benefit system.
To face discrimination and prejudice.
The Refugee Council asked 57 refugees how they felt 28 days after being granted refugee status, at which point they are forced to leave their housing and their asylum seeker allowance is cut. The responses overwhelmed me:
Not very well
Only two answered ‘happy’.
I wanted to understand, and it broke my heart. It made me angry. It made me ashamed.
How can we let this happen? In our culture we pride ourselves on the fact that we are a welcoming, friendly, tolerant nation. So why do people feel afraid? Why are people cold? Why are people faced with confusion and rejection?
We need to understand. We need to let their stories break our hearts. We need to feel the need for change and to WANT things to change. We need to realise that it’s not enough to let the system take care of itself.
Because despite this darkness, there is hope.
I’ve been lucky the past couple of months to attend the Refugee Forum in Sheffield. Here organisations and charities meet and talk about what they’re doing - the challenges, the successes, and the issues they face.
I’m inspired by these people. They have so much passion and so much hope for asylum seekers and refugees. They know what it is to have their hearts broken by their stories. And they know what it is to be convicted to change things.
These are people who welcome and love the vulnerable people in our midst. These are people who lobby government, who influence local policy, who create opportunities for people to integrate and to feel at home. These are people who fight for justice and who expose the corruption and injustice that so many asylum seekers and refugees face. And I am honoured that I have been able to join their ranks.
Our society needs to open its eyes and let its heart feel. Feel the pain, the anger, but most importantly, the hope.
There is hope for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, and we are part of that hope. Will you be?