The best approach is to improve services for everyone, not just for asylum seekers and refugees. If there is a perception that some people are getting better services, this may result in hostility and resentment from the host community. Links with the local community should be encouraged.
I have reservations about providing different services for different groups as it does not enhance a community bond – there should be an attempt to find common ground.Nurse, London
If people are coming to live in an area hitherto unfamiliar with refugees or asylum seekers, ensure that local people are aware of the situation prior to their arrival. The Bolton asylum team, with permission, approach neighbours in order to introduce a person or family seeking asylum who are moving into new accommodation. Befriending schemes can provide support, combat isolation and help to bridge the gap between refugees and the local community. Befrienders need to make a regular commitment and should receive training and ongoing support themselves.
We frequently see people who seem to need more than anything an opportunity to talk.GP Glasgow
My main problem is loneliness. I have no-one to talk to.Dispersed male asylum seeker
Young people whom we spoke to seemed to warm to the idea of a personal advocate/befriender more than counselling.Researcher with young people, London
The Border and Immigration Agency’s A New Model for National Refugee Integration Services in England proposed that all refugees should be offered the opportunity to be matched with a mentor from the receiving community. The consultation was closed in February 2010
Time Together matches UK citizens in one-on-one mentoring relationships with refugees.
The Befriending Project part of the Medical Foundation's Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy Team trains and supports adults to befriend unaccompanied refugee children and young people, thereby providing companionship, emotional support, practical advice and guidance.
As part of the Medical Foundation Holiday Hosting Scheme, hosts open up their homes to refugees, often families, providing them with new experiences and welcome respite.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, Refugee mentoring project supports London-based refugees and asylum seekers living with HIV. Mentors offer emotional and practical support to relieve isolation and help mentees access health care, skills development, immigration, housing and benefits advice and English classes. They can also assist in finding work and volunteering opportunities.
Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (MRCF)
Face to Face and Transforming Lives projects are mentoring schemes for forced and Trafficked migrants with mental health needs. Mentors are recruited through the MRCF Transforming Lives Programme and Volunteers are also recruited. The aim of the programme is to provide mentees with culturally sensitive emotional support and help with social and practical needs.
ICAR, provides details of several befriending and mentoring projects across the UK.
The Integration of Refugee Children: Good Practice in Educational Settings area of this website provides guidance on how schools can promote peer support and friendships.
Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network (LASSN) runs a befriending scheme to help break down isolation among asylum seekers and refugees. Volunteer befrienders are matched with clients for a period of 6 to 12 months, and arrange regular meetings with them. The aim is to familiarise people with the local area, help them to integrate with the local community, assist them to gain access to other services and help alleviate emotional stress and isolation.
Training is given to all volunteer befrienders and tutors and LASSN runs quarterly volunteer support meetings. One-to-one support to befrienders is given by volunteer mentors every 6 weeks. All volunteers are given guidelines setting out the role of volunteers, what expenses can be claimed, and giving advice on personal safety, setting boundaries to prevent over commitment and potential burnout and the importance of confidentiality: all volunteers sign a confidentiality declaration. LASSN has been awarded Approved Provider Status from the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation.
LASSN also runs an “English at Home” scheme, aimed at people unable to access English classes because of health problems or caring responsibilities.
Your organisation may use local volunteers, who can help asylum seekers and refugees in many ways, such as befriending and orientation projects. Asylum seekers and refugees are themselves allowed to volunteer: this is an excellent way for people to develop work skills and experience in the UK and a possibility of a reference. Volunteering can also improve health and well being. Reimbursement for asylum seekers can be made for meals, travel and other costs actually incurred but not as a flat-rate allowance. It is important for all volunteers to be well supported in their work.
The Volunteering England website contains descriptions of volunteering projects, translated volunteer materials and Home Office guidance on when and where asylum seekers can volunteer
Good Practice Guidelines for involving refugee and asylum seeker volunteers (2008) includes an outline of the regulations covering the entitlement of asylum seekers to volunteer, confirming that they are entitled to receive out of pocket expenses, just like other volunteers.
Wilson R The a –z of volunteering and asylum - a handbook for managers (2003)
Victim Support Tel: 0845 3030 900 (Victim Support line) provides practical help and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crimes and also provides training for health workers, with access to interpreters.
Imperial War Museum North in Salford welcomes refugees and asylum seekers as volunteers.
A report entitled Asylum seekers and volunteering in Europe summarises the learning of organisations in Hungary, France and England that came together to form the EXCHANGES partnership from 2004- 7. Eleven recommendations are made, based on the experiences of the EXCHANGE partners. Of these, four are given particular prominence. Firstly, the EU and national governments should legislate against existing barriers to asylum seeker volunteering. Secondly, asylum seekers should be able to access vocational training and accredited learning as part of the volunteering experience. In the case of volunteering opportunities outside the refugee sector, intermediary organisations should be better resourced in order to fulfil their facilitating role successfully. Finally, non-government agencies should assist refugee community organisations to a greater extent in building their capacity.
The South East Migrant Health Network is not responsible for the content of external sites.