The first thing I do when I wake up is double check where I have planned to be for the day. No two days working for Refugee Action are ever the same, therefore I rely heavily on my calendar and follow it with military precision! Born and bred in the rural county of Shropshire I’ve learnt the importance of leaving enough time to get to appointments at the risk of getting stuck behind a slow-moving tractor on a winding country road.
My current caseload are families which have been resettled in various towns throughout Shropshire via the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme. Many of my clients are survivors of violence and torture and have legal and physical needs to be resettled in the UK. Other cases are that of women and children who were at risk of exploitation in the area that they were forced to flee to. On this programme, people are granted 5 years ‘Humanitarian Protection’ to reside in the UK where they are permitted work and access public funds.
When you read the background information on a client you are undoubtedly aware that they have been through the unimaginable. Many have previously owned business and homes and have had to leave everything behind or watched it be destroyed. They have lost family, friends and in some cases, their own children. And yet they are standing in front of you determined to rebuild their lives for themselves and their families, full of expectations and questions!
Albeit difficult to describe a typical day, my morning may involve home visits to clients where I could be helping a client understand a letter from the NHS about an upcoming health appointment, assisting them to fill in an application form for a volunteer position at a local organisation or supporting them to contact the Department for Work and Pensions regarding a recent benefits query.
We have an amazing team of Arrivals and Advocacy Volunteers and whilst I am on a home visit with one family, a volunteer could be out in the community assisting another family with a specific task. This task may be attending a hospital appointment or assisting a client to travel to an immigration advice centre. Plus, we have a wonderful group of English Practice Volunteers informally delivering sessions to families in their homes. I need to ensure that I am on hand so that the volunteer can contact me if they have any queries.
I’ll often be out and about at lunchtime so I’ll generally frequent local cafes. Lone working in the community can be isolating so it’s nice to see familiar friendly faces where possible. We are a small team of 3 in Shropshire, we tend to have a team meeting on a Monday and then go our separate ways for the rest of the week.
In the afternoon, I could be contacting various external partners on behalf of clients and advocating for their needs or following up on other areas we have been working on. A big part of the resettlement role is around community and service development, ensuring that clients have good access to services and working together to reduce any barriers that may be in place. This may mean that I meet with a local dental practice to advocate for the use of interpreters at our client’s appointments, catch up with a client’s work coach at the job centre to speak about their progress or engage with the local community who have offered to support families in their area.
The families I work with face the same challenges as you and I: long waiting lists for health appointments or worrying about how their children are getting on at school. On top of that they have the additional challenge of learning a new language and with a lack of ESOL provision this is easier said than done! I’ve had clients express how upset they are that they cannot simply have a conversation with their next-door neighbour.
Their journey when they come to the UK is not an easy one, with many bumps in the road (or tractors in the way!) but we can help them get to where they want to go, it just may take a bit more time.
Gaby Roberts is a Refugee Action Resettlement Caseworker in Shropshire.