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“Refugees come here looking for safety and a new chance in life”

Blog by Sarah, Resettlement Manager

There are many challenges for resettled refugees - not just the weather

Over the summer we were at the airport welcoming a group of Congolese refugees. It was an unusually hot July day. One of the women commented to me that the weather was not too dissimilar to Africa. I advised her to be prepared for the cold and rain that would only be a month or so away, or even the next day – you just never know in the UK. She said she did not mind, she was just so happy to have finally arrived in the UK.

On the Gateway Resettlement Programme, we support refugees who arrive to Greater Manchester on the UK government’s resettlement programme. We work with a very vulnerable group of people; having fled their home country due to war, persecution and torture, many of them then end up living in huge refugee camps, where their safety is still compromised and living conditions are poor.

Third country resettlement offers them a chance to rebuild their lives in a new country with new opportunities. Our team of Resettlement Caseworkers supports them to do this with an empowerment approach, encouraging them to learn and do things for themselves so that they can regain control of their lives, live independently and with dignity.

Yet, there are many challenges with this for resettled refugees – not just the weather.

If you are too scared to leave your house, you can’t do anything else

Coming to a new, safe country does not automatically mean that life runs smoothly from there on in. There are new and complicated systems to learn and navigate, language barriers to overcome, a new culture to acclimatise to, as well as a sense of loss for everything and everyone left behind.

One of the biggest challenges we find is the prevalence and rise of hate motivated crimes perpetrated against our clients, which once again leaves refugees feeling persecuted, vulnerable and scared for their safety.

We hear of incidents of neighbours doing awful things to our clients, like throwing bottles of urine at their houses, pulling washing off washing lines, setting their bins on fire or throwing cigarettes in letter boxes. Sometimes, our clients are verbally abused or are subjected to variety of physical violent attacks. The list is endless.

We try to encourage our clients to report these incidents directly to the police. We explain to them in the arrival week that hate crime is illegal and that it is unacceptable. It’s sometimes hard to get a balance because we don’t want to scare people but we find hate crime happens so frequently we need to brief people about it because we have a duty of care to make sure that our clients are well informed and feel empowered to report such crimes.

We worry that such experience will negatively impact our clients who come here looking for safety and a new chance in life. Yet, we’ve had cases where harassment has led our clients to be too scared to leave their home. This has a massive impact on their ability to integrate and resettle because if you are too scared to leave your house, you can’t do anything else.

It is very upsetting for us to see our clients feeling too vulnerable to leave their homes.

It is one of the hardest things to deal with as a caseworker

The thing with hate crime, the frustration for caseworkers is that they can’t fix it. If a client has an issue with their benefits for example, there are things you can do as a caseworker to resolve that. But you can’t change the behaviour of their neighbours or people on the street who are abusing them. There is no quick-fix. You can’t protect them from it. You can help them report it to the police and explain to them their rights and try to empower them and make them feel better that way, but it very rarely gets prosecuted because there has to be sufficient evidence that the offence is aggravated by hostility on the grounds of race or religion. It is really frustrating.

I was with a family recently, filling in for a caseworker. I listened to a child tell me how he was physically attacked by grown men. He had to move school and area. It was very emotional to hear him talk about it. I found it very upsetting and I think it is one of the hardest things to deal with as a caseworker. It is one of the things that you can’t leave in the office when you go home. It is horrible to feel that our clients are not safe here, especially when they are housed in areas where there is a pattern of hate crimes incidents.

For us, to go home at the end of the day and know that we’ve got clients that are too afraid to leave their home because they worry that they will be attacked by a neighbour is just so awful. When you think about what our client group has been through, they have had such traumatic lives and they come here for a new beginning and safety and then they experience these awful things. It’s heart breaking.

Help us in the fight against hate crime

Hate crime against refugees and people seeking asylum is unacceptable. If you believe that hate has no place in the UK, please donate to support refugees and people seeking asylum to stand up against violence and abuse.