Befriending unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people
Many of you reading this will have witnessed the distressing images of refugees and migrants travelling across the Mediterranean and mainland Europe over the past few years. Among this humanitarian crisis are a number of unaccompanied children who journeyed thousands of miles to escape violence and oppression to find sanctuary and peace.
You may have also heard of the “Jungle” camp in Calais where some of these young people lived in squalor and danger, waiting to fulfill their wish to come to the UK.
There are a significant number of unaccompanied minors living in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The youngest children (under 16 years) live with Foster families. The older ones will live in “managed accommodation” where they will live in a small self- contained room with shared facilities.
These young people are aged 16 plus and are applying for Refugee status in the UK. Most are attending classes in Colleges of Further Education. They are living alone in stressful situation whilst trying to navigate the rigorous Asylum process. They have little contact or no contact with their relatives living in their country of origin. Many come from rural Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.
Birmingham Community Hosting Network (BIRCH) has a group of volunteer “befrienders” who we try to match to these young people.
These volunteers offer a weekly visit to the young person who may want to visit a friendly, loving environment to have a meal, practice their English, watch TV and sometimes hang out with the Volunteer’s children who may be a few years younger than themselves. We also have many non-traditional families, individuals that offer friendship to these young people.
BIRCH have received some glowing testimonies to the power of good this befriending scheme has brought not just our young people – but also to the adults that befriend them.
The following quotation is from a young person who has recently received Home Office approval to stay in the UK after a long protracted ordeal:
“Coming to the UK two years ago was hard for me and hurt some part of my life and my heart. I felt alone and depressed. I felt I had no friends and no one who knows who I am.
I didn’t know how it was to have friends. I did not know how to be adapted to this country. I go to their house and spend some real time there. I feel I am part of the family.
We talk about hobbies and the things and what we like to do. Sometimes I share my story with them. We watch TV and cook together.
From my befriending family I understand that British people are not cold people and only care about their own lives. From my befriended family I understand that British people care about an asylum seeker like me.”
He is now planning to go to University.
And here’s a testimony from one of our Befrienders:
“Our family is gained so much from having him visit us. It has increased our awareness of other cultures. We have learned a lot of aspects of his religion, for example food and fasting. And my son now has a buddy to share his enthusiasm for football with!”
If you are interested in participating in our Befriending scheme please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information about the work of Birmingham Community Hosting Network (BIRCH) please check our web site www.birchnetwork.org