Why refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to isolation, and what you can do to help.
by Sam Sayer, b.friend project manager
We are all likely to experience loneliness at some point in our lives, whether as a child marginalised by bullies in the classroom, suffering long term unemployment or losing a spouse. These are just some of the many ways that we find ourselves alone, unable to connect with those around us and struggling to see that we have a role in society.
This condition can be acute for an asylum seeker or refugee. Imagine for a moment that you arrive in a new city having been sent there by the Home Office. You know no-one and you are placed in a shared house with others who do not share your culture, language or faith. Everything is new, strange and alien to you and as your English is poor you cannot even communicate your distress. The loneliness you feel may lead you to feel desperate. You miss the life you had and mourn the relationships that you have lost. You are totally alone and don’t know where to turn.
b.friend came into being out of a conviction that there was an answer, a human solution to loneliness that is actually quite straightforward. All that is required is time, a willingness to consistently show up, listen well and and demonstrate compassion. Over the past 6 years I’ve been able to match many volunteer befrienders with those referred by partner agencies. This equates to hours of listening, drinking tea, playing table tennis, walking about, pondering British culture and being a good neighbour to another person in our city of Bristol. These simple and positive acts of kindness have made life a richer and more welcoming place. Whilst the problems of life have not disappeared, having someone who is ‘for’ you can make the burden a little easier to bear.
Leah and Kate were one of the first partnerships matched by b.friend and remain the best of friends 5 years later. Kate has had the privilege of supporting Leah as she has established a life for herself, gained work and now has a family. Leah knew no-one and Kate became that bridge helping her to access opportunities, services and a fuller life. One person helping another, and Kate has gained a valuable friend in the process too.
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has highlighted the need to address the problem of loneliness in the UK. Launched in January, each month has highlighted a specific group of people who research has shown are at the greatest risk of suffering from loneliness. For the first time, Members of Parliament, policy makers and more than a dozen leading organisations have come together to expose the growing crisis of loneliness and find ways to overcome it. In October the focus will be on refugees. I’m delighted to be part of the group planning to provide stories to show how befriending has made all the difference. Watch out for stories of positivity and social transformation! In Leah’s words, ‘Kate shows me everything I need in Bristol. She came along at the right time. I felt so lonely but now I don’t feel like that. Someone cares about me. She is like my sister and I don’t want to lose her.’
If you are interested in finding out more about the work of b.friend, or in getting involved, please see www.bridgesforcommunities.com/b.friend