Refugees at Home | Voices of Change

Here at What Can We Do? (WCWD) we strive to promote a better and fairer world through civic engagement, and that is why we launched the Voices of Change guest blog series.

We want to amplify the voices of a variety of different charities, community groups and individuals from home and abroad. While highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted them, how kindness plays a role in what they do, how people can get involved to support them and what the ideal future looks like.

Our special guest today is Areej Osman, placement coordinator for Refugees at Home, discussing how their important work matching refugees and asylum seekers with hosts and how they've been impacted by COVID-19.

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Tell us about yourself - Where do you work and what is your role?

I am part of small team of placement coordinators who match refugees and asylum seekers in need of accommodation with generous hosts who are able and happy to offer a spare room. Since Refugees at Home started, the total number of nights hosted has exceeded 148,000. We have now hosted guests from 75 different countries.

I find it very rewarding to see asylum seekers and refugees who would have otherwise been homeless have a safe and comfortable place to live in hosts’ homes. It’s life changing for our guests. They can then have a respite to think about next steps in their lives.

How has COVID-19 affected the work that Refugees at Home does?

We place people in other peoples home and so with COVID-19 we have had to think about safety of everyone involved. Some hosts are in high risk category of COVID-19, being over 70 or having underlining health conditions. Their safety is our priority so we have been working with smaller pool of hosts since COVID-19 started.

With new homeless legislations emerging in response to public health, local authorities have been housing homeless people including asylum seekers in hotel rooms. However, some local authorities have started evicting people from these rooms and as a result, we have seen a rise in referrals for asylum seekers.

A man and two women posing for a photo in a garden

What activities have Refugees at Home been undertaking since the start of COVID-19?

Part of our host assessment procedure is home visits by professionals. With the lockdown in place, this has been changed to take place virtually to keep everyone safe.

Tell us about the role of kindness in your work.

Well, our hosting scheme is by definition altruistic, meaning our hosts offer their spare rooms to asylum seekers and refugees expecting nothing in return. No rent should be charged and no duties are expected of guests. They are literally welcoming strangers into their homes. I find that incredibly kind.

How can people help/get involved with what Refugees at Home is doing during COVID-19?

Now that the lockdown seems to ease in most parts of England, Scotland and Wales, people who have spare rooms that they are not renting, can sign up to be hosts. We are still placing guests who find themselves in unfortunate situations of homelessness and we have COVID-19 policy where we try to mitigate the risk as best as we can.

You can also support us by donating, £20 can help provide basic provisions for a destitute refugee moving in with a host.

two women chatting by a table
Photo by Janie Critchley

What is the most amazing act of kindness you have seen during the COVID-19 crisis?

Every placement we made in the last few months just amazes me. With the risk of COVID-19 married with the lockdown and restriction of movement, people still open their homes to refugees and asylum seekers in need. One particular host asks guests to self-isolate in their (host’) home for 14 days, during this period, the hosts provided three meals a day to their guests in their self-contained space, how incredible is that!

What does the ideal future look like for you? What policies would Refugees at Home like to see come out of this crisis?

I would like to see better accommodation offers in NASS (National Asylum Support Service) and some sort of governmental safety net for refused asylum seekers who find themselves homeless and without permission to work. How are these people expected to support themselves without government intervention?

I would also like to see a policy change in terms of work permission for asylum seekers. Right now, they are not allowed to work until they get refugee status which in some cases take years. Most of these people are in working age and really eager to contribute and regain their sense of confidence. Changing the policies to allow asylum seekers to work will not only help them but will also boost the economy and take the financial burden of taking care of them off the government.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to highlight our valuable and necessary work at Refugees at Home.

Areej Osman

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