It’s Refugee Week, with a host of events, initiatives and concerts highlighting the experiences of refugees in the UK and celebrating their contribution to our society and culture. We interview Shari Brown, Project Coordinator of the charity Restore (a project of Birmingham Churches Together), about what makes her and her organisation tick.
What most excites you about Restore’s work?
Mostly the people! The resilience and courage of some of the refugees I meet is inspiring, especially given what they’ve been through, plus the commitment of befrienders to making newcomers welcome.
Equally exciting is when asylum seekers we know are granted refugee status. Just yesterday we heard that an Afghan couple we work with and their seven year old son have been given the right to remain in the UK. Until that point she had leave to remain but he hadn’t which meant they had had to live apart for over two years! This decision will enable them to live together as a family once more and build a new life in the UK.
It’s also inspiring to hear what happens further down the line when people become more integrated and achieve success in their work. We recently heard good news from a man and a woman who had both been nurses in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iran respectively. One is about to graduate as a nurse in the UK whilst the other is working in the care sector and hoping to move back into nursing.
What most disheartens you?
I am constantly frustrated by elements of the ‘system’ which make the experience of refugees intolerable and in my view unnecessarily difficult. The length of time some asylum seekers have to wait to get leave to remain is excessive and living ‘in limbo’ for months and sometimes years can have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. The evidence required for an asylum seeker to get status also makes me cross, as does the scepticism of some Home Office case workers. Those refused asylum are often unable to return home and yet are left destitute – an outrage in a wealthy nation like Britain! The Windrush scandal has also, I hope, highlighted aspects of the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. Refugees can find it difficult to open a bank account or rent accommodation.
Where does Restore’s work fit in?
Restore’s mission is about welcoming and supporting individuals and families to integrate. Our core work is befriending – bringing refugees and members of the host community together. It’s relational at heart and inspiring to witness, especially when befrienders become advocates and refugees start to feel more at home in Britain. Befriending often has a significant impact on a refugee, enriching their life and expanding their horizons, as well as blessing the befriender too.
How could readers make a positive difference?
Perhaps some people look at the issues and don’t know where to start, but luckily there are many things someone can do, which will have a positive impact. First and foremost, become a befriender with Restore! But also work with your church or community to host an inclusive activity, volunteer with drop-in and welcome groups, or donate food, clothes or money. You can make an impact with your voice too – become informed about refugee issues and challenge prejudiced remarks when you encounter them, advocate on behalf of an asylum seeker or refugee, and lobby for change, starting with your MP!