Refugee Week 6: Breaking barriers

By Alexandra Foden


It’s interesting to think that 12 months ago I was asked to take the role of a Refugee Resettlement Caseworker. From being young, attending school, college and University I always felt I was destined to help people live a better quality of life and make a difference, yet I never thought I would get an opportunity like this. It has been a privileged experience supporting refugee families with their resettlement in the UK after living in hardship, persecution and fear in their home country. The day the refugees arrived I greeted them at the airport and was overwhelmed with empathy and the need to help them. From that day on the families faced many challenges and I began to see them with a new perspective.

Each morning I found myself picking up my diary before I flicked the kettle on, preparing myself for the busy day ahead, supporting clients with tenancy agreements, applying for benefits, opening bank accounts, and assisting them to every and any appointment you can think of. Most days I would be contacting various external agencies, ensuring that the refugees had access to different services, such as the Job Centre, health services, and community integration services. One of the main challenges I faced as a caseworker was ensuring that the refugees were able to access the services they were entitled to, making regular calls to government departments chasing up benefit applications and disputing wrong decisions.

One of the main barriers of resettlement and integration for the families was their language, however we were fortunate to have a translator work alongside me to support the families. At the beginning the language barrier was very challenging, and although the families have access to ESOL provision it was extremely difficult and upsetting for them to express their feelings and carry out simple tasks independently such as, talking to their neighbour, paying a utility bill or making a doctor’s appointment. At first they were very dependent on my support and the interpreter, however, with lots of encouragement and support they have become very confident and more and more independent each day. It just takes a little time.

group 2It has been very rewarding seeing them break down these barriers over these last 12 months and it has made me realise that refugees are not incompetent or unqualified to live their lives in the UK. Although it has been traumatic and confusing adapting to a new way of life, they have worked hard to integrate into the community and as individuals they are talented, skilled and ambitious people who want to make a better future for themselves and their children. They have so much resilience it makes me feel inspired. It has been fascinating learning and experiencing their cultural values and what good they can bring to our society.

Alexandra Foden is a Refugee Resettlement Caseworker for The Salvation Army in the north of England.Alex