In July, RRE and our partners convened at Parliament to make the case for Youth Welfare Officers in all initial and dispersal asylum accommodation. Advocates like this are urgently needed to monitor and support the mental health and welfare of 18- to 25-year-old asylum seekers[i]. These individuals endure unimaginable trauma before arriving in the UK, only to find themselves isolated in foreign lands without adequate support and guidance. To testify to this reality, we invited four ‘experts by experience’ to share their stories and why they believe the appointment of Youth Welfare Officers is so important.
Naqeeb arrived in the UK at the age of 16, completely on his own. He is now 19 and still waiting on his asylum decision. It may be the legal definition of adulthood, but Naqeeb told us that his needs did not magically change or go away upon turning 18. He still wanted to study, pursue his dreams, and make lifelong friendships.
Two years ago, Naqeeb joined the Hummingbird Young Leaders programme, which trains young refugees in public speaking, leadership and advocacy. Members of the programme aim to share their stories and raise awareness about the issues facing young refugees in the UK For Naqeeb, the Hummingbird Project was an important source of support, support which is denied to so many other individuals who lack access to opportunities.
Support is particularly important to a young refugee’s mental health, he said. Mental health challenges can strike regardless of age, which is why he believes everyone, regardless of age, should have good access to mental health support. Instead, access to these critical services only decreases once individuals turn 18. Refugees cannot bring their best ideas to life if they are unhappy, depressed or even suicidal. He is hopeful that the Home Office will embrace the new welfare support role, because he believes that, with the right support, every refugee can offer something special to the UK.
Mohammad arrived in the UK from Calais as a young adult. The Home Office sent him to Bradford to live in a house he shared with four others. Mohammad tried to make the best of it, but the house was dirty, untidy and had no working bath or washing machine. Still, he told himself, it was certainly better than the tent he had been living in before.
Full of energy and eager to start a new life in the UK, Mohammad’s first priority was his education. He went to a college to begin an English language course, enthusiastic about integrating with British people. He arrived only to learn that he had to wait six months to apply for any education. Deeply frustrated, Mohammad said he felt like he had no choice but to stay at home and be alone.
Mohammad is a fellow Hummingbird Young Leader, and he credits the programme with giving him confidence, connections and a place of belonging. He has now spoken at schools, community events and Parliament, where the group won an award for Community Campaigners of the Year. Today he is lucky, he said, because he has friends and is learning new things, but his journey to this place was unnecessarily long and painful. Now, he is passionate about other helping other young refugees receive the support they need to thrive.
Samer founded Hopetowns in 2016, a community group that supports refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are young adults. In his role, he finds that individuals are often hopeless and overwhelmed when they first arrive; they do not know where to start. He says some of the biggest challenges young asylum seekers face are practical. To open a bank account, the individual needs an address. To have an address, he needs to find a landlord who is willing to accept housing benefits, a landlord who trusts that the refugee intends to stay long term.
For this reason he thinks the idea of a Youth Welfare Officer is special. They could help to make things much more organised, he said. They can ensure that young asylum seekers know their rights and are able to access the support they need.
Support our calls for Youth Welfare Officers here.
[i] RRE envisage our proposal sitting alongside the independent guardianship system currently being campaigned for by Ecpat and others: https://www.ecpat.org.uk/news/45-charities-appeal-home-secretary