Learn from Experts by Experience about their resettlement experiences and what they expected of resettled life in the UK
One question that we’re often asked in Reset’s Community Sponsorship training sessions is:
“What do refugees think their life in the UK will be like before they’re resettled?”
We usually answer these questions with a range of anecdotes but with a strong reminder that refugees will have a breadth of opinions, worldviews and expectations of resettled life; you won’t know what these are until these individuals arrive in your community and you’re able to ask them yourself.
As part of our Experts by Experience project, we’ve spoken to three different individuals resettled through the Community Sponsorship scheme about their expectations of life in the UK and experiences of the resettlement process. Links to the other two resources can be found at the bottom of the page.
Abdullah’s Resettlement Experience
Expectations of life in the UK
Before Abdullah found out he and his family would be resettled to the UK in the beginning of 2018, his knowledge of the country’s culture and history was limited. What he did know was that the UK was made up of different nations, where people cared a lot about tea, had different accents, and their queen wore very brightly coloured outfits.
When he heard that he, his wife and baby were to be resettled to Oxford, he was excited, not only because his sister had recently been resettled there, but because he knew of the famous university and thought everyone there must have proper, easy to understand accents.
Like all refugees considered for resettlement, Abdullah was not able to choose which country he’d be resettled to. In Jordan, where his family had sought asylum, he was living day-to-day and was facing discrimination from the local community. He saw resettlement as an opportunity to start a new life for himself and his family. When UNHCR called him to say they would be considered for resettlement to the UK, he was ecstatic.
In the six months from his UNHCR interview to arriving in the UK, Abdullah and his wife attended required cultural orientation classes with IOM to learn more about what to expect from life in the UK. The classes only lasted for two days and he remembers being told that he’d be able to study English for five years and the government would take good care of him during that time. In fact, the teacher advised families not to learn English too quickly otherwise they’d be pushed to work and lose their government benefits. Needless to say, when he arrived, it was a bit of a shock to learn this wasn’t the case.*
One day, someone called Abdullah to tell him that his family would be resettled with a Community Sponsorship Group in Oxford. He was told that the Group would do everything for his family. Since his sister lived in Oxford already, the Group members were able to contact Abdullah through her.** They showed him his house on Google Maps and told him about the support they would offer him. Knowing who would be there to greet him and his family at the airport made travelling to the UK exciting instead of nerve-wracking.
Life and culture in the UK
Abdullah was studying at university in Aleppo before he fled Syria, which he believes made it easier for him to focus on studying and learning English as soon as he arrived in the UK. Although before his arrival his English was limited to “hello, how are you?”, he applied himself and learned quickly. He even started volunteering at a local museum after a few months in Oxford that led to a paid position within his first year in the UK.
In Oxford, there is a large Syrian and Middle Eastern community so Abdullah’s family is able to get all their favourite foods and celebrate important holidays with people from their community. He’s happy that he and his family can preserve their culture while being accepted into their local community and he feels that in the UK, people have a better chance at success than they did in Syria. He’s proud to be Syrian and loves it’s history and food – he just wishes British people knew more about Syria’s rich culture rather than focusing on the current situation.
*(Reset note: IOM’s cultural orientation classes have been through a review process and have greatly improved since the beginning of 2018).
**Community Sponsorship Groups are rarely able to have contact with the family they support before they arrive in the UK. In this case, Abdullah’s sister’s contact details were written on his UNHCR RRF and the Group were able to get in touch with her.