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.
Mohammed’s Resettlement Experience
Mohammed is 25 years old and from Damascus, Syria. He left Syria as a teenager, at the beginning of the conflict, and travelled to Egypt with his family where they lived for seven years.
Before Mohammed found out he and his family would be resettled to the UK in 2019, he knew three key things about the country: football, Big Ben and driving on the left side of the road. He supported Liverpool and Manchester City football teams, so he knew that these were places in the UK and he’d heard of London, however at the time, he’d never heard of Canterbury, a place where he and his family would later call home.
The resettlement process
Life for Mohammed’s family was hard in Egypt, they were struggling to obtain legal status in the country and support themselves financially. As a result, Mohammed spent his teenage years in Egypt working to support his family instead of studying. They were hoping to travel to Germany where many of their family members had settled, but when they heard they were being considered for resettlement to the UK, they were just as happy and looked forward to starting a new life.
Mohammed and his family were interviewed by UNHCR for resettlement to the UK in 2018 but they did not travel until nearly two years later*. They began to think that they would never reach the UK as they heard of other families who were interviewed after them had departed for the UK before they did.
About three months before travelling to the UK, Mohammed, his parents and younger brother attended their cultural orientation classes with IOM. Their classes lasted for three days. They learned about the different flags of the UK, freedom, democracy and education. Mohammed’s real cultural orientation, however, came from extensively researching life in the UK by finding Facebook and WhatsApp groups for Syrians already living there.
Although he acknowledges that rumours are spread on these platforms, he feels that speaking with those who’d already been resettled was what prepared him the most for life in the UK. When he heard that his family would be resettled to Canterbury, he found other Syrians living in the town who were able to find out where his family were going to live. By looking at Google Maps, he got to know his neighbourhood before he arrived.
Expectations and reality
From speaking with other Syrians prior to his arrival, Mohammed knew that life in the UK would not be easy at first. He was motivated to work hard to learn English. What he never could have predicted was that the Coronavirus pandemic would disrupt his life only four months after arriving in the UK. Not one for being a “couch potato”, Mohammed decided to stay motivated and was able to continue to improve his English despite the nationwide lockdown**.
Adjusting to his new life
Mohammed has always felt a strong sense of responsibility for his family’s wellbeing – having had to work from a young age to support them. Despite the pandemic, he is highly motivated to continue to grow and integrate into his local community, however, there are many things he misses about living in the Middle East. He misses his extended family and celebrating holidays with his wider community. Holidays like Ramadan, which are normally a month-long celebration in the Middle East are not nearly the same in England. He also observed some key cultural differences that he’s adjusting to after nearly a year in the UK. For example gender roles are different here: women work outside the home a lot more, men and women physically touch even in public. He’s also amused by the British tendency to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ for no reason.
*Although the average time from having a UNHCR interview to travelling is about six to eight months, this can take much longer for some families due to a variety of factors. Refugees may never be told the reason for a delay.
** This interview was conducted one-to-one with Mohammed in English only 10 months after he arrived in the UK.