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.
Khadeja’s resettlement experience
Khadeja is from Dara’a, Syria and was resettled to North Devon with her husband and three children in 2017. In school, Khadeja had briefly studied UK history and knew that it was a developed country with core values in science and humanity. She’d heard about Oxford University and dreamed of one day studying there. In school, she learned a bit of English, however, she learned with an American accent that she has held onto, even after three years in England, noting the difference between tom-ay-to and tom-ah-to.
The resettlement process
In early 2017, Khadeja and her husband got a call from UNHCR asking if they were willing to be interviewed for resettlement to the UK. They had to decide in that moment if they would consent to the resettlement process. Life in Jordan, where they’d sought asylum, was uncertain and difficult so they said yes.
Khadeja and her husband spent six hours in UNHCR interviews. A caseworker asked them about every detail of their life – where they went to school, where each of their siblings lived, everything that happened to them in Syria and even minor details about her husband’s compulsory military service.
Preparing to travel
When she found out that her family had been accepted to resettle to the UK, she spent some time googling different information and before their departure, she and her husband participated in cultural orientation classes with IOM. In their classes, they learned about the difference between local authority resettlement and Community Sponsorship.
When Khadeja and her husband found out they were to be resettled to North Devon, they immediately googled the name of their new village. She and her husband researched every aspect of the area, from transport links to the local shops available. By the time they finally arrived in the village, they already knew their way down every street after spending hours on Google Street View. They even commented that the plants in the garden were different from what you could see on Google Earth to the surprise of their sponsors.
Expectations vs reality
Settling in Devon was easier than Khadeja had expected. Prior to her arrival, she was worried she would have to depend on other people for everything, but she and her family were able to find independence early on. Knowing that her family would live in the village with very little diversity, she was also worried about wearing her hijab, however, she found that everyone in the village has been welcoming and friendly. In fact, there are perks to living in such a small community – everyone gets to know you better and you feel more connected to your neighbours.
In the end, Khadeja accepts that resettlement has been difficult, living away from her family in a different culture was an adjustment, but the good has always outweighed the bad. Living through the Syrian conflict and as a refugee in Jordan, when she was resettled she found that she was able to relax for the first time in years. She’s able to get through difficult times by setting goals for herself and focusing on all the positives her family experiences in their new community.
After three years in the UK, Khadeja is still finds some bemusing cultural differences between the UK and Syria. For example, in Devon everyone has dogs, big dogs! They bound up to you on the beach, which scares her. In Syria, dogs are for guarding, not part of the family as they are here. She also finds that everyone has such full schedules. If you want to have tea with someone, you need to plan this days or even weeks in advance, instead of just popping by as she used to do in the Middle East.
But all in all, Khadeja appreciates some key differences, especially the order of the UK. Everything is organised with clear rules, making it easy to know how systems work – although this can make things take a long time!