Moving to a new country without speaking the language, knowing the house you’ll move to and having only a vague idea of the support you’ll receive can be a terrifying prospect. It is not surprising that many refugees decide to seek information on what to expect in the UK wherever they can. Those who can, contact their friends and family (or friend’s cousin’s uncle) already in the UK, others revert to finding information on social media. Of course, this allows those arriving to get some first-hand information on the life in the UK. Unfortunately, often, this also causes confusion and, as it’s often the case especially with social media, allows for spread of misinformation.
There’s a lot of talk online amongst refugees about resettlement in the UK – how to get resettled, what size house you’ll get, how much money is received via benefits, what school is like and so forth. But only some of what’s out there is true. Often information is exchanged between families resettled in completely different parts of the country and even factually correct information can be misleading or cause disappointment after arrival in the UK.
A number of Groups have told us that they’ve struggled in some situations where the family they’re supporting is accessing false or misleading information. Here are scenarios based on real situations to explain what we mean:
- Scenario 1: Some Local Authorities issue free bus passes to resettled refugees but others don’t. You live in a Local Authority area that does not issue free bus passes. The family you’re supporting has heard from a friend on Facebook who has been resettled elsewhere that they should be getting free bus passes. You explain that that isn’t the case but the family believe their friend and feel that you are making a mistake. They want you to show them how to get free bus passes.
- Scenario 2: You live in an area with very expensive rent. The family you’re supporting have nice accommodation but they do not have much space. They live in a flat. They’ve seen pictures online of a house that some of their friends are in. The house is detached with a good sized garden. They reached out to their friend, who suggested to the family that they ask to be moved into bigger accommodation like theirs. The family is now asking you to find a bigger house.
What can you do in these situations?
- Don’t be offended if the family believe their friend over you. We’re all guilty of believing whoever is telling us what we most want to hear.
- Remind the family that they were told what to expect in the UK in their cultural orientation classes– you can use the Welcome to the UK booklet to guide that conversation.
- Don’t accuse the family’s friend of lying. The family’s friend is simply trying to help and is only inadvertently giving the family false or misleading information.
- If possible, don’t ask the family to simply take your word for it. Find an official resource online that says what you’re saying and give this to the family (google translate will probably suffice in this situation).
A lot of the time, the false information stems from the mistaken belief that everything in the UK is centralised and standardised. It may be worth reiterating, with the help of a translator, the following:
- that the UK has local governments that have powers over how they manage certain services, including transport, libraries and schools.
- that there are big disparities across the UK in terms of the cost of living and that rates of rent vary hugely depending on the location of the property.
If the family is fixated on a certain issue, explore with them what the root of the problem is:
- E.g. in scenario 2, is the family particularly keen to have more space or are they particularly keen to have a garden because they used to be very into gardening in their home country? If it’s the former, you could start exploring with them how they might be able to move to an area with cheaper rent in the future. If it’s the latter, you could start exploring ways for them to have more greenery in their flat by looking at window boxes, indoor plants or by helping them to apply for an allotment in their area.
- Situations where family members refuse to believe that important information provided by the Group is correct, often pertaining to housing and benefits, can lead to a breakdown of trust between you and the family making it harder for them to accept their new circumstances in the UK. In these situations, it can be helpful to bring in someone to speak with them from outside the immediate Group whose authority the family members will trust, for example the Lead Sponsor. You could also ask Reset to underline these points with the family at their post arrival support visits.
Remember that it’s always important to approach misinformation with understanding and patience. Most refugees have been waiting years to be resettled and may have the general sense that resettlement will solve all of their problems, not present new challenges. And don’t forget that you can get in touch with Reset if you would like support in working through specific misunderstandings.