Blog: Refugee resettlement during Covid-19
Published: 14 Jul 2020
I work as a community development officer at the Refugee Council, covering eight areas across North Yorkshire. One issue that has been flagged during the current pandemic is a sense of isolation for young refugees in rural communities, which is caused by a lack of people from the same backgrounds in those areas.
"Young refugees have found it challenging to adapt to a new way of living, as well as learning a new language and culture, alongside dealing with their past traumas." - Sepideh Mojabi, Fellow
Not many refugee families have been resettled in rural areas of North Yorkshire, and isolation is an even bigger issue among families who live further away from big cities. The local community have been very supportive of families when they arrive. However, most local volunteers are adults, many retired, meaning that young people have few or no friends of their own age with whom to connect.
Young refugees have found it challenging to adapt to a new way of living, as well as learning a new language and culture, alongside dealing with their past traumas. Sometimes they feel that they have lost their sense of belonging and feel lonely and isolated, particularly those who have had to start secondary school as soon as they arrived. In many rural areas, lack of awareness about refugees, the humanitarian crisis, race and religion can be a challenge, especially for young people. It has been one of my priorities to work with the host communities, families and schools to overcome these barriers.
Because of the distance and lack of public transport between each area, most young refugees don’t get the opportunity to make friends with others who have a common background or experience. Through my work with the Refugee Council, I have created a virtual youth group to connect all resettled young people, through WhatsApp and Zoom. So far this has been a great success, as the young people are feeling connected and empowered through talking to one another, and some have even created art work and awareness-raising videos.
Sepideh (right) and Samira (left), one of the young refugees that Sepideh has supported who also features in the above film
The purpose of this group is to create a safe space for these young people so that they can talk and share what they have experienced, and help one another to become more resilient. This will also offer a great opportunity for future young arrivals in North Yorkshire, to have a network of people to whom they can relate.
For my Churchill Fellowship, I will travel to Canada to explore resettlement in rural areas and see how progressive resettlement policies have contributed to a revival of rural communities. I plan to use my findings to influence relevant organisations in the UK and better support resettled families in rural areas of North Yorkshire through my work. Due to the pandemic, my travel plans have been postponed: so instead I have been working closely with the North Yorkshire local authority, different community groups and resettled families to support them during lockdown.
As part of my current work, I am also carrying out a survey to explore attitudes towards migration. You can participate here.