This blog has been written by our friends over at Refugee Action as part of their work with the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. To find out more about them go to refugee-action.org.uk, and to find out more about the Loneliness Commission go to jocoxloneliness.org.
Rahmo dreams of making friends, eventually finding a job and being able to help her four children with their homework, like “other people”.
She dreams of these ordinary, everyday things that most people take for granted because, although she has lived in Britain for more than a year, she hasn’t been able to go to English lessons and is struggling to learn the language.
“I feel isolated. I know two families who also came from the camp in Kenya. Sometimes we meet and talk about our life in the camp. But that is all. I don’t know anyone else,” Rahmo, a refugee from Somalia, told Refugee Action through an interpreter. “I need to be a normal person again, who is able to communicate with others in the country in which they live.”
As a partner of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, we’ve been speaking to refugees and people seeking asylum about their experiences in Britain. What is it like to rebuild your life when circumstances beyond your control have stripped you of everything familiar?
Many said isolation and loneliness was their biggest challenge. Refugees and people seeking asylum can feel lonely for many reasons, they can be excluded from education and face a lack of job opportunities – most people seeking asylum have no permission to work. Being able to speak English is a basic ingredient for tackling isolation and helping people to rebuild their lives.
A shared language stops communities becoming divided, and means that friendships and relationships can develop between people of different cultures. Like Rahmo, refugees are determined to learn English and start contributing to their communities through work, volunteering and socialising with their new neighbours. But they face huge barriers to learning, with tens of thousands of refugees languishing on long waiting lists to attend English lessons.
The shocking results of our new research show that chronic underfunding has left colleges and other providers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) struggling to meet demand.
Refugee Action’s survey of 71 providers – who jointly teach more than 35,000 ESOL learners – shows the majority (63%) are concerned there are not enough classes to meet people’s needs.
Almost two thirds (65%) said they have a waiting list, of those nearly half (45%) said people are waiting for an average of six months or more to start lessons. One said it could take three years to be assigned a course and another said the waiting could be indefinite.
Single mothers and women with young children face particular barriers to learning – our survey shows 77% of ESOL providers can’t provide enough childcare.
Charities are stepping up to support refugees to learn English and help people feel less isolated. The British Red Cross in Wales and Xenia in Hackney, have set up groups to reduce loneliness among women, which help them learn English while their children are cared for.
But the voluntary sector cannot be a substitute for formal, accredited ESOL classes, which are vital for employment and also make community English lessons are more effective.
We know the UK Government is reviewing its integration policy. Now is the time to act and help unlock the potential of all refugees in Britain to benefit individuals and our economy.
You can support Refugee Action’s campaign to improve access to English lessons for refugees by signing this petition.