Patron -  Joanna Lumley, OBE

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Investing in Asylum Seekers and Refugees for an Inclusive Future in Kent

During 2018, PENHA in partnership with Kent-based charities and colleges had successfully delivered a youth-focused project in Kent that helped over 450 young unaccompanied asylum seekers who are originally from the Horn of Africa. With grant support from National Lottery, our youth project has supported the youth with career building, and social cohesion and integration opportunities to improve their lives and reach their potentials. In total PENHA organised 8 carefully planned workshops, career advice events, intercultural dialogues, experience sharing and inspirational talks and collaborative meetings with Kent migration actors including with colleges, churches and reception centres.

The project was delivered by mentors, inspirational speakers and career advisors originally from the Horn of Africa who managed to build a successful professional and vocational careers in the UK. This intervention was unique in its nature as the sessions were delivered in their mother language and by professional people who have got the same cultural background and went through similar life journeys. As a result, all the meetings with the youth were very interactive and engaging where the young people were able to express their views and ask questions to the mentors. Furthermore, guided by the career advisors they were given a chance to freely discuss among each other and share their experience on career building, education and integration issues. One participant of the Maidstone event commented:

The mentors were great and very kind to share their personal experience as former asylum seekers/refugees and now as professionals which I found it very motivating”.

Among others the project has reached around 60 students of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Canterbury and Ashford Colleges who are refugees and Asylum seekers aged between 16 and 21 to provide key points that shape their future in terms of the professional career, exploring educational and job opportunities, and the skills in developing a tailored pathway plan. According to the post-workshop collected feedback, the participants were satisfied with sessions and its method of delivery. Furthermore, they strongly believe such asylum seekers and refugee centred events can enhance their motivation, boost their career plans and broaden their employment opportunities. One participant from Canterbury College testifies:

“... my ambition is to be a chief mechanic. Yet my English skill isn’t good. But because of the advice, I got from the college and today’s career advice session I have now a clear idea of what I need to do in the future”.

Above all the project has greatly contributed to the young refugees and Asylum seekers in having a better understanding of the career paths, life skills, benefits, immigration and other processes that shape their future. Moreover, they were able to comfortably express their needs, things they value, their aspirations and worries to the mentors in their own language in confidence. This clearly shows the cultivated mutual trust and their high level of commitment to the project aims which was very essential in constructively engage with them for our future work.

A side-event of the career workshop, a brief consultative meeting was held with the key workers of the young asylum seekers and refugees. Impressed with the project idea, about ten stakeholders including refugee council, Kent Kindness and Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) had expressed their interest in forming a network to assist with the peculiar needs of the young people. Their comments are taken and agreed on how we can work closely with them on the migration issues within Kent County Council (KCC). PENHA is privileged to have the support from the local stakeholders including KRAN, Kent Kindness, Refugee Council and others.

What the unaccompanied asylum seekers/refugees and their mentors say about the project  

Young Asylum Seekers and Refugees

This just keeps the refuges to feel confident.’ 

‘I am happy with the event as I got a chance to be involved in this very useful career advice workshop.’

‘Glad to be advised by a great team. The mentors were very effective.’

‘I want to study Pharmacy. At the moment I need to improve my English language skills and I need to take GCSE. After these two things, I will apply to university.’

‘My dream job is plumbing. I want to do this job because it is easy for me than other jobs. But the challenge is to improve my English language skills.'

‘My dream is to work in health and social care. My plan is to improve my English and pass exams. I want to know the country’s culture, value and customs. The challenge remains the language (speaking and writing) and the weather’.

Mentor comments

‘The Career building workshop at Canterbury College had created an open platform for young refugees and asylum seekers. As I witnessed during the event and the feedback they provided me, the workshop was stimulating that triggered them to think about their future and long term plans – despite their asylum claim processes and integration challenges they face. In the future, if the project can scale up and widen by including both career building and cohesion and integration elements, it can contribute a lot to the young people both professionally and reconciling their cultural differences.’

The comprehensive project report can be shared upon request. The request can be addressed to Mr. Tesfaldet Okubayes, PENHA Programme Manager (tes.okubayes@penhanetwork.org).