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Refugee Week is the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting an understanding of why people seek sanctuary. It celebrates the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

Taking place 14th – 20th June

This theme of Refugee Week this year is: We Cannot Walk Alone.

Visit www.refugeeweek.org.uk to see how you can get involved.

For #RefugeeWeek2021 we would like to share stories from our refugee community about their incredible journey:

Thoughts from Ben, Migration Coordinator

This week we celebrate Refugee Week throughout the whole country. Here in Stockton-on-Tees, we celebrate Refugee Week by sharing a wide range of experiences from both refugees and those that have stood by them as they settle here in Stockton.

The Refugee Week theme for this year 2021 is, “You’ll never walk alone”. The theme highlights the power of inclusion and Stockton-on-Tees has a proud history of welcoming foreigners into their community. The level of support and friendships created over the years is still visible in our communities. As the migration coordinator for Stockton, I am proud to say that our Local Authority, the whole statutory sector and the VCS have all worked hard to include Refugees into all their work. One example of that is through the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Forum where RAS issues are raised and discussed to ensure refugees successfully integrate fully into our society. These meetings allow communities to share ideas, knowledge and culture. Mainstream organisations also work daily to include and empower new and emerging communities into their work every day.

COVID-19 has showed us that we only thrive if we stand together in solidarity. Everyone had to do their part to ensure that they are safe as well as keeping others safe. Refugees have also stepped up too, despite all the challenges they face. I am sure refugees will continue to contribute to a safer, stronger, and more vibrant Stockton. As we continue to celebrate Refugee Week and work together, we call upon everyone to be involved in the greater inclusion of refugees in Mental Health Care Structures, Sports and Education, Volunteering and Employment, Community Empowerment. I hope as a community of Stockton, we can all recognise and celebrate the contributions already made by refugees and those that will be made in future as we journey together. Happy Refugee Week, You will never Walk Alone.

Ali's Story

Ali came to UK in 2019 from Iran and after spending time in London, Birmingham and Derby, came to live in Stockton. After leaving Iran as it was not safe to remain there, he feels very at home in the UK and is very grateful for the welcome he has been given in Stockton. Ali first contacted Catalyst in October 2020 to offer his services as a volunteer.

I felt that the people of the UK and especially of Stockton-on-Tees helped me a lot and I wanted to give something back to the local community. I had volunteered informally in Kahrizak at both a care home for older people and an Autism rehabilitation centre and really enjoyed this.

When Ali contacted Catalyst he explained that he had experienced some mental health challenges, included PTSD as a result of the experiences which led to him seeking Asylum in the UK. He was referred to Mind’s Community Minded Project and spent some time working with them to prepare for becoming a volunteer and to make sure he felt supported and confident to help others.

The Mind Project was a useful and constructive experience. I was talking about some of the issues that were blocking my way, and someone on the other end of the phone who was volunteering was trying to clarify them. Basically it was sort of problem-solving session.

After a few months, Ali felt ready to volunteer and helped out at the Covid Test Centre set up by Stockton Borough Council at Splash. He worked with David, an existing volunteer to start with, to ensure he felt comfortable and had support there if needed.

Basically the Splash Centre’s brilliant volunteers inspired me immensely. It was a magnificent experience. They say, “We are defined by our actions, not by our words.” During this pandemic when everyone was worried about him/herself, those people in Splash put other people first, without any expectations of help to keep themselves safe. This was true selflessness because I personally believe that they were not just testing people, rather they were offering a great deal of love and hope throughout the community, which is much more contagious than any deadly virus. Heroes don’t speak about the good they are doing. People in the front line, and volunteers and those who support them are the real heroes.

However, it was fun as well because I was doing a survey about people’s experiences of the service and I had to get personal details from individuals. Because of this, I sometimes got funny responses. Once when I asked a young woman about her gender identification, she replied ‘the last time I checked I was female’, and we both laughed.

Ali is now volunteering with Purple Rose Health and Well-being, a local organisation providing COVID test kits to people seeking asylum and refugees at the Newton Community Resource Centre. The Foodbank is run by Susan Mansaray, founder of Purple Rose and members of the North East Migration Project.

This is giving him the chance to continue his volunteering and also meet more new people. The Centre also provides food and other essentials and helping there has helped Ali meet more people and feel he is really helping others.

Overall, volunteering is two-way street. Through volunteering we are able to build our sense of empathy and enhance our resilience.

Being a small cog in the big wheel of the Newtown community, it was a pleasure to be given the opportunity to help the most vulnerable and marginalised people. We have more in common than that which divides us, and volunteering served to remind me of this.

Ali is a poet and writer and would love to attend university here and work towards a career once he is able to work. He is looking forward to an interview at Middlesbrough College to start his UK education.

Ali is looking to do more volunteering and is really keen to continue to help others and contribute to the community. We are grateful for his help and appreciate all of the time he gives to support others in Stockton.

One Community Link in partnership with Tees Valley of Sanctuary

One Community Link provides support for refugees/migrants from all parts of the world and have sought sanctuary in the United Kingdom while they are waiting for home office to grant them the right to live in this country. Here, at One Community Link, a charitable organisation, we run several projects which include learning ESOL, providing hot meals, clothing bank, hate crime reporting, and challenging racism: changing lives and mental health awareness.

For Refugee Week, we are featuring the SEWING ENGLISH PROJECT. This project is about learning English through sewing, allowing small groups to meet to combat social isolation while learning the English language. This project is supported by Lloyd’s bank foundation and Catalyst Stockton-on-Tees through their Refugee Innovation Fund. As we celebrate Refugee Week, the women at the sewing club would like to express their gratitude to the people of Stockton who have welcomed them with love and helped them to integrate. This truly exemplifies the theme for Refugee Week this year, which is “We cannot walk alone” and this is our experience here in Stockton.

For more information please visit – www.onecommunitylink.orgwww.tees-valley.cityofsanctuary.org  or call Euphrasia on 07863240016./ Satinder 07986555161

   

Purple Rose

Originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa, I arrived in Stockton almost thirteen years ago. As an asylum seeker I wasn’t allowed to work that’s when the idea of Purple Rose Health and Wellbeing was born.

Back in my home country I was a broadcast journalist working for the States owned television and radio station campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and issues affecting women and girls. Purple Rose was set up on realising that women were still taking their British born children back to their home counties to be mutilated. After spending so many years camping against this issue in my home country, I saw the need to raise awareness and educate communities on the consequences of FGM in Teesside.

Over the years Purple Rose has gone from raising awareness on fgm to supporting asylum seekers and refugees . All the support we give range from housing to social issues all done on a voluntary basis.

As a refugee myself I know the importance of celebrating Refugee Week. It is a week of festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking asylum. Every year the theme aims to highlight some of the experience of refugees and help the wider communities to understand what it’s like to be a refugee and learn about different cultures.

This year’s theme ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’, is an invitation to extend a helping hand to someone new. Someone who is outside your current circle. If there is one thing we can take from the pandemic is that we cannot walk alone. We need each other. As an organisation we cannot walk alone. We work in partnership with other organisations to give the best support possible to our service users. The diversity in Stockton-On-Tees is great and it needs to be celebrated. The crisis has shown how interconnected we are that the wellbeing of each of us depends on the welfare, safety and handwork of others. Together we can do great!

Susan Mansaray of Purple Rose

Refugee Futures

Who are Refugee Futures?

Refugee Futures is a newly established charity (Reg. No:1159508) in Stockton on Tees. Our vision is that Stockton and the surrounding area is welcoming and inclusive to Asylum Seekers and Refugees, so that they belong and are able to maximise their skills and abilities and flourish within the community.

What do we see as the need in Stockton?

There is a wide range of support in Stockton for asylum seekers and refugees. Much of this is focused on people’s needs ‘right now’, but what about people’s futures? Living with unpredictability is tough – During Covid the fragility of our futures has had its mental toll. Being in this state of limbo is all too familiar to asylum seekers waiting for the results of their claim whilst not being able to work. This is why we want a focus on access to volunteering for asylum seekers and pathways to work for Refugees.

‘We Cannot walk alone’

We are in our very early developmental phase and know there are actors both individuals and organisations, small and large, that share our vision and are already making progress in these areas. For us the theme of ‘we cannot walk alone’ could not be more relevant as we take our first steps forward with this venture. We endeavour to walk alongside others in the community and work up solutions in partnership, supporting where we can and hoping that you will continue to share your wisdom and support with us on our journey.

Thank you to those that have walked with us so far…

Refugee Community Organisations and Church drop-ins play a great part in welcoming and supporting asylum seekers and refugees across our town. We have seen the benefit of working together to share ideas at monthly drop-in leaders meetings and the Catalyst Forum, which has supported the development of a shared storage space in town for donations made to organisations working with Refugees and Asylum seekers. As we don’t all have building space this provides a holding space for much needed items. We would like to say a huge thank you to local businessman Jan Jakowiec at ‘ Party Decor for you’ for his generosity in offering us the space and to all those that are volunteering to help set this up.

And to those we will walk with in the future…

We are delighted that through the facilitation of multiple partners, Mears Housing Management, North East Migration Partnership, Stockton Borough Council and Catalyst, we have been introduced to The Task Force Trust with whom we will be delivering a pilot project called Action Asylum.

The Action Asylum project is currently engaging asylum seekers in volunteer opportunities alongside local volunteers across Merseyside, Hampshire and Sheffield. Stockton will be the fourth borough to engage with this exciting pilot

programme that aims to connect asylum seekers with regular (weekly or monthly) volunteer opportunities and larger one off volunteer action events. We are particularly keen on ensuring the engagement of local volunteers working or ‘walking alongside’ asylum seekers which we hope will bring invaluable cross-cultural exchange and learning, while supporting integration.

If you are interested in learning more about this project and partnering with us to deliver on our aims please contact Jess.wratten@RefugeeFutures.org

Jess Wratten, Support & Development Manager, Refugee Futures

Case Study – Stockton Baptist Church

Some Asylum Seekers arrive in the UK and are dispersed to Stockton, fleeing persecution because of their Christian faith. They are so pleased to find a welcome from many local churches. Others find friendship in those churches – and it has been a life changing experience for Stockton Baptist Church which has engaged with hundreds of Asylum Seekers and Refugees over the past few years.

E is a skilled surgeon, who had been practising in a world class hospital in a capital city of his home country in the Middle East.

He was supported by the Church through the ups and downs of his application for Refugee status. During this lengthy process, he was able to volunteer his services, in a limited way, within the NHS. As he works through the process of validating his qualifications in the UK, he is using his time and skills in the community to help support others whose position he can empathise with.

E volunteers in the Church community as a mentor and translator and also supports others to volunteer and build their own skills and experience. He progressed to become a key member of the management group responsible for two houses in Stockton, which provide short-term accommodation to new refugees and asylum seekers.
Peter Chapman Stockton Baptist Church

The Church also works in partnership to deliver the Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Job Club since 2016. This 8-steps to employment course (open to anyone in the local community) includes group sessions to learn new skills, peer support, socialising opportunities and career coaching.

More Information

To find out more about our Stockton Borough Asylum Seeker and Refugee Forum please CLICK HERE or you can email our Migration Coordinator, Ben Chisanga at ben.chisanga@catalyststockton.org.