“There have been no big challenges but we have had plenty of highlights.”
Part of the Immigration Act 2016 (known as the ‘Dubs amendment’) placed a requirement on the Secretary of State to make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe. Since then over 220 children have been brought to the UK. One of those is seventeen year old Ilhan*, who is supported by The Benjamin Foundation Heart and Home service.
Heart and Home forms part of our Housing and Homelessness service. It is a network of Hosts, who are trained and supported by us, look after young people in the Hosts’ own homes. Hosts offer a bedroom, support, tolerance and understanding to young people, who are usually aged between 16 and 18, to provide them with stability and a safe place to live. We work closely with Hosts, other agencies and local authorities to provide the young people with the support they need to become independent. This includes providing them with important life skills, such as cooking, shopping and budgeting money, as well as supporting their education, training and career.
Ilhan has been living with Heart and Home Hosts Julie* and Tony* for four months having been in the UK since November 2019. After going through challenges and experiences unimaginable to most of us, he is settling in well and is making good progress.
“I enjoy everything.” He says when asked what he likes best about his new home.
His English is limited but he has already learnt so much since arriving in the UK and is attending college to improve his language and maths skills further.
Julie, Ilhan’s Host explains just how far he has come in such a short space of time:
“Ilhan was withdrawn when he arrived. He didn’t eat much to begin with and had lost weight due to the stress and anxiety – but he’s now a happy, sociable young man.”
“He’s working on a local farm, cutting trees and growing vegetables. At home he’s learning to cook, clean, wash his clothes and bedding. He’s learning how to use English money, budget, shop, and use the bus.”
Attending college and learning English gave Ilhan the opportunity to meet lots of new people until Covid, lockdown and the resulting limitations but he is continuing to make positive progress.
“Lockdown has been difficult mainly due to boredom and not being able to go out and do things but together we have done a lot at home, such as painting the shed and gardening. We cook and talk about food a lot! English food is very different.” Julie continues.
Sleeping in his own bed and having his room is new to Ilhan too.
“I have shared a room with 20 other people before.” He explains.
“His possessions are safe too now.” Julie adds.
Ilhan is looking forward to getting a new bike, made possible thanks to support through The Benjamin Foundation Covid fund and donations from local people, which will give him more independence especially as the Covid restrictions start to ease. He also enjoys jigsaw puzzles and demonstrates great patience with these, Julie says.
“Ilhan is picking things up very quickly, which is remarkable given the cultural differences but he is adapting and integrating into a British way of life well.”
Before coming to the UK, Ilhan had extremely basic living conditions, which included drinking water via a pump, no hot water and, in the winter, electricity for just a few hours a day as it was solar powered.
Julie adds: “Washing machines, fridges and freezers are all new to Ilhan. Previously his food was preserved in salt. When he arrived, he didn’t know what a wardrobe was for.
Ilhan’s Support Worker from The Benjamin Foundation, Rob is also extremely positive about Ilhan’s progress and it’s clear that he is doing well in a home environment with Julie and Tony.
“He’s adapting so well.” Rob explains: “His English is getting better and better, he understands more, including Covid precautions, and he’s engaged and polite.”
An avid sports fan, Ilhan’s face lights up when he talks about his love for Real Madrid, his favourite football team, and he talks about his ambitions to play sports, including football, boxing and martial arts.
Julie is a new Host with The Benjamin Foundation Heart and Home service it is clear that welcoming Ilhan into her home has been a hugely positive experience for her:
“I didn’t know what to expect but it is so rewarding. So far, apart from Covid, there have been no big challenges but we have had plenty of highlights. Even small things like cooking a meal together.”
Julie is also a strong advocate for support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers, like Ilhan and believes help should go right back to basics to support their learning, integration and physical and emotional wellbeing.
“It’s important for young people like Ilhan to have time to recuperate, to relax and to heal mentally after what they have been through. Ilhan also needs to be a young person again.”
When asked what the future holds for him and what he would like to do, Ilhan smiles and says:
“I want to be a nurse.”
Julie adds: “He just loves to help people.”
Thank you to Ilhan and Julie for sharing their stories. If you would like to give a young person a safe, stable home and hope for the future, please enquire about becoming a Heart and Home Host with The Benjamin Foundation on 01603 886930 or [email protected]
*Names have been changed.