The news has been filled this year with heartbreaking stories of refugees* making dangerous journeys to seek safety in Europe. Globally, there are over 43 million people who have been displaced from their homes, and 15 million of them have fled their home country to seek asylum elsewhere, often risking their lives in the process. The UK offers a safe haven to thousands of vulnerable people each year.
This is why the Wonder Foundation is campaigning for better support. For newly-arrived refugees who speak little or no English the United Kingdom is an intimidating and isolating place. Already facing uncertainty and insecurity over their status in the country while awaiting a decision on their asylum claim, the language barrier only adds to the traumatic experience. For women, especially, the inability to communicate in English can have significant impacts on their mental and emotional well-being. They often must rely on their male relatives to translate, preventing them from being able to do even the most basic, everyday activities alone. For private matters, such as visiting the doctor, relying on a translator is frightening and can be embarrassing.
"I used to be too scared to [go] out on my own without my husband, let alone answer my own door" -former student at The Baytree Centre.
Access to quality English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses is critical for female asylum seekers and refugees. It gives them the confidence and security to navigate life in the United Kingdom, as well as preparing them to find employment in the future.
As Zarlasht explains above, being unable to speak English in the UK can be an isolating experience. The Wonder Foundation's 'Break the English Barrier' campaign addresses the lack of access to English language instruction that asylum-seekers and refugees face. Asylum-seekers waiting to be granted legal refugee status already face a minimum six month wait to access funded ESOL courses and continuous budget cuts to ESOL funding by the government threaten to impact the most vulnerable learners.
We hope to fund two areas of Baytree's work 1) ESOL classes for adult women 2) The IntoSchool programme for 14-18 year old girls who don't speak English, do not have a school place, often don't know how to get into school and are consequently at risk, with limited support networks and few opportunities.
Spread the Word: Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the problem by sharing our campaign page. You can also join a broader campaign to #LetRefugeesLearn, led by our friends at Refugee Action.
Join our Photo Campaign: Print out our #BreakTheEnglishBarrier sign and finish the statement "If I couldn't speak English in London, I..." Then take a picture holding it up and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet us @WONDERfdn
Write to your MP: Tell your MP that English language instruction must be an absolute priority from the first day a refugee arrives in the UK. Find your MP here. Are you part of a school club or society? Help us raise awareness and funds for vulnerable refugee women! Take a look at our campaigning toolkit to find out how your society can get involved.
*An asylum-seeker refers to a person who has lodged an application for protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. A person is referred to as an 'asylum-seeker' until a decision has been made on his/her application or appeal. A refugee refers to an asylum-seeker whose application was successful and was granted legal 'refugee status' by the Home Office.