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Caring for young refugees

Rachel Poulton MBE and her family invite newly arrived, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into their home. She explains why here

Over the past five years we’ve been laying a few extra places at our dining table. In fact we’re at a point now where it would just feel wrong if we weren’t sharing our meals with at least a couple of young refugees.

These teenagers, aged 13–17, have all arrived in the UK confused, fearful and alone. Most of them have had to flee either from persecution, war or to avoid being forcibly recruited as child soldiers themselves. They then face an arduous and dangerous journey on foot, in trucks and in dangerous, overloaded boats. Many have seen close friends or family killed or have witnessed drownings at sea. Some have suffered horrible injuries themselves. All of them arrive in the UK traumatised by their experiences and in need of care and reassurance.

Providing a welcome and safety

They usually come to our home feeling tired and anxious. We welcome them as best we can with a little homemade card and a few chocolate bars in their room. Some have later have told us that this was the first moment in months or even years when they began to feel safe. Gradually, as their English improves, they start to relax with family activities, games, films and plenty of football.

There’s a lot of laughter in our home and some tears too. These young refugees have been through such horrendous situations and this takes its toll, with sleep problems and overwhelming sadness at times. Most of them miss their families terribly yet have little or no contact with them. The initial weeks are busy as they need to make their asylum claim, commence education, perhaps start language classes and go through various health checks too. We orientate them to their surroundings here and they teach us a lot too – perhaps about the food that is familiar to them or in terms of how they like to practice their faith.

It really is a privilege to be able to welcome them to our home and we hope we can keep on doing this for as long as there’s a need. The best thing of all is seeing some things improve in their lives, watching them have fun and seeing them achieve at school and college.

A wider network of support

Our youngest two children are still at home and they are brilliant at helping the boys settle in – playing games and helping with schoolwork etc. Since the ages of eight and nine they have grown up sharing their lives with young refugees and this has helped them to grow in faith, in kindness and in their understanding of our world and its problems.

Friends are very supportive too. When some of us had COVID, and we all needed to isolate, a friend from church organised for a hot meal for ten to be on our doorstep each evening.

Actually, I wish more people would think about opening their homes to care for young refugees. This is exactly what the Bible encourages us to do and loving, caring homes really are needed for young refugees right now. Why not start by taking a look at The Hospitality Pledge, which aims to inspire people to use their voices and homes on behalf of asylum seekers. You can attend the free launch event at 8pm on Monday 28 June. 

Rachel Poulter MBE trained initially as a paediatric nurse and spent several years in refugee relief work in Asia, Africa and Europe. She also has a Masters in Social Work, and while working for her Local Authority established an advocacy service for children and young people in care. Rachel and her family currently have three teenage refugees living with them. Rachel is married to Nigel and they have seven adopted children.

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