The gateway to a new life - Refugee Council
September 4, 2014

The gateway to a new life

Every year, we assist refugees who have been resettled in the UK from all over the world settle into their new lives in the UK. This week, our Advocacy Manager Anna Musgrave went to shadow our resettlement team to greet a group of new arrivals who’d had a long journey from a refugee camp in Burundi. This is Anna’s story.

Some days I love my job more than others. Yesterday was one of those days.

At 7.30am I found myself at the arrivals gate at Manchester City Airport waiting for a small group of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was shadowing one of our Gateway teams who work in partnership with local authorities in Yorkshire and Humberside to provide resettlement places to refugees who cannot return to their home country and who continue to be at risk in their first country of asylum – often just across the border.

Anyone arriving in the UK through the Gateway Protection Programme has been recognised as a refugee by UNHCR. UNHCR prioritise specific groups for resettlement including women and children at risk, survivors of sexual violence and torture and people with medical needs.

I only have time to swallow a scalding cup of tea before 19 people are standing in front of me – dressed in their Sunday best and beaming. Mainly women and children, all the families in this group are female-headed households. Their luggage fits on two trolleys and we wheel it out to the minibus waiting to take them to the city that will be their new home.

I accompany Jess, a Refugee Council project worker, and we take Nicole* and her four children to the house where they will be staying – at least for their first year in the UK. Nicole and her family have been living under canvas in a refugee camp in Burundi for many years – her children may well have known no other life. So there is an inordinate amount of information for them to digest: how to lock the door; working out the oven; how to make a cup of tea using a kettle; what the fridge does; how to open tins of food; what to do if the fire alarm goes off; how to switch the shower on.

Nicole is clearly exhausted (unlike her children, brimming with excitement) and Jess is careful to only give her the information she needs for a comfortable night. Tomorrow she’ll be back at 9am to take them to the supermarket so Nicole can stock her kitchen, show her how to use public transport and get the family registered with a GP.

Nicole right now is heavily reliant on the Refugee Council to show and tell her what she needs to know to cope in the UK. In these first few weeks she’ll be seeing Jess or someone else from our wonderful Gateway team most days. But as her first year in the UK progresses, Nicole will increasingly stand on her own two feet, equipped and ready to rebuild a new life for herself and her family. But right now, all Nicole wants is to sleep – in a freshly made bed, safe and secure behind brick walls.

For the last 10 years the Gateway Protection Programme has offered the chance of a future to some of the world’s most vulnerable peoples. It is rarely talked about and the Home Office in the main, stay fairly quiet about it. And yet, they should be shouting about it from the rooftops. It is a programme we can be truly proud of.

*Nicole’s name has been changed to protect her identity.