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Opinion: An Inspiring, Humbling Afternoon with Young Refugees

Published on: 19 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 19 Aug, 2022

Zoe Franklin talking to refugees during their Big Leaf Surrey’s jobs and work week, part of their Guildford Summer School.

By Zoe Franklin

prospective Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Guildford

There is a lot of discussion about refugees currently driven by a combination of our welcoming of so many Ukrainian people fleeing the Russian invasion of their country and the Government’s controversial Rwanda Scheme.

See also: Dragon Interview: Olha – a Ukrainian Refugee in Guildford

With so many headlines it can be easy to forget that behind these are individuals, each with unique stories of why they are seeking safety and a new start. Last Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with a group of young refugees as part of Big Leaf Surrey’s jobs and work week, part of their Guildford Summer School.

Given the ongoing public conversation about refugees and how we respond to them as communities and a nation, I wanted to share some of my reflections on what was a humbling and inspiring afternoon.

Each of us was introduced to the group of young people and then – after much understandable interest in the police traffic officer and his motorbike – we sat in small groups on the grass, introduced ourselves and chatted about the work we did and answered questions.

The young people were from a range of countries – Ukraine, Afghanistan, Equador to name just a few. Some had been here for two months, others six.

The range of ability was varied but I was seriously impressed by the way that even those who had been here just two months could express themselves in English. I say this as someone who only speaks English and is trying to learn French using Duolingo. I just can’t imagine being able to express myself as they did after such a short time.

…the moment that really stopped me in my tracks was when a young person simply asked: ‘Do you agree with Rwanda?’ “

I shared with each group about what being a politician involves – talking to people, helping where I can and campaigning for change where it is needed.

I also talked about how I got into politics to try and improve things for everyone in local communities. After that, I simply left space for them to ask questions. It was during that time of chatting with the young people that I really felt humbled and moved.

Each young person who asked questions shared something of their personal story with me either through those question/s or through talking to me directly about their experience.

One young person asked about how voting works and how laws are made before talking about how the corruption of politicians in his home country meant that he would never want to be involved politically.

Clearly, any issues the UK has with political discourse and behaviour pales into insignificance when compared with the political situation of many of these young people’s home countries. 

Another young person shared with me about their experience of leaving Ukraine and how her father had showed her videos of tanks lined up in the streets as they went to help friends in another area.

She also shared how grateful she was that she has been able to find a safe home here in the UK, and that the UK has been working to help her country find a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine.

But the moment that really stopped me in my tracks was when a young person simply asked: “Do you agree with Rwanda?”

My instant answer was no and he visibly relaxed. I then explained how the Lib Dems and many other organisations are doing all we can to stop the scheme as we think it inhumane and cruel and against the tolerant nature that the British have always been known for.

We then continued our conversation, but it was a moment that really impressed on me the cruelty of the Rwanda scheme – this is a young person, a teenager, who is worrying about deportation to a place they have never been to by a government that says it will “end people trafficking”, when in fact the people it is damaging are the refugees seeking a safe and secure home and future.

The resilience and strength of these young people is incredible. They have been through so much and yet they are keen to learn, to be part of the communities they live in and to work and make a difference.

I sincerely hope that every one of them is able to realise their hopes and goals in spite of the ongoing challenges they face while trying to do so here in the UK, many of which are of the current Government’s making. 

I really encourage you to take a look at the Big Leaf Surrey website and twitter feed  to find out more about the work they do with young refugees.

They do such important and valuable work, and if you can help in any way I know that they would be deeply appreciative. Do also take a look at the organisations they partner with including Together With Refugees and support the work they are doing to stand against the Rwanda scheme and more widely.

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Responses to Opinion: An Inspiring, Humbling Afternoon with Young Refugees

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 20, 2022 at 5:51 am

    I would point out that, as well as refugees from the above countries, we also have refugees from Russia, who can longer stomach the machinations of Putin.

    I and a group of volunteers have been taking a very mixed group of refugees on bus journeys for shopping and supplying them with bikes to get around.

    It was heartwarming to meet a young Russian girl and her best friend, from Ukraine, to provide them with refurbished bikes.

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