Frequently Asked Questions
How long have we been established?
Although Refugee Connection only registered as an organisation in May 2016, we have over 6 years of experience working with people seeking asylum and with refugee status. We were working on a similar project for a number of years before starting this organisation, so we have a solid background and are confident in our work. We did not set up this organisation as a response to the refugee crisis on the news - many of the people with refugee status in our organisation have been in this country for years.
Why are we different?
People told us time and again, that they needed a way to make friends with local Londoners. They did not want to just sit in a room, doing workshops with other people who all had similar backgrounds to them - they hated being seen as a 'refugee' and feeling like someone who needed to be 'helped' all the time. Underpinning everything that we do at Refugee Connection, is seeing the person behind the label. We do not operate in a traditional 'service delivery' structure - we are an organisation made up of lots of different individuals who spend time together and get to know each other as genuine friends.
Why are we called 'Refugee Connection'?
Considering we are all about the person behind the label, it might seem surprising that we called ourselves 'Refugee Connection'. We admit that we thought pretty hard about using the term 'refugee' in our name, but it's easier if everyone knows what we do from our name - and then we can get on with getting to know each other as individuals. Once people are involved with us, we don't make any distinction between who is a 'refugee' and who is a 'Londoner'.
Why don't we use the term 'befriending'?
We feel that the term 'befriending' reinforces a type of relationship that crops up again and again within refugee support projects, of making a distinction between people as either 'helped' or 'helper', 'befriendee' or 'befriender', 'mentee' or 'mentor' - there is a reason why none of us use these words to describe our regular, everyday friendships! You can't make truly equal, genuine and authentic friendships when meeting within these inherently unequal roles. We are just introducing people as individuals so they can get to know each other as equals.
Why don't we use the term 'volunteering'?
We do! Our volunteers help us run the organisation, they give up their time to work with us for free on anything from fundraising to advocacy. On the social side, we don't call people a 'volunteer' as it's just about meeting people and making friends! If you look at people with refugee status as another worthy cause to give up your time for, then you are just reinforcing the status quo. If on the other hand, you just want the opportunity to make friends with someone who you wouldn't normally meet, you are most likely really going to enjoy being a part of Refugee Connection.
Why does the language we use matter so much?
These distinctions may seem benign and unimportant but the language we use really shapes and reinforces how we see and interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. A good example is that people seeking asylum or with refugee status are often described in cliché terms, such as 'resilient' or 'brave'. The fact is that people seeking asylum or with refugee status are just normal people - they are not a homogeneous group - some will be resilient, and some won't be - just like within the wider population. When we talk about people with refugee status as having things like certain personality traits, we are actually denying them the chance to be seen and accepted as the fully rounded, complex individuals that we all are.
No one wants to be stuck with a label and treated differently because of it for the rest of their lives. This 'othering' of people seeking asylum or with refugee status is one of the reasons why integration is so difficult, and once you start noticing it in the language and imagery so commonly used - however well intentioned - you realise how pervasive and harmful it actually is.
So, how does it work?
Being involved in Refugee Connection is about getting to know people as individuals, and we don't want to tell you how to make friends - but at the same time, there are elements of getting so many people with different backgrounds together, that can be trickier than meeting up with people you're already friends with - so we've written a few tips and hints to help everyone involved get the most out of it.
Refugee Connection Toolkit
Who are we?
Refugee Connection is a network of people of all ages and backgrounds based in London.
London is an amazing, diverse city, home to thousands of people from all over the world. But it can sometimes seem a very lonely place. It can be very hard to meet new people and make friends.
This can be difficult for anyone - whether you are someone with refugee status, or a student, or a local who has lived here for many years. Lots of people have very few friends and family here - or they only have a limited group of people they see.
We give people the opportunity to get to know new people who they wouldn’t normally meet. We do this by arranging meet-ups and get-togethers between Londoners and people seeking asylum or with refugee status. You can come along to things we have going on throughout the week, to meet new people. Apart from the opportunity to socialise all together, everyone is free to swap contact details and to meet up independently of Refugee Connection – exploring the city, going for a walk in the park, or just having a cup of tea in a café as and when you like.
We are an independent organisation – we are not part of the Home Office or the NHS or any other social support services.
Why have we written this guide?
It is to explain how the Refugee Connection process works and to help you if you have any questions or concerns.
Human beings are designed to be social. We all need a social network around us – whether we are quiet and shy, or loud and extrovert! We don’t need special skills – we just need to trust our instincts, but there are a few things you may be wondering - for example, if you're chatting to someone who may have been through something really traumatic - will you know how to say the right things? If someone doesn't have a lot of money and you're meeting up to do something, should you offer to pay for everything? We will guide you through these tricky bits.
How to get involved
After you have registered your interest with Refugee Connection, we will meet you individually so we know a little bit more about you - and you can find out more about us.
You can then come along to anything we're hosting that takes your fancy - Open House on Mondays, table tennis games, Friday beer garden, or film nights. We will keep you updated on what's going on and you can come along when you like.
Feel free to swap numbers or your email address with people if you want to, and if you've hit it off - you don't have to report back to us about what you're doing and you can meet up outside of Refugee Connection or invite people over for dinner etc. It's all about making 'normal life' connections and seeing each other as individuals - breaking out of our bubbles and getting to know people we'd never normally meet.
For the first few times that you are meeting up outside of Refugee Connection (and this is only if you want to! It is not obligatory at all), it's probably easier to just meet in a public place until you know each other better.
Sharing and paying for things
Work it out with each other, just as you usually would with your long-term friends. Keep it easy-going and equal – nobody needs to feel they have to pay for everything – but it’s not good to have everything paid for either. London can be expensive for everyone – so just look out for less expensive things to do – but let people share the ‘buying of coffees and teas’. It can be very patronising if one person pays for everything.
Talking about difficult things
You may be worried about how to talk about and listen to difficult, sometimes painful experiences. If you want to talk – talk. If you don’t want to – don’t. Take the lead from the other person. If they are talking about something difficult, maybe painful – listen, be interested and curious – ask questions – don’t feel that you have to quickly move on to a different topic. If you are not sure, ask them if they want to carry on talking about it. But most importantly, don’t feel you have to make things better.
You do not have to cheer someone up or make them feel better. You can just 'be' with someone who isn't feeling good. Feeling low or having a bad day is not a problem to be solved - accepting each other when we aren't at our best, and not trying to jolly the other person along, is often the best strategy.
You are not there to fix each other’s problems
Just listen with genuine interest. That, in itself, is of enormous value, and something that often is not available to people. London is a busy, bustling city – most people don’t have the time to talk to each other. Sharing time together, listening to each other is hugely beneficial to everyone.
What to do if you are worried about medical stuff
You may have a mental or physical health condition such as Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) or depression, or a mobility problem that affects you. And you may be worried that symptoms such as a nervous tic, or forgetfulness, or panic attacks may be a problem when you are spending time with people. You might feel self-conscious or embarrassed about your symptoms.
You may feel better if you mention your concerns early on. And you will soon realise that it is not a big problem for the other people at all. But you don’t have to talk about it.
But do let the people know about situations that make you feel uneasy. For example, if you don’t like noisy, crowded places such as busy cafes and bars – let people know so that you can arrange to meet up in a quieter place, such as a park.
On the other hand, you might be worried about doing the 'right' things if someone has a panic attack in front of you, rest assured that you already know how to comfort another human being in distress, if you follow your instincts and stay calm.
People usually really like to talk about their home and background and culture, even if there are painful memories. Don’t feel too nervous or worried about talking about the differences between life here and life in someone’s home country. It could be a really interesting topic of conversation for both of you.
But if you would rather not talk about your home country – just say so. Say you would rather not talk about it. That is ok.
Try not to worry too much about language difficulties. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nobody cares about perfect grammar. But you also don’t want to feel completely lost and misunderstood.
If you are struggling to understand each other make sure you tell each other straightaway – use props, google translate, speak slowly, tell them you don’t understand. Try to see the funny side of misunderstandings.
It will get easier the more you get used to each other. Don’t overly change the way you speak – be as natural as you can be – but be careful you don’t speak too quickly (it sounds obvious but it’s the one thing that everyone says is so important!)
You don’t have to walk around on eggshells. You are not reading a script. If you think you may have said something wrong, don’t worry. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone is just doing their best. It’s normal life. Everything will get easier when you know each other better.
On Mondays at 3pm we meet at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden: 13 Dalston Lane, London E8 3DF
Everyone who is involved with us can come along to share food, drink and conversation.
Beer garden and other social get-togethers
Every Friday evening you can find us back at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden - from 5pm onwards. Everyone who is involved with Refugee Connection is welcome to join us for a drink and a chat.
We also arrange meeting up to play table tennis, table football – or real football! We have lots of social get-togethers – parties and barbecues. We will let you know what we are up to in advance through our mailing list. We also get together regularly for walks in London parks, music gigs, film nights, supper clubs, barbecues, climbing, football. Just let us know what you are interested in – everyone is welcome.
We have lots of useful contacts in London. Let us know what you are interested in and we may be able to help you.
Widening your social network and getting to know more people in London is a great way of making friends. But it is also a great way of finding opportunities to use your skills and talents. Music, arts, business, finance, education, catering– let us know and the chances are we will know someone who would like to get to know you.
Where you can find us
We meet up weekly at the Calthorpe Project.
If you have any further questions, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; and if you would like to register for our one-to-one project or get involved in our organisation, click here.