In the first section, I briefly outline the present global situation regarding refugees and asylum seekers. After this, the issues are narrowed down to the UK, in particular to our own locality; East Sussex. I describe a local initiative to provide a therapeutic community for one of the most vulnerable groups of refugees; unaccompanied minors. This centre will be called Enthum House and is due to open in July this year.
The international situation
The increase in refugees and asylum seekers over the last two years is usually described as a crisis. It’s true that the increase in this group is significant. In 2015, there were around 1.2 million applications for asylum in Europe, double the number in 2014, which in itself was a record year. In addition, there was much suffering; the attempt to reach Europe in 2015 resulted in the drowning of almost 4,000. Those who manage to reach European destinations create significant challenges both for the asylum systems of those countries and the longer-term challenges for integration. Policies in Europe are inconsistent and in some cases, have been quite extreme. However, in spite of such challenges, it is argued that this situation does not have to be a crisis. Kalid Koser[i] writes that the majority of the world’s 20 million refugees are taken by the poorer countries of the world. For example, the majority of Syrian refugees are not in Europe, but in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Koser also points out that the population of Europe is around 500 million and that it is the wealthiest single market in the world. Europe currently hosts 6% of the world’s population of displaced people. These facts suggest that the arrival of a comparatively small number of people need not evoke such an outcry. While short term challenges undoubtably exist, the arrival of asylum seekers could also be seen as positive, for example, filling in labour shortages. The argument is that European countries exaggerate the impact asylum seekers will cause. However, there is one aspect of refugee movement which could legitimately be described as a crisis; the arrival of unaccompanied minors.[ii]
European statistics indicate that in 2015 there were over 88,000 applications for asylum by unaccompanied minors. 91% were male, 57% aged 16-17, 29% 14-15 and 13% under 14 years old. In addition to the huge stress of leaving their homes and undertaking the journey to Europe, they have been separated from, or abandoned by their previous caregivers, often causing deep psychological trauma. Most of these children will be unable to go home. Their family members cannot be traced and often their country of origin will not have the infrastructure to provide legal guardianship.
The UK situation
It is worth remembering that in the UK, refugees make up less than 2% of the population. There are presently three UK schemes to help refugees: the Syrian Resettlement Programme, The Dublin III Agreement and Lord Dub’s Amendment. The purpose of Lord Dubs’ amendment to the British Immigration Act is to rescue unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Under this amendment, 200 lone children are being cared for in the UK. The original aim was to help 3,000.[iii] It is important to point out that this latter scheme is for children who do not have family or relatives in this country, children who are truly alone.
East Sussex initiatives
There are many local initiatives in the UK to help raise awareness, provide practical help, respond to local issues and to advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Local initiatives here in East Sussex include the charity Lewes Organisation in Support of Refugees and Asylum seekers (LOSRAS), Lewes Action for Refugees and Lewes Area Welcomes Refugees group. Their work includes befriender schemes for Syrian families, providing English speaking courses, teaching students about refugee issues in the local secondary school, raising awareness and lobbying for better support for asylum seekers and refugees. The independent film maker Lilian Simonsson was involved in setting up some of the above groups and also volunteered in the Calais Jungle. Through her work there with children and adolescents she became aware of a need for specialized support. This inspired her and co-founder Jo McDonald to explore the possibility of setting up a therapeutic residential unit in the UK, resulting in the establishment of Enthum House, which will open in July this year.
Enthum House: a brief introduction to the centre
In collaboration with established UK charities, legal services for immigration, the Local Authority and community groups, Enthum House intends to create a safe and sustainable environment for unaccompanied minors. Its 24/7 staff team will include a Residential Manager, Therapeutic Support Workers, Waking Night Staff, plus a rota of therapists, teachers, doctors, youth workers and one-to-one mentors from A Band of Brothers (BOBS).[iv] Together, the aim of staff will be to offer hope, guidance and positive challenges to enable each young person to build on their resilience and reconcile their trauma, while facilitating and inspiring their integration to their local communities and UK society. This will include offering a variety of creative and technical workshops, sports, cross- cultural and language classes. Participation in academic and vocational courses will be encouraged. There will be the opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of the centre by engaging in local community initiatives. A comprehensive legal support network for asylum claims will be in place to ensure that young people’s best interest and future choices will be upheld and protected. They will be offered support should they be removed back to their home countries when they reach the age of 18.
We are told that the official figures for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum have been underestimated. New figures suggest that there may be as many as 95,000. After a long, dangerous and traumatic journey, only a tiny fraction of these asylum seekers will finally arrive in Enthum House. However, work to address this huge need has to start somewhere. This centre can be a beginning. With the collaboration of local authorities, established charity organisations and community groups, the co-founders envisage that Enthum House will provide a model that can be replicated in other communities across the UK.
As a member of both the advisory panel and the therapeutic team, I intend to provide regular updates on the progress of Enthum House.
Note: This piece is representative of Jane Craig’s views only, although Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy are supportive of her involvement in this initiative. If you have any questions, or if you would like any further information, please contact Jane directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Editor of Journal of Refugee Studies
[ii] Individuals under the age of 18 and not accompanied by a responsible adult
[iii] Lewes Group in Support of Refugees & Asylum Seekers (LGSRAS)
[iv] BOBS works with young men involved with the Criminal Justice System, providing them with the support they need to make the transition to an adulthood free of crime, and full of connection, purpose and meaning.