At Refugee Action-Colchester we are a group of volunteers from diverse areas of expertise and backgrounds with a common purpose and aim: We want to support the resettlement and integration of refugees and asylum seekers from countries of conflict and extreme poverty. To do so, we offer advocacy, community events, work experience opportunities and training and outreach activities. We also offer friendship and support at times of difficulty for newly arrived individuals and families, while pursuing appropriate and sustainable help within the community of Colchester.
In this blog, a number of Refugee Action-Colchester volunteers and Syrian refugees reflect on the experiences they have had of volunteering and of being refugees. Firstly, a few Syrian friends share reflections on the following question: “What have I learnt about humanity from the experience of being a refugee in the UK?”
"My asylum-seeking experience was the biggest experience in my life. I went for it without knowing if the consequences will suit me. This unique experience enlightened me a lot. It has taught me that my personal gains may be more than losses. I learned that the only person I need for achieving my goals is me, so I started to believe in myself. I learned that success is possible but it is never easy, so I started to work harder and make sacrifices in order to gain the benefit. I realized that freedom is a concept that also includes the freedom of thought and speech. I learned that this universe is bigger than me and all the diversity in my new community is what makes it unique and functional in an amazing way."
Rahaf Alghalyoun (Syrian living in Colchester)
"In my country, Syria, we found ourselves surrounded by these terms wherever we went: in universities, schools, books and the media. The ruling regime did not spare any opportunity to introduce ideas about humanity and human rights, but it was all on paper. I felt the vast difference between what we had in Syria and what we enjoy in the UK. One can see the application of these concepts in the UK, in all areas of life, at the government and local level. Humanity and human rights here form a culture that is open to everyone and is not just made of slogans.
"On a personal level I have felt this through the impact of the government's policies on me and other refugees. The government helped us start a new life, as did the people of the United Kingdom and civil society organizations in this area. Although there exists a stereotypical view of many refugees in this country, I met many people in the UK who gave me a true example of humanity. I have learned that respecting others as human beings regardless of colour, religion or race is a reality in this country and not just a slogan."
Abdulsalam Salama (Syrian living in Colchester)
"When I came to the United Kingdom, I learned that humanity has value here compared to other nations and I found those who listen to the suffering of oppressed peoples. In this country there is democracy and the existence of multiple religions and colours and they all live with each other in all areas of life. And the most beautiful thing is that I can express an opinion on any subject, even political areas, without fear.
"When there's humanity there is compassion. When humanity exists, there is a successful society. When there's humanity there's hope for life and freedom that many people lack. The aspiration for freedom is the best manifestation of humanity and it exists in the United Kingdom and I have not seen it anywhere else .When we find the good side of people we know that human rights have been born in this country."
Mohamed AlHamoud (Syrian living in Colchester)
"The volunteers reflected on this question: "What inspired me to volunteer and what am I learning about humanity in the refugee crisis through this work"?
"As a person of mixed race who grew up in an all-white community I have always felt like an outsider or visitor. That prompted me to respond to people becoming outsiders after conflict or poverty drove them from their homes. In supporting those people I have learned that most British people will help if asked and given an opportunity, no matter what background they have or what their political views. My view of the world has changed now that I see such humanity around me. I judge far less and feel more at home myself."
Maria Wilby (Volunteer with RA-C)
"The images of mass migration and people in despair inspired me to volunteer. I could no longer sit back and watch the crisis unfold. Although I didn’t have a clear idea on what to do, I knew that I wanted to use my skills and experience in reaching out and playing an active role in today’s crisis. Engaging with this crisis has revealed to me some dark places in humanity, but also some extraordinary examples of generosity, solidarity, resilience and creativity. My faith in humanity has been strengthened and not weakened."
Iman Mortagy (Volunteer with RA-C)
"I was sitting at my desk at work and it was August 2015. All I could see on my Twitter feed were tweets all about the refugee crisis. As the crisis continued I just felt that I wanted to do something. I didn't know exactly what, but something. Like many, there was a feeling of helplessness and horror as the situation grew and grew. I think my inspiration was seeing ordinary people from all walks of life form ad hoc groups and just do whatever they could to help. As RA-C grows we are being shown all the time the strength of power that lies in the hands of ordinary citizens. Collectively we can and have achieved many things together. "