As a befriender, I have been able to get to know, spend time with and encourage asylum seekers and refugees in Birmingham. I currently befriend a young man, Rahim* and have been doing so for the last 3 years. I’ve had the joyous privilege of walking alongside him, who fled persecution in his home country, on his journey to becoming a refugee and obtaining his refugee status! I simply spend time with Rahim*, showing him the city, helping him settle into British life and understand its culture. Some things we have discussed include British politics and history, aspects of the English language, strange customs and social etiquette. We’ve been walking in the Malvern Hills. Additionally, I’ve been able to provide informal advice were necessary and ‘signpost’ him to support services. I’m ably supported by the Restore staff team, who provided me with initial befriending training and I can turn to them for advice when needed.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Restore launched ‘remote befriending’, so that it could continue to welcome, value and integrate refugees and asylum seekers, despite the restrictions in place. Despite not being able to meet up with Rahim, through regular phone contact I was able to maintain our relationship, inform him of the changing regulations and lessen his feeling of isolation at home.
Being aware of the many asylum seekers in Birmingham, who now would be forced to remain indoors alone for much of each day, I (via Restore) was put in contact with a recently arrived asylum seeker, Matthieu* and started a remote befriending relationship. We speak regularly on the phone and use WhatsApp Video calling. I’ve been able to provide encouragement, support and guidance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, I have explained about the GP and Hospital services as well as helping him get support from a local Pharmacy, when he had a health issue. We have also met in a local park to play football.
Matthieu* comments on his experience of Restore and befriending: “Restore has helped me with socialising a lot. When I got here, in Birmingham, I had no one to talk to or share my feelings. Restore introduced me to a friendly and understanding befriender. I had no idea on how things worked or the lifestyle of people here. It took time to adapt to all this changes most definitely with the help of my befriender.”
I’ve learned over the years of befriending, that although it requires a time-sacrifice, it is hugely rewarding. It has given me greater insight into and appreciation for other cultures. For example, when visiting my befriendees, I have received great hospitality and enjoyed delicious food, often at a personal cost to them.
Despite at first glance, being very different to the guys that I befriend, I’ve learnt that these differences are often superficial and in fact we are more similar than at first thought. We always have many things in common and have mutual interests – such as discussing football – the universal language!
I have found that being a befriender is like trying a meal from another culture’s cuisine! It is a varied and interesting experience that enables you to learn new things whilst not always knowing what is coming next! Yet, it is not as daunting as it first might seem!
As a Christian, my faith gives me a desire to reach out to others and welcome them. Living in Birmingham, a multi-cultural city home to many different nationalities, the people I come across will often be different to me in terms of class, culture and ethnicity. Birmingham is a ‘City of Sanctuary’ which actively welcomes refugees and asylum seekers to the city and thus I want to play a (small) part in this. Jesus calls me to love my neighbour as myself and this motivates me to treat those I see in my city, as I would wish to be treated. Being a befriender with Restore, enables me to do just that, to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to the city and aid their integration into society.
*Names have been changed