Young refugees and migrants must have hope during pandemic

September 15, 2020

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Coram Young Citizens Trainer Ahmed Mohajer offers positive advice to those new to the country and currently facing particular challenges

Recently, I was fortunate to be one of 14 young people from across the UK invited to join the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee youth panel to contribute our views for their ‘Life Beyond Covid’ Inquiry. Bringing together our different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, we talked about the challenges we’d faced and tackled the big question of ‘how might the pandemic affect our futures?’

As a young person from a migrant background, I wanted to reflect some of the particular challenges young people who are new to the country face, and all that I have learned on my journey so far to help other young people in a similar situation through this challenging time.

When I arrived in the UK from Sudan in 2017, I was only able to speak a little bit of English, so I very quickly had to learn the language, by taking online courses, and practicing regularly with reading, writing and games.

I also started to get involved in different programmes to build my skills and meet new people, including Coram’s Young Citizens programme for young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Being involved in this programme has given me many opportunities to build new skills including mentoring, public speaking and skills for work, as well as building my confidence, resilience and empathy.

Building new skills through online courses and my involvement in the Young Citizens programme has been so important to me throughout lockdown

Through my role as a Young Citizens trainer, I’ve helped to create and run sessions for college students, to help other young people to make positive lives for themselves in the country. That’s something I feel passionate about, especially now.

Building new skills through online courses and my involvement in the Young Citizens programme has been so important to me throughout lockdown. It has given me focus and the chance to use these past few months for something positive.

The impact of the pandemic on mental health is something a lot of us talked about in the House of Lords discussion, and something that I have personal experience of. Young people can feel frustrated and lonely, stuck in the house with nothing to do and it can be especially hard for young refugees and migrants, who may be sad and missing friends and family in their home country. Finding a purpose through learning new skills online can make a huge difference.

I’d encourage anyone who is new to the country to use this time to find out what they really enjoy – it could be sports, art, science, anything! Try out lots of courses and activities that will keep you busy and socially connected. These opportunities will also help you build new skills for life, which is important for us to have the best chance of a positive future in this country.

Another thing I have learned is how important it is to ask for help. I met a young person who came to the UK right before the lockdown and so he was adjusting to his new life here whilst trying to cope with the distancing measures in shared accommodation.

We must all have hope. We never imagined being in a situation like this but we will all come out stronger and more grateful for what we have

I told him about all the people who are here to help him – key workers, social workers and peer mentors for example. It’s not always easy to ask for help and families in different cultures sometimes teach you not to tell people you need help – something I can relate to. But now I can see what a difference it can make. If anyone is struggling right now, reach out to the professionals who are there to support you. For example if you have an issue with your housing or feel isolated because you don’t have access to a laptop or the Internet. It’s best to tell someone, you shouldn’t struggle alone.

My final piece of advice for other young refugee and migrant people is to remain open-minded. I know it can be hard to feel confident or feel that you’ll belong when you first arrive here, but don’t ever think “I’m not like them” or worry about your background. Talk to new people, whenever and wherever you can, even if it’s online for now. Be open-minded to the new people you can meet – especially now when it’s so important we stay connected and avoid isolation.

We must all have hope. We never imagined being in a situation like this but we will all come out stronger and more grateful for what we have. We’ve already overcome many challenges and through our resilience and positivity, I’m sure we can look forward to a happy future.

This article was produced in partnership with Coram Young Citizens an award-winning programme for young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds aged 16 to 25:

Ahmed is a Coram Young Citizens Trainer. He co-designs and runs workshops for other young people who are new to the country and shares experiences to help others make positive lives for themselves.

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