21.Oct.2004

Refugee Mentoring Scheme Launched In Three New Cities

A unique refugee mentoring initiative, developed by national volunteering charity TimeBank, will be introduced in three new cities by the end of the year.

Time Together was launched nearly two years ago in London, Birmingham and Glasgow, and so far more than 350 refugees have benefited from one-on-one mentoring relationships with volunteers. The scheme has been so successful it will now be rolled out in Plymouth, Manchester and Peterborough, due to generous grants from the European Refugee Fund, the Challenge Fund and The Big Lottery Eastern.

The initiative aims to help refugees integrate and to create ambassadors for refugees in UK communities. By encouraging and aiding integration Time Together also hopes to challenge misconceptions about refugees by promoting positive images of them in the media.

Sarah Arnold, Time Together project manager, says: "Sadly, we have become used to hearing refugees described as 'scroungers' and 'benefit fraudsters'. In reality, this is simply not the case - refugees are people who are forced to flee their homes due to a real threat of persecution. When they arrive in Britain the majority bring with them a wealth of skills, talent and experience that is unfortunately often wasted.

"85% of refugees hold qualifications and the refugees on the scheme are exceptionally motivated and determined to put something back into the communities that have welcomed them. The majority are professionals - doctors, lawyers, accountants and nurses - who just need a little bit of support and encouragement to realise their ambitions."

Time Together mentors - who come from all walks of life - spend five hours a month with their mentees helping them with anything from writing a CV to practising their English, explaining how the internet or job market works or even enjoying a museum, gallery or football match.

Mentors encourage and motivate their mentee to achieve their goals in education, language and employment. They attend a one-day training course, are actively involved in selecting a suitable match and receive support and expenses for the duration of their mentoring relationship.

Rosemary le Breton began mentoring with Time Together in 2004. She says:

"Time Together has been a real eye-opener. My mentee, Abdul, is everything the press rarely acknowledge: hardworking, motivated and willing to learn. I've been able to help Abdul settle in Birmingham by introducing him to everyday life in the city, as well as helping him with more pressing issues such as writing his CV and filling-in forms.

"Working with Abdul has encouraged me to think about my career, so much so that I've started a part-time graduate diploma in law and am thinking about going into immigration law in the future. It'll be a big leap for me, but for once I feel as though I may be on the right track. I'm very glad that I started doing voluntary work - it's opened up new opportunities for me."

For more information on becoming a mentor to a refugee log onto http://www.timebank.org.uk/mentor/index.html or call 0845 456 1668.

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact: Louise Clifton at TimeBank on 020 7401 5428 / 07977 219629 or email: l.clifton@timebank.org.uk

Notes for editors:

(1) Information on refugees and asylum seekers
Under the terms laid out in the 1951 United Nations Convention a refugee is defined as someone who: has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion; is outside the country they belong to or normally reside in, and is unable or unwilling to return home for fear of persecution.

The Convention was drafted in the context of the millions of refugees in post-war Europe, and only applied to European nationals. In 1967, a UN protocol extended the convention to cover any person, anywhere in the world, at any time. The UK, along with over 130 other countries, is a signatory to the Convention and its protocol. These two documents remain the foundation of refugee law today, committing signatories to certain obligations. However the interpretation of these international instruments varies from country to country.

(2) What is asylum?
If a person is recognised as having refugee status it means he is given protection by the UK authorities and he will not be sent back to the country from which he fled. Since October 2000 there has been another form of protection against removal available in the UK through the Human Rights Act. This Act forbids the UK authorities from breaching a person's fundamental human rights. If a person can show that to return him to the country from which he fled would breach one of his fundamental human rights, he will be offered protection from removal in the UK. If protection from removal is offered on refugee grounds, the applicant gets what is called Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). ILR means the applicant can stay permanently in the UK. Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) means the government gives people protection where they have not got all the evidence for full refugee status but they are recognised as being in danger. This means the person can stay for the duration granted at the discretion of the Home Office, usually between 2 and 4 years. ELR is to be replaced by a new status of "humanitarian protection".

(3) Where do most refugees to the UK come from?
The top 5 asylum seeking countries in the UK are currently Somalia, China, Turkey, Iran and Zimbabwe. Asylum seekers are forced to leave oppressive countries, which are often torn apart through conflict.

(4) TimeBank's Time Together initiative is funded by the European Refugee Fund (Manchester) and the Challenge Fund (Plymouth)

(5) Time Together is being expanded to Peterborough due to a generous grant of £93,000 from The Big Lottery Fund Eastern. Big Lottery Fund is the joint operating name of the New Opportunities Fund and the National Lottery Charities Board (which made grants under the name of the Community Fund). The Big Lottery Fund, launched on 1st June 2004, is distributing half of all National Lottery good cause funding across the UK www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

(6) TimeBank is a national campaign inspiring and connecting people to share and give time. www.timebank.org.uk or 0845 456 1668