Refugees in Yorkshire left 'lonely and isolated' from lack of English language help

MP Rachel Reees is co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. Picture: Tony Johnson

REFUGEES living in Yorkshire have been left lonely and isolated because English language provision is “not fit for purpose”, new research has found.

The charity Refugee Action is calling on the Government to invest in learning provision after finding refugees are waiting up to three years to start learning English, as “chronic underfunding” has left colleges and other providers struggling to meet demand.

The Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness campaign in 2014

Refugee Action, which published the research as part of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission’s spotlight month on refugees, said charities and community groups are being forced to step in to bridge the gap in provision.

The charity’s chief executive Stephen Hale said: “Learning English is essential to end loneliness, and enable refugees to rebuild their lives through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours.

“Yet refugees face long waiting lists, and other barriers such as a lack of childcare. It leaves many feeling lonely and isolated.

“The Government must act now, and enable all refugees in Britain to learn English.”

Refugees told researchers that learning English is “everything”, and being able to speak the language of their new home country combats isolation and loneliness.

But Refugee Action’s poll of 71 providers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), shows the majority, 63 per cent, are concerned that the quality of classes is not meeting people’s needs.

Nearly half, 45 per cent, said people are waiting for an average of six months or more to start lessons. One said it could take three years to be assigned to a course and another said the wait could be “indefinite”.

There are currently 120 refugees and economic migrants on the waiting list for ESOL classes at Hull College, with a further 580 currently taking classes.

The college’s curriculum leader for ESOL, Joanne Tejo, told The Yorkshire Post, that lack of funding was having an “undeniable” impact on provision, and without the “fundamental” skill of speaking English, refugees were left feeling isolated from the community they live in.

“Loneliness is not something they culturally want to admit to, but you don’t need someone to say it out loud to know it is true,” she said. “For ladies in particular, they are rarely mixing with anyone from outside their families and sometimes coming to class is their only social interaction. The women are hardest hit.

“We would like to offer everyone eight hours of classes but we physically can’t do it. Most people are just getting three hours, and we’re assessing between 25 and 30 new people a week for classes.”

In Bradford, Refugee Action’s Children and Families Project provides English classes for refugee children who are waiting for a school place as part of the varied support they offer families.

Project coordinator Christy Bischoff said: “Most of the people who come to us are in limbo. They have come to this country in a vulnerable situation and if they don’t have English it can be incredibly isolating.

“It can have a knock-on effect on all aspects of living.”

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, said:“There are some wonderful examples of communities coming together to help refugees and people seeking asylum feel less lonely.

“Befriending projects and welcome groups show Britain at its best, celebrating our similarities rather than our differences to break down barriers to integration.

“But a shared language is vital – we must give refugees the chance to learn English.”

Campaign

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to highlight the devastating health effects of loneliness, which affects more than 90,000 older people in the region, since February 2014.

In February 2016, on the second anniversary of the campaign, we announced that Batley MP Jo Cox was launching a cross-party commission to tackle the issue. Following her tragic death in July last year, the commission was taken forward by her friend and colleague, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, and Conservative MP for South Ribble, Seema Kennedy.

Later this year, the commission will publish a manifesto outlining what action it believes the Government should take to help end the misery of loneliness.

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