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Involving refugees & asylum seeker volunteers

Refugees and asylum seekers can make great volunteers.  They can be highly motivated to learn skills and to gain experience that can help them get work in this country.  But volunteering is not just of benefit to the individual; by involving refugees and asylum seekers you can really help your organisation.

Refugees and asylum seekers can 

  • Bring unique skills and experience – some are highly skilled professionals.
  • Help you to engage with the refugee communities.
  • Increase the diversity of your organisation.
  • Enhance your awareness of other cultures.

Is it more work?

There is huge diversity amongst refugees and asylum seekers. Some speak fluent English and can be trained up quickly to do the role you need them for, whereas others may not have worked in their home country, will only have basic English and may take longer to train and need more support. Staff on the New Beginnings project at the Volunteer can give advice on involving refugees and help identify people who will be suitable for your role.

Legal Issues?

Asylum seekers and refugees are allowed to volunteer and there are no restrictions. There are regular rumours saying that asylum seekers cannot volunteer and the Home Office guidance is confusing. Please see our page on 'Asylum Seeker volunteering legislsation' that clarifies the Home Office position on asylum seekers volunteering

DBS Checks?

It is possible to do DBS checks for asylum seekers and Refugees. However, it can be more complicated. see our page on DBS checks for Asylum Seekers and Refugees. 

Successfully involving refugees and asylum seekers - what is key?

  • A welcoming environment.  It matters a lot to refugees and asylum seekers to be welcomed - to feel valued and respected and treated as an equal.  It's important that the welcome is not just from the Volunteer Coordinator but from other staff and volunteers.  Refugees often love their country and can really enjoy talking about what's good there and what's different to Britain, but usually they do not want to talk about why they fled.  This is often a personal and painful experience.
  • Being clear about everything.  The British work environment will be different to anything a refugee or asylum seeker has experienced before and this has a big impact on confidence.  Having a very clear role description for the volunteer is the biggest help, and will ensure you get the right person with the right motivation and skills (including level of English).  It also helps to be aware of cultural differences and the potential for misunderstanding.  You may need to explain in greater depth how the organisation works, what your expectations of the volunteer are and how the volunteer will fit in.  Give regular feedback to the volunteer to let them know if they are doing things right or not, and to offer encouragement.
  • Offering expenses - not waiting to be asked.  Asylum seekers and refugees have very little income (some live on £35 a week) and they cannot volunteer unless their travel expenses are paid.  At the same time, it can feel difficult to ask for expenses, like it is begging and reinforcing a negative view of asylum seekers/refugees.  By being offered expenses without being asked, you feel your contribution is valued.

Case Studies

Read our stories about refugees volunteering
Hear what a Volunteer Coordinator from Rainbow's End says about the benefits of involving refugee volunteers. 

Translated Resources

We have produced a range of translated resources with documents to help you involve refugee and asylum seeker volunteers.

These include:

  • Flyers about our project and about volunteering
  • documents to help you involve volunteers in your organisation (e.g confidentiality statements)
  • documents for use with service users (e.g. consent forms)
  • pro forma Letters (e.g. appointment letters)

Independent Evaluation 

Don't just take our word for it - Involving refugees can enrich your organisation and transform their lives.
Read the New Beginnings Evaluation Report December 2010