Being an asylum seeker means you are fleeing persecution – you are scared, often alone and vulnerable. You are staying in a place you probably know very little about, with people you don’t know, and with systems that feel inaccessible and terrifying.
This week, I had the privilege of being part of the pilot Keeping Healthy course at an initial assessment centre for asylum seekers. This is where asylum seekers first enter the country and stay, on average, for about 3 weeks, whilst they wait for their application for asylum to be acknowledged.
My use of the word ‘privilege’ is quite deliberate. Over the course of the day we met with about 25 men, of different nationalities and with different spoken languages. But despite their marked differences, they were clearly comrades, having entered into a shared and arduous experience at a similar time.
They were incredible – they laughed together, made jokes and told tales of health ideas from their home lands. As we talked about the NHS and basic health literacy, they allowed us to hear parts of their stories with much candour and bravery. They had a thirst for knowledge (knowledge that we take for granted) and absorbed the information we were giving them readily, with excitement and gratefulness.
Afterwards, we received an email from one of the support workers, it read:
“Since you left, SUs [service users] have described the sessions as very informative, empowering, making them feel safer, reducing their vulnerability, a sense of belonging and making them feel better – improving their mental health.”
This is why we do it. But the privilege was all ours.