‘Being with’, not ‘doing for’

Juliet has been coming to the Jesuit Refugee Service Day Centre for over seven years. She’s a strong, independent woman with a wicked sense of humour. As with the majority of the destitute refugees JRS UK walk with through the Day Centre, Juliet is required to ‘report’ with the Home Office on a regular basis. It’s an inflexible administrative process which can be incredibly disorientating.

Juliet explains: ‘Oh my God, going to report at the Home Office is the most stressful. Everyone who has experienced this will tell you something similar – the week before you go to report, you are having anxiety: thinking about waiting in the cold for three hours, thinking about what will happen at your appointment. It can be cold, it can be raining, but you have to be there. It’s so dehumanising.’

Juliet is trapped in a cycle: each appointment is followed by a sense of relief, but she knows she’s going to have to do it again, and soon. ‘It’s a lot of anxiety and stress for five minutes.’

At JRS UK, they’re building a community of accompaniment volunteers to walk alongside our refugee friends to these reporting appointments, to offer moral support and to be a reassuring presence. It isn’t about doing for, but about being with and offering mutual respect, which is an experience not often felt by our refugee friends.

One of the volunteers shared her experience with Megan Knowles after she recently accompanied one of our refugee friends to their reporting appointment. What was most striking to the volunteer was the pavement – surrounding the entrance, the floor was covered in chewing gum and cigarette butts. Go 500 feet either side, and the pavements were clear (or rather, contained as much chewing gum as your average London street does). This subtle observation prompted her to imagine the anxiety with which people were waiting, chomping and chewing, desperately trying to distract themselves from the fear ahead.

The fear of how they will be treated by the officials, and the fear of being sent to a detention centre and being forcibly removed from the UK is ever present. The shared global mission of JRS is to accompany, to serve as companions, and to advocate for the rights of refugees. The refugees JRS UK walk with are some of the most vulnerable and invisible people in our society. But they are also some of the strongest and most resilient people Megan has ever had the privilege to meet and to work with. Having someone accompany them, to walk closely beside them, makes this distressing experience just that little bit easier – knowing that you are not alone.

‘It’s not just about the physical support JRS offers, it is also about how people are welcoming us, how they make you feel – that’s why I’ve kept coming back to JRS UK for over seven years!’ Juliet comments.

Are you able to be part of JRS UK community of accompaniment volunteers? Visit their website

Read more about JRS UK's new report of the experiences of people seeking asylum.

This article was first published on Jesuits and Friends 103