When people seeking safety get the good news that they have been granted refugee status, few are prepared for the struggles that lie ahead.
The transition from asylum seeker, with few choices about how and where you live, to refugee, with a raft of new rights and responsibilities, is not an easy one.  Who better to guide New Scots on the next step of this long and difficult journey than their peers?

Like many refugees, Nancy, a Congolese mum-of-two, felt isolated and overwhelmed: “The asylum and integration process is very challenging. You feel very alone, fighting against the uncertainty, the twists in the procedure – sometimes you can get lost.”

Our Peer Integration Project brings newly granted refugees together in a safe and welcoming environment to share their experiences and learn from each other. Peer Integration Adviser, Elahe Ziai explains:

“This approach gives people the opportunity to start thinking about what they really need and how to ask for it. You’re speaking to people who are maybe six months ahead of you in the process and finding out what has worked for them. Instead of feeling stuck in the process, you are in an environment where everyone is equal and your experiences could be useful to someone else.”

Ten volunteers, all with lived experience of starting a new life in Scotland, have been recruited and trained to facilitate discussion groups for other New Scots. Nancy is one of the volunteers making this project possible.

She told us: “I want to help people to have a better integration than I had. I know how hard it is because I have been through it. I don’t want them to feel lost or alone. I want them to feel supported and maybe help them avoid having the same struggles as me.

“If this had been around when I was going through the process it would have made a big difference for me. I felt lonely for a very long time. This would have helped me to feel more empowered. I would have felt like I was part of a community.”

Participants can choose to join discussions in multiple languages, or with a translator, and are invited to suggest topics to talk about with their group. By sharing their experiences in key areas like housing, health, finance, education and employment, peers will help each other adapt to life in Scotland.

Nancy adds: As a refugee in Scotland, you feel like you have to justify yourself all the time. It’s exhausting. Most of us have experienced a lot of atrocity. Your friends or family might have been killed. When you get somewhere where you don’t need to explain, people just know, it’s quite a relief. You don’t feel judged. You can just be yourself.

“When you’re with people who have the same questions as you, the same experiences as you, it is empowering. You have the feeling of belonging somewhere; of being heard and understood. It’s a good way to learn.

“The person who will know best about your situation is the person who has been through what you are going through.”

If you are a newly granted refugee and think you could benefit from our Peer Integration Programme, you can register to take part here. 

To read more about the difference our work is making, take a look at our new Annual Impact Report. 

Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb