Refugee charity HostNation appeals for volunteers

Anneke Elwes and Abu. Picture: TOBY ELWES

Anneke Elwes and Abu. Picture: TOBY ELWES - Credit: Archant

A charity helping refugees make friends with British citizens to help them overcome loneliness has launched an urgent appeal for volunteers.

HostNation was set up on April 1 last year to help men and women fleeing persecution in their own countries get to know their new communities, helping to stop them feeling lonely and isolated.

The charity has since initiated 75 friendships between supporters and refugees across the capital including among others a chef from Ukraine, a cyclist from the Congo and an Afghan doctor.

Somalian refugee Abdul, 41, living in Ilford, said that before meeting his match – music producer Roisin, 40 – he didn’t have friends, only flatmates. But he wanted to get to know someone to give him hope and help him trust people again.

On meeting Roisin, he said: “She is lovely, nice and helpful. I’ve learnt a lot from her and she’s always ready to help. I like her a lot and see her as my friend.”

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On her motivation, Roisin said: “I want to help work against the isolation and problems migrants, refugees and asylum seekers face. I want to contribute to them feeling like an active member of society, not just ‘refugees, asylum seekers or migrants.’”

On the scheme, Sandrine – 36, a Congolese asylum seeker and torture survivor who also lives in Ilford – said: “It is helpful and interesting. We have good times.”

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The charity’s founder Anneke Elwes explained the friend-matching service works “a bit like online dating” with participants sharing details about their interests, age and gender with the charity who then match them.

Ms Elwes said: “People find it very rewarding. Meeting people they wouldn’t normally meet enriches their lives. And it gives people a better idea of what it’s like to be an asylum seeker.”

She said there is an urgent need for volunteers in east London where many refugees get settled.

To date the charity has had calls to help more than 30 refugees living in east London – about 40 per cent of the total – and “more coming in all the time”, according to Anneke. But the charity has only two befrienders in the area - in Barking and Romford.

It is looking for men and women who can commit to meeting a refugee at least once a fortnight over three months.

To express an interest register on the HostNation website

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