Welcome - the Norfolk couple who host refugees
- Credit: Louise Heller
Gary Lineker did it – and so did Heather Stabler.
When a flatmate moved out, Heather and her husband had a spare room. Instead of looking for someone to rent it they invited a refugee to move in.
“I was upset by all the news stories about people attempting to get to this country and, for those who somehow make it, the awful treatment that they get here,” said Heather. “These are people who may have lived through awful circumstances and risked danger and abuse for the chance at safety and a better life.
“I wanted to offer people who needed it welcome and shelter, and hopefully give them a different experience of this country than they might be getting through their interaction with hostile governmental institutions.”
And so a woman from Eritrea moved in.
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Heather said her main concerns beforehand were not knowing what to expect, and not knowing what their new guest would expect or need. She also wondered how they would communicate.
The couple were linked to the Eritrean woman via the charity Refugees at Home. They contacted the charity and decided to offer emergency accommodation for people who, suddenly and unexpectedly, found themselves destitute.
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Their guest from Eritrea was followed by young men from Afghanistan and then Algeria.
Heather’s initial worries were around not being able to communicate with her guests but she found understanding too well was also challenging. “Our two male guests spoke excellent English so we were able to talk to them about their experiences which was sometimes difficult. They were both suffering mentally and emotionally from what they had been through in their home country and leaving their families. Then here they had been stuck in the system for years, living in limbo, wanting to settle and contribute to life here but unable to and living with the threat of being returned.”
Heather said that what they all appreciated most was having a quiet, safe space. “We offered them use of kitchen and anything they needed from the cupboards but they nearly always ate with friends elsewhere,” she said.
“Our Eritrean guest didn’t speak any English, although she was working really hard to learn - attending different English language classes and different places every day. When she moved out into a room in a hostel her husband (who has been here longer and can speak English well) rang us to thank us very much for looking after her which was lovely. He said that we were part of their family now and would also be welcomed by them if we needed it which was very kind considering we’d never even met him!”
Heather, who was working as a school receptionist and administrator, and her husband, a civil servant, both in their early 40s, began hosting with the organisation Refugees at Home while they were living in London. Two years ago they moved to Norwich and would love to be able to welcome refugees again. “We are currently renting but if we are able to move to our own place then I would definitely like to host again,” said Heather. She said the three people she had hosted had left her with the impression that they were ‘proactive, hard-working people who wanted to be able to contribute to being in this country.’
Last year football star and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker hosted a refugee called Rasheed via Refugees at Home. He said it had been an excellent experience and he would like to host again. Heather said she and Andrew had enjoyed meeting people they would not otherwise have come into contact with, and hearing their experiences first hand. “I realise that the experience is not for everyone. However, for those who feel able to it feels empowering to do something practical and welcoming for someone else at a time when it is so easy to feel powerless and despondent about the world,” she said.
For now she teaches English as a volunteer with the Norwich-based charity New Routes, which helps refugees and asylum seekers integrate into the community.
“Obviously this is now all online but I used to go into their centre to teach one morning a week. It was energising and inspiring being among a big group of people from all over the world all working hard to learn what I now realise is a very difficult language,” said Heather. “They are always looking for more people who might be able to volunteer with them to either teach or help with online homework club or become mentors.”
To find out more about New Routes visit the Norwich Integration Partnership website here
To find out more about hosting a refugee or asylum seeker visit the Refugees at Home website.
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