Listening to and learning from Ukrainian refugees

The Being and Belong project has sought to shift the burden of integration from those who arrive in a new country, to those who welcome newcomers to their country.

In June, WONDER hosted a conference focused on the integration of Ukrainian refugees to the UK. WONDER has consistently championed the rights of refugees and asylum seekers through projects like Being and Belonging, along with our partners: Sursum in Slovenia, PONTES in Poland, Canfranc in Spain and KIB in Latvia.

Listening to and learning from refugees

Our Being and Belonging project has focused on young people’s approaches to the issue of refugee integration. A recurrent theme of the conference was listening to the needs of Ukrainians: what are they asking for?

During discussion groups amongst young members of our partner organisations, many stated that a key step to integration was to view refugees as more than just a label. In other words, to truly welcome someone it is necessary to see them as a full human being, with differing needs. This means that a one-size-fits-all approach will ultimately fall short. Cross cultural communication is crucial to assess what we can do to ease Ukrainian integration.

Many of the discussion groups identified language as an important aspect of integration. Helping individuals learn the language of their host country is one obvious way to welcome refugees. In the spirit of Being and Belonging’s mission to shift the burden of integration from being solely on refugees, some young people suggested learning basic phrases in Ukrainian. This would break the language barrier and help people feel at home in a foreign country. Marta Mulyak, head of the London branch of Plast National Scout Organisation of Ukraine, said that showing a keen interest in Ukraine and its history is a way of showing solidarity.

Other activities suggested focused on practices that can be shared beyond language. Cooking classes, singing and dancing lessons, and craft sessions were all examples used to show that we can make people feel welcome without explicitly referring to their refugee status. This would help them retain some sense of normalcy in an extremely traumatising moment.

Helping those still in Ukraine is another way of showing those who move here that we care. Organisations like Marta Mulyak’s, as well as British-Ukrainian Aid, headed by Dr. Natalia Tronenko, have been supplying medical aid to Ukrainians. Both stated that volunteering is a crucial way to show solidarity to those in Ukraine and those who have fled.

How can young people volunteer effectively?

Being an effective volunteer is crucial. David Coles of the London School of Economic’s Volunteer Centre explains that people need to rethink how they help. Volunteering is not about you alone, but rather about those you are helping. Understanding the privilege matrixes we operate in with regards to refugees is necessary before volunteering to help them. He suggests moving from empathy to sympathy, viewing being a refugee as a small part of their life and accepting “to be the sidekick rather than the main character.”

However, making sure you volunteer effectively is very important. Dr Tronenko recounted a time when someone offered her charity 23 bags of clothing but insisted that British-Ukrainian aid had to collect it if they wanted it. This type of help is distracting charities from their work and makes everyone less helpful. Attending protests, writing to members of parliaments, and organising fundraisers are all ways to dedicate some of your time to helping the integration of Ukrainian refugees to the UK.

Seeing young people discuss these issues so passionately is inspiring. Reflecting on how we can help others without placing ourselves at the forefront means that we can shift from a one dimensional approach to integration to one in which national populations and migrants flourish. We hope that conferences like this, and the work of WONDER, encourage us all to work with migrants to help integration and create a true sense of belonging.

Author: Fflur Jones

Corporate volunteering in London Team building

Corporate Volunteering at WONDER Foundation

WONDER Foundation hosts a variety of corporate volunteering days throughout the year, partnering with organisations and businesses that support our mission and goals.