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.

Afia, 30, a mother from South Sudan living in Poplar with a newborn baby, was matched with Fiona, a mum of two in Barking.

On her experience, she said: “It is really very positive. It has given me company and the listening ear. Fiona tries to engage you. Sometimes you have nobody to talk to. It’s really helpful in terms of emotional support, spiritual even. I really appreciate it.”

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Fiona said: “She is such a lovely woman – just meeting her has been the best thing.”

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.

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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 went on to explain that for many refugees the only British people they meet are in positions of authority so they don’t get to know normal British people.

“It’s often difficult for either side to meet,” she said.

But she said there is an urgent need for volunteers in east London where many refugees are settled. To date the charity has had calls to help more than 30 refugees living in east London – about 40 per cent of its total – and “more coming in all the time”, according to Ms Elwes. But the charity has only two befrienders in the whole of the east end - one in Barking and one in Romford.

Ms Elwes said: “A lot of our volunteers are passionate about where they live and are pleased to show people around. They give people a great impression.”

The charity 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 visit the charity’s website.

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