Working with Refugees in Gloucestershire

Year 12 Work Experience Week took place after Spring Half Term, giving all students the opportunity to engage in meaningful work experience. As part of the process, students had to arrange their own placements, with support from school. Taking up places in a huge range of industries, from finance to law, from medicine to engineering, from charity work to politics. Feedback from the employers was excellent and highly valued as a concrete influence on the students’ future career decisions.  Anna tells us of her time with GARAS:

“When we were first told about work experience, I immediately knew I wanted to do something with Politics, particularly within human rights and perhaps law. I struggled to think of places to get in contact with until I thought of charities.

While not at first the most obvious route, it turned out to be one of the best decisions. I started emailing women’s charities and refugee charities because those two areas are ones I was interested in. It was then that I discovered GARAS, which stands for Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Within a few days, I was lucky enough for the Director, Adele Owens, to reply and allow me to join for work experience.

After only a few hours there, I quickly learned that it was not only going to be work experience but an invaluable life experience too. Throughout my time there, I talked at length to all the employees and volunteers that worked there, each with a passion for helping others. I learnt how government policies have affected their work at GARAS and how they are getting increasingly harsh (particularly after the Nationality and borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Immigration Act 2023). These Acts have had devastating consequences on those seeking asylum. However, undoubtedly the most impactful experience of being at GARAS was my interactions with the refugees and asylum seekers.

At one point, I got to talking with an 18 year old boy, who had sought asylum in the UK from Afghanistan at only 16, just a few months younger than I was. Looking into his eyes and communicating was a very emotional experience for me and really lifted the veil on reality and provoked me to question my outlook on life. Another day, I was put in charge of two guys who were seeking asylum and needed help whilst on the migrant hotline. Despite language barriers, we had a long, lively chat and it felt so great to have made, what is a very long and horrible process for them, even that slightly bit better, with a friendly smile and a cup of coffee. These experiences allowed me to look beyond the politics textbook and the sensationalised headlines and they were a real insight into reality of the lives of asylum seekers and refugees.

Alongside all this, I learnt the roles of the workers there; to advocate for their clients when they had been denied their rights and to be a kind face along their journey. What struck me most was the amazing community there; these people have faced harrowing experiences and yet still their friendliness and kindness endured, and with the help and support of the workers there at GARAS they have a chance at starting a life here in the UK.

At the end of my time at GARAS, I only grew a sense of injustice and anger at the government and it sparked a passion to pursue a career that revolves around helping those in critical need. If you like me feel this way, or are at all curious about how government legislation really affects people and human rights, I would absolutely encourage you to do the same and seek out work experience at a charity in an area that you feel passionate about.  This was not just work experience, but an invaluable experience that has had an irreversible effect on me and my outlook on life, and is something I believe everyone should pursue.”