June 15th – 21st is Refugee Week 2020, so we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate some stories from one of our own projects, Skem International and to hear about the difference that this project has made to the lives of some of our West Lancs asylum seekers and refugees.
When the Home Office started placing refugees and asylum seekers in Skelmersdale in 2015, people from across the town sprang into action. Lots of individuals also got in touch to see how they could help and this groundswell of support grew into a network. Many of the agencies worked in partnership with local people to organise welcoming activities, and weekly drop in support sessions. This grew into a new organisation called Skem International which runs two weekly support and guidance sessions for the families and individuals currently living in Skelmersdale.
In addition to support by local residents, organisations have been instrumental in helping to welcome and support the new arrivals. Cerys Smye-Rumsby at West Lancs CVS has worked with the new arrivals from the beginning, and The Junk Food Cafe, Faiths4Change, the Sewing Rooms, and Ormskirk Clocktower Rotary have all been heavily involved. Skelmersdale Library has also provided a warm welcome and meeting place for the new residents.
This week, some of the asylum seekers have told us what Skem International has meant to them:
I appreciate Skem International for their help and kindness they have shown me and others. I have never felt nostalgic about my home country since I have known Skem International. They have helped me a lot when I was potentially homeless and provided me with peace. These drop-ins provide one to one support and an opportunity to simply talk with others. For me they are like a family.
Soroush, from Iran
Nat Neal, from Eritrea, says:
The people in Skem International are very supportive and motivational to asylum seekers and refugees. I had been in Skelmersdale for more than two years and during that time I had a lot of home office cases, court appointments as well as interviews. With the help of the volunteers and the caseworker, I passed those times. I would like to say ‘thank you’ people of Skem International!
And Peiman, from Iran agrees:
Soon after I came to Skem in 2016, I met these wonderful people who organise run the Skem International Group. They’ve been extremely friendly and kind to me. I see them as my second family because they have helped me through a lot of hard times!
I could say I’m very lucky to have met these people who have supported me in every way they could, and I’m glad I could be a part of this group and support other refugees. I will never forget all the things they’ve done for me and will always appreciate it. Thank you and God bless.
Matthew is one of the local volunteers for Skem International. Here’s what Matthew has to say about his work:
I am a volunteer assistant caseworker who serves people seeking asylum currently living in West Lancashire. I am not a solicitor, nor a legal representative. I’m neither a psychologist nor a social worker. What do I do? I offer friendship, counsel and time to help people seeking asylum negotiate this part of their journey to find a place of safety and refuge in the UK. Many new arrivals understand little English and have no knowledge of how to access legal, health, or education services. The hostile environment which many refugees encounter can be very dispiriting. I use my privilege and skills to advocate on their behalf and help them to access the support they are due.
Finally, in this Refugee Week 2020, we round off our look at Skem Interational with this message from Cerys and Lawrence Smye-Rumsby:
We are sad that we cannot be together during this Refugee week due to national lockdown. We are still connecting with asylum seekers and refugees remotely. We are extremely grateful to our many volunteers for their commitment during the last 5 years. Special thanks go to both the library and the Ecumencial Centre for their support. We look forward to reconnecting with everyone in Skem International as soon as it’s safe to do so.