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Young refugees and asylum seekers learn life skills in Glasgow

10 July 2009

a photograph of young refugees and asylum seekers who took part in the Red Cross' Life Skills Course in GlasgowSarah ZadikThe British Red Cross is to receive new funding to continue its Life Skills course for young refugees and asylum seekers.

In partnership with the Bridges Youth Project,  the personal development course helps young refugees and asylum seekers develop life skills and get into education, employment and volunteering. Based at the Red Cross refugee services unit on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, the course has been running since January 2009 and has seen eight young people aged 16-25 complete the training.

The Red Cross’ Sarah Zadik said: “A lot of young refugees and asylum seekers arrive in Scotland on their own. Many can feel isolated and may not understand the systems and culture in the UK.

"This course helps them make positive choices about their future, but it’s also about supporting young people to regain their confidence and enthusiasm for life.”

Elio Ajmone, who heads up the Bridges Youth Project, explained: “Through the Life Skills course each young person has written their own personal development plan setting out what they want to achieve in their lives.

"We support them to make realistic and sustainable decisions about their future, like what career they would like to have, and then help them identify the steps they need to take to make that happen.”

As a result of the course, several young people have begun volunteering and now plan futures in law and nursing.


Mojdeh is 18 years old and comes from Iran. She has been in Scotland since May 2008 and lives with her mother.

She remembers: "I lived in Dubai for 17 years. Then we went to America and finally to the UK. In London our passports and money were stolen by the person who travelled with us and we were housed in Scotland."

"I was fleeing forced marriage to an older man but I wanted to finish my education. We are not able to return to Dubai or Iran because as we would be at risk."

Before taking part in the Life Skills course, Mojdeh says she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. "I was really quite confused. I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know what to do.

"Life Skills helped me realise that what I really want to do is study law and I’m looking into courses.

"Coming to the Life Skills course has been an adventure. We’ve been on trips to different places and found out about ourselves. Coming here every Thursday has been the best part of the week! It even gave me the confidence to volunteer with the Red Cross refugee unit in Glasgow three days each week."

Mudabbir Ahmad

Muddabir is 18 years old and originally from Pakistan. Due to a threat to his family’s safety, he was forced to leave his home country and arrived in Glasgow in August 2008.

The events of Mudabbir’s past, combined with the constant state of flux he has lived with since leaving Pakistan, have been hard to bear.

"Living in Saudi Arabia was frustrating as I became accustomed to my freedom, opportunity and prospects being limited by others," he says.

Since taking part in Life Skills however, Muddabir now feels more confident, assertive and aware of his own talents and abilities. "The best part of the course for me was discovering and exploring the qualities and the skills that I didn’t even know I had.

"Being able to work with others in groups was a new experience to me, but it has definitely helped improve my confidence, knowledge and interaction with others which will benefit me in the future."

Mudabbir feels the practical components of Life Skills have benefited him the most and will help him achieve his goal of studying astronomy at university.

"Life Skills has exceeded my expectations as I feel I am learning new things all the time which I can then apply to my life."

Birtukan Husen

Birtukan is 22 years old and comes from Ethiopia. She came to Scotland in 2004. She lives with her husband and two little girls, aged three and two.

Birtukan believes the most important thing about the Life Skills course is learning to speak up in a constructive way. She said: “For me, the best bit of the course was the debating and arguing. I never used to argue. I didn’t know how to challenge something.

"I didn’t care about my feelings, about me, and just worried about upsetting other people. But the course showed me that you can stand up for yourself without hurting somebody’s feelings.

"Before I didn’t talk or laugh but the course taught me to speak out.”

Now Birtukan is looking to the future: “I am studying a women’s empowerment course at the local community centre in Springburn and when my children are a little older I would love to study fashion design.”


Iqra is 18 years old and from Lahore, Pakistan and experienced domestic abuse from her father.

In Pakistan, Iqra and her mother would have been risking their lives if they tried to leave the situation, so she was forced to move to the UK in March 2008, settling in Glasgow.

Iqra’s past caused her anxiety and affected her ability to adjust to her new surroundings.

“The first thing the Red Cross did was to encourage us to focus in the present and future but not forget about the past,” she says.

“Thanks to the Life Skills course, I now feel I am able to take advantage of all the opportunities living in the UK gives me, which I never had the chance to consider before. The course has also helped me apply for a placement at a Radio Awaz FM as I would love to work as a presenter in the next few years.

"However in the future, my dream is to be an air hostess as that way I can meet people from different cultures every day.”

Iqra has gained so much from Life Skills she would recommend it to anyone in a similar situation.

“I now feel happy, focused on my future and much more comfortable living in Glasgow,” she says, before adding somewhat tongue in cheek, “I even like the weather.”

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