When young refugee Aza fled to the UK, he found himself alone and disorientated – until the Red Cross stepped in and transformed his life.
Seventeen-year-old Aza*, who has no family in the UK, spoke very little English when he arrived and was facing all kinds of practical and emotional difficulties.
Things started looking up when Teresa, a Red Cross caseworker, was assigned to help the young man with the long and arduous process of settling in a new country. She remembers: “Aza had been given a house to stay in, but it was so run-down – and with no gas or electricity – that he wasn’t able to live there.
“He was also in a very difficult situation because the job centre expected him to look for work, but he didn’t really speak enough English to be able to get a job. He enrolled in an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class, but then couldn’t afford the bus fare to get there.
With Teresa’s support, the situation slowly started to improve. She added: “I arranged for Aza to have an interview to receive a community care grant, which meant he got some money to buy basic cooking utensils and bedding and curtains. Then I rang round and got his house connected to the water, gas and electricity supplies. I also helped him to understand the bills when they arrived – they were quite confusing and alarming to him at first!”
However, the difficulties continued as each new application or request for support resulted in further delays and bureaucratic wrangles. Teresa continued: “As we encountered each of these obstacles, I was worried they might stop Aza from attending the ESOL classes that were so important to his future. But instead I found he really grew in confidence, often making enquiries himself despite the language barrier.”
In the meantime, Teresa helped Aza to apply – and secure funding for – a yearlong ESOL course at a local college. After a prolonged struggle, she was also able to secure housing benefit, income support and an education maintenance allowance on his behalf.
It has been a long, hard road but, thanks to Teresa’s unflinching support, the young refugee is finally finding his feet. As Teresa put it: “For the next year at least, Aza will be able to support himself and remain in full-time education. Now he has hope for the future.”
*name changed to protect identity
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