By Nora Peter, IFRC

For people who are seeking asylum in the UK, Life Skills courses are designed and delivered by peer educators who have themselves experienced the asylum process, as well as the ups-and-downs of adjusting to life in a new country.

“I’m happy to assist the newcomers because I didn’t get that kind of support when I arrived. When I came, there was no one to help me,” says Maria, a peer educator living in Cardiff.

So far Maria and the team of eight peer educators have delivered the course four times, helping welcome 58 asylum seekers to Newport and supporting them to adjust to their new lives.

As well as going in-depth into the asylum process, sessions also cover practical topics like healthcare and wellbeing, education, volunteering, state law and local orientation. English language classes are also available.

The courses provide a safe environment for asylum seekers to ask questions, engage in group discussions and collect important information and listen to migration and asylum experts.

“When planning the sessions, the Peer Educators ask each other:  what information do you wish you had known when you first moved to the UK? After that, we do online research on the topic, and engage with subject matter experts such as police officers and nurses,” explains Fiona Harvey, Project Manager at the British Red Cross, “and check information with local service providers to make sure it’s accurate. The group then meet again to come up with themes and activities to embed the learning.”

And this approach of drawing on advice from the real experts – people who have experienced the realities of being a refugee in the UK at first hand – seems to be paying off.

“We have had positive feedback both from peer educators and from participants,” Fiona adds.

Rose, a peer educator from Cardiff, understands only too well the importance of the role she and her colleagues have to play.

“People leaving their home countries to come to the UK know that their lives are going to change forever,” she says. “They need us to encourage them, to give them hope and guidance, so that they can find their peace of mind and start following the processes.”

The Life Skills courses are supported through the AVAIL (Amplifying the Voices of Asylum seekers and refugees for Integration and Life skills) project, part of a broader initiative involving Red Cross societies in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy and Latvia, funded by the European Union.