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Stories from our Community: Helen

Helen Kidan works for Bristol Hospitality Network and is a trustee of Bristol City of Sanctuary. She had many years of experience volunteering in Human Rights advocacy roles; including co-founding ‘Horn Human Rights’ in 1998 and Eritrean Youth in 2003. Our intern, Daisy Robins, recently spoke to her about her experience seeking sanctuary and her current work to support those seeking sanctuary in Bristol. We also discussed her ideas on the factors shaping our current and future conversations surrounding people seeking sanctuary, such as the climate crisis, as well as what Bristol is getting right and what more the city could be doing to foster a culture of welcome and inclusion. 


How does your personal experience inform the work you do? 

Coming to the UK at such a young age, and before the Hostile Environment, meant that my experience was quite different to those I work alongside. However, being a child growing up in an area of conflict exposed me to things that no child should be exposed to, and meant I had a very different experience from the average child in the UK.

Whilst the Hostile Environment has marked a huge step backwards in supporting those seeking sanctuary,  there have been some areas of progress. There is now more mental health support for those suffering trauma as a result of their experiences, and increased support and recognition of conditions such as PTSD. This kind of support was much harder to access for my parents, and social attitudes meant that conversations about mental health were rare.  Many Bristol organisations now provide trauma support and counselling, which is so vital for the wellbeing of people in our community.

A global response

It is important to remember that the refugee crisis is not just a UK issue, but a global one – and therefore calls for a united global response. The issues which lead to people needing to seek sanctuary are global, and we are going to see a substantial rise in people seeking sanctuary due to the climate crisis. Issues such as rising sea levels will lead to displacement and also contribute to further conflict over increasingly restricted resources, yet climate change as an exacerbator of the global refugee crisis is not something which is being adequately considered by governments.  

What Helen likes about Bristol, and how the city could better embed welcome. 

Bristol has a different feel to other places; it has a sense of vibrancy and a vibrant refugee community. There is better cooperation, which is a credit to its hard working organisations and people. Whilst Bristol is smaller than other cities, it is a young city – which I feel contributes to Bristol organisations being more open to ideas. The city also has a better sense of community than other cities I have experienced. 

However, there are also changes we could make to see welcome better embedded in Bristol. A significant gap exists in supporting people seeking sanctuary in the transitory period between receiving their documents and being truly settled in their new home, and many people between these stages fall through the gaps in what organisations provide. They may still need support with accessing resources or having enough food, or support in tackling loneliness.  Whilst there are organisations providing support during this period, it remains a significant issue that must be considered if we want to embed welcome better in our community.



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