While the couple felt nervous at the beginning, they got plenty of support from a Refugees at Home home visitor

Charles Dotou, Daniel Haimovich, and Amy Stringer

Charles Dotou, Daniel Haimovich, and Amy Stringer

A Bermondsey couple is one of just two households in Southwark to open their doors to homeless asylum seekers and refugees, writes Kirsty Purnell…

Amy Stringer and Daniel Haimovich have been sharing their home with a Senegalese doctor fleeing persecution for the past three weeks.

The couple felt compelled to help after seeing an article about the Refugees at Home (RaH) scheme, which links up hosts with refugees and asylum seeker guests, in a national paper last November.

“I’d heard about schemes like this in general for a while but when I read about RaH I just thought – we have to do this,” said Amy, 29, a social worker. “It’s an issue that is really close to my heart.”

It’s something that’s just so easy for us to do,” agreed Daniel, 31, “just a little help from local people like us can go a really long way. It’s nice to be able to offer people a little bit of friendliness.”

I have a lot of stories of people being refugees in my family, as well. People who survived the Holocaust and who were escaping anti-Semitism,” said the data scientist, originally from Israel.

While the couple felt nervous at the beginning, they got plenty of support from a Refugees at Home home visitor in the early days. “We’ve hosted couch surfers and Air BnB before but there’s a big difference between hosting tourists and people who’ve been through trauma and difficulty,” said Amy.

“The home visitor helped us talk through rules for the house and what to do if someone needs emotional support. It’s good because it gets you thinking through the actual emotional implications.”

After this, Amy and Daniel were sent information about people they could host, with details on country of origin, status and current circumstances. “They all just sounded really lovely,” said Amy.

They were linked with their first guest in December last year, who’s since re-located to Liverpool. Now, they have Charles.
“Me and Daniel get so much out of it. Every single guest has something interesting about them which I can bond with in some way. We share experiences, try their food and build a personal relationship,” she said.

“I cannot describe the joy I felt when I read Amy and Daniel’s letter to me,” said their current guest, Charles Dotou, 48. “When I saw it I thought – I need to find the strength inside of me to show them love.”

The Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist hopes to hear the outcome of his asylum claim – which has received over 3,000 letters of support from the medical and international community – this week.

“One day I will have the opportunity to give something back for the kindness I’ve been shown here,” he said. “In life, what goes around comes around.”

Refugees at Home was started by Nina Kaye, of Epsom, and her husband, in October 2015. They are entirely volunteer-led, run on zero budget and have made 360 placements around the UK since they started.

“We are desperate for hosts in London. Especially people who are happy to take men. Ninety per cent of our guests are males but people feel fearful of men,” said Nina.

“Everyone feels unsure at first and taking in a stranger seems difficult, but when you actually meet the person they stop being an asylum seeker or refugee and just become a person,” she said.

If you have a spare room and think that you could host a refugee or asylum seeker, visit www.refugeesathome.org

Charles Dotou

Charles Dotou