Refugees at Home guest Areej features as part of this Guardian piece on Great British Welcome, a study of refugees and their hosts across Europe.
The extract about Areej, and her new-found friendship with flatmates Emily and Gijs, is reproduced below, or you can click here to read the full piece.
Areej feels sorry for her flatmates Emily and Gijs. A refugee from Sudan, she was matched with them by the charity Refugees At Home, which connects refugees and asylum seekers with people with a spare room. “Most of the refugees are from Syria, and are amazing cooks,” says Areej, 31. “But I’m really bad.” Emily laughs: “I was hoping to learn some recipes,” she says.
The three have been living together for a year and a half. “Initially, we said Areej could stay for a couple of months,” says Emily, 30, “but we got on really well, so we extended that.” Now she is on the tenancy agreement and the three of them are official flatmates. Were they worried they might not have much in common? Gijs, 37, turns to Areej. “One of the things I thought was really striking was you asked, ‘Do I get my own key?’ I was like, of course.” For Areej, this took a bit of getting used to: “In my culture, as a female, you have to tell everyone in the house where you’re going and when you’re coming back. When I came here, I found there was no expectation, I just live my life.”
The other notable cultural difference that arose, she says, was when she realised after about four months that Emily and Gijs weren’t actually married. “It did allow us to have conversations about the cultural differences here,” says Emily – she is Australian, Gijs is Dutch. “We’re all foreigners.”
The couple put their names down with Refugees At Home around the time there was huge media coverage of the refugee crisis. “It’s easy to feel helpless,” Emily says. “If you take the politics out of it, it’s just people, and we felt we could do something positive.” She and Gijs were prepared to provide some level of emotional care, or help with navigating the benefits system. But Areej, who speaks perfect English and has a large social network, hasn’t needed that level of support. Through Emily, she found a job as an administrator and also works as an interpreter for a refugee charity. How would Emily and Gijs describe their relationship? “Friends.”