A visit to: Kent Refugee Action Network

Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) works with young people aged 16-24 who have arrived in Kent alone and who are seeking asylum.  The organisation is based in Canterbury but works across the county, providing emotional, educational and practical support to young people who have often led very turbulent lives and who, on arriving in the UK, may speak no English.

KRAN closely coordinates their efforts with other agencies including social services, the Red Cross and the Refugee Council, working collaboratively to support these young people whilst they wait for the outcome of their asylum claims – a process which can take more than a year.  Although they arrive from all over the world, speak different languages and are children of different cultures, KRAN fosters a supportive atmosphere which enables and encourages their young people to help one another.

With support from The Listening Fund, KRAN have been investigating how they can give greater agency to the young people with whom they work.  This has started with a Youth Forum but – as will be explained shortly! – it has grown quickly. We recently met with members of KRAN staff and the Youth Forum when they were on a team-building weekend and got some tips on what had made their listening work so successful:

1 – be open to change based on what you hear from your young people.  KRAN’s application to the Listening Fund had focused on establishing a consultative Youth Forum – a group which is now well-established and has a dedicated membership.  However, the principles of being listened to took root with alumni as well as the young people who currently use KRAN and staff – they wanted their voices to be heard too. KRAN have responded by expanding their board and their first former Young Refugee and Asylum Seeker (YRAS) Trustee has now been in post for six months.

2 – trust the young people with whom you are working.  Since establishing the Youth Forum in March 2018, KRAN’s young people have held meetings with their local MP, with Canterbury City Council, and with the local police force.  All of these are important relationships for KRAN and some organisations might have steered their young people towards different opportunities. But trusting the Youth Forum has not only reinforced these important relationships by allowing external agencies to hear first-hand about the challenges YRAS are facing in Kent and their proposed solutions; it has also demonstrated to KRAN’s young people that the organisation is serious about listening to them and giving them agency.

3 – develop a workable plan.  The list of problems that KRAN’s Youth Forum members are facing is long, complex and often quite different for each individual.  It would be easy for the Forum to spread itself too thin and to try and tackle too many issues. Instead, KRAN’s Youth Forum have found they have been able to make demonstrable progress by focusing on four areas: permission to work, family reunions, police harassment and emotional stress.  As a result, not only are key challenges being addressed, and not only does the Youth Forum have a manageable workload, but their successes are generating enthusiasm for more engagement, and for making their voices even louder.

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