Alessandra CavalliDr Alessandra Cavalli writes about the work she does with the Refugee Council to provide psychological support to teachers.

In 2015 55 millions people were forcibly displaced worldwide. 23 millions were refugees, 10 millions were stateless people.  More than half a million unaccompanied minors looked for a home in Europe.

How can human rights be applied on this scale? What is the responsibility of the states to protect refugees?

While politicians are re-organising themselves in discussing these topics, and states are putting defence measurements in place to avoid having to face these issues internally, 38,000 refugees arrived in the UK last year, only 45% were granted asylum or refugee status.

The Refugee Council offers assistance in many ways to the refugees who arrive in London.  In particular English courses are offered to unaccompanied minors in order to prepare them to integrate in this country. This work is offered by volunteers.

Teaching English to unaccompanied refugees is very important: not only it is about giving them an entrance ticket to becoming eventually a citizen of this country through the language they are learning, but it is also creating a bridge between the lost past and the to be build up future.

While  teachers are engaged in this important process, they directly connect with the emotional world of the child. Some children come late to class because they do not sleep well, or have mood swings; they might be willing to learn the new language, but some of them cannot write, have never seen a pen. Some might be put in difficult states of mind when reminded of home, homes which don’t exist anymore. Others are afraid; they do not understand what is going on. They come from different countries, with different religions  and different stories: Afghanistan (escaping the Taliban), Egypt (belonging to a tribe which is persecuted), Vietnam (smuggled as cheep child labour in hashish farms in Britain, when they manage to escape), Syria (escaping the war), Albania (escaping family’s vendetta), Somalia.

In their writing exercises and their repeating of the grammatical rules, losses are hidden,  fears buried, smashed trust needs repairing.

The English teachers are absorbing this hidden, unspoken pain. In return they give enthusiasm, hope, and strength. Most of the children do not easily accept therapeutic consultations. The work of processing pain feels to close to the bones when foundation for the future have not yet been fully build up and no external security has been achieved. Although the work of the teachers has to remain in the boundaries of their job description, it is impossible not to relate unconsciously to what the child brings to class.

To offer these teachers therapeutic support is a way of thanking them for the work they are doing on one hand, and helping them to process, digest and transform some emotions they might be absorbing. Offering a space in which their experience can be talked about and make sense of.