Why refugees want to learn English

Posted on 25 May 2016

“Now I can say what I want to say; I’m not frightened to make mistakes and even when I do make mistakes, people are very helpful with us. They help me to say what I want.”

refugee pictureBan a refugee from Iraq is one of those who has spoken to Refugee Action on how important language skills are for refugees as they seek to integrate and to make their contribution to British society writes Mike Hough.

Polling conducted by Britain Thinks for Let Refugees Learn found 73% of people agree there are benefits to Britain and to local communities if refugees can speak English and that 91% of people polled believe refugees in the UK have a responsibility to learn English. This supports findings from British Future’s publication How to Talk about Immigration  that being able to speak English is the key to integration and a passport to full economic, social and democratic participation in our society.

The report shows refugees are keen to learn English but do face barriers to learning, with long waiting lists to access English courses for those eager to get on with improving their fluency in the language of their new home. Successive UK governments have repeatedly identified the benefits of being able to speak English with the Prime Minister stressing how important this is too:

“I think the most important thing in our country is we make sure everyone can take advantage of the opportunities in our country to work, to get training, to go to university. This is an opportunity country, but there is no opportunity for people if you don’t speak the language.”

If making this happen is something we can all agree on, then how can we make this happen? Let Refugees Learn suggests these steps:

  • Create a fund to specifically support refugees learning English.
  • Publish an ESOL strategy for England.
  • Ensure full and equal access to ESOL particularly for women.
  • Provide asylum seekers with the right access to free English language classes from the point they initially make their claim.
  • Put in place a national framework for community-based language support.

Let Refugees Learn issues a clear challenge on the ongoing importance of helping refugees to learn English and the benefits this will provide to the country as a whole. The challenge is now to ensure this goal is brought to fruition.

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