Birkbeck welcomes Compass Scholars, 2020-2021

This year we welcomed 20 new scholars as part of the Compass Project, a scheme that helps refugees and asylum seekers access higher education in the UK. In this blog, Isabelle Habib, Senior Access Officer, Forced Migrants shares how the new students were introduced to Birkbeck and student life in London. 

Compass Scholars outside of the Malet Street building

Compass Scholars outside of the Malet Street building.

Over the summer, Compass said goodbye to its 2019-20 cohort of students, after what was a demanding but very successful year for the programme. Many of the students have now moved onto other opportunities within higher education or are embarking on work or volunteering placements. We are also pleased that a few of the students have been able to continue their studies at Birkbeck this term through the support of external sponsorship.

The Compass Project is now entering its fourth year at Birkbeck and we are delighted to welcome a new cohort of students this term, that’s 75 students and counting! After a rigorous application and selection process over the summer, the new scholars successfully enrolled and began their courses with us in October. They have already portrayed a great commitment to their studies by attending a variety of orientation activities. These activities have included a two-part induction on online learning where students were invited to participate in a mock seminar and an introduction to the wellbeing and disabilities services.

The scholars will be supported this year by the Compass Project team within the Access and Engagement Department and by academic mentors who were assigned to them in September. Mentors also participated in a start of term workshop that was coordinated by a compass alum, Michael, who delivered training on how to support students who come from forced migrant backgrounds during their studies. This workshop was very successful, and we are grateful to have students with such talent and commitment to compass amongst our alumni.

In addition to online activities, on the 9 October, the Compass Scholars were invited to visit the Birkbeck campus. During this visit, they were introduced to the facilities at Birkbeck and had the chance to meet one another as well as the Compass Coordinator, Isabelle, in person.

During the day, the students received a warm welcome address from Professor Stewart Motha, Dean of Law. Then they got the opportunity to get to know the Bloomsbury area a little better on a walking tour that was delivered by Dr Leslie Topp, Head of the Compass Steering Committee. They also heard from current Compass students about their experiences at Birkbeck. The students offered their top tips and guidance on settling in this term.

Overall, the day was a huge success and the students left feeling confident about beginning their studies and even more excited about embarking on this new journey with us. We wish them the very best of luck this year!!!

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Birkbeck teams up with Refugees at Home

Naureen Abubacker, coordinator of the Compass Project at Birkbeck, writes about the College’s partnership with charity Refugees at Home, which matches people with spare rooms with refugees and asylum seekers in need of a place to stay.

The Compass Project at Birkbeck launched in the autumn of 2017, providing 20 fully funded places on a university level qualification for 20 asylum seekers. This offers an opportunity to students to study for and gain a UK qualification, who would otherwise face a unique barrier to accessing higher education.

With few opportunities like this elsewhere in the UK for mature asylum seekers, The Compass Project has welcomed students living outside of London, including Wales, York and Birmingham – which would mean several hours of travelling in and out of London in order to attend class. As classes at Birkbeck take place in the evening, it has been important to find ways to support these students, ensuring that they have a secure place to stay and they aren’t travelling home late into the night. For others, their precarious status has meant that overnight they have found themselves homeless.

Through the wonderful work of Refugees at Home, a charity that brings together those with a spare room with asylum seekers or refugees who need a place to stay, it has been possible to support our students who live outside London, through temporary accommodation with local host families in and around London. The accommodation provided by Refugees at Home is invaluable and offers them a safe and welcoming home environment whilst they focus their attention on their studies.

Michael, a Compass Project student who is studying for the Certificate of Higher Education in Counselling and Counselling Skills, has been living with Refugees at Home hosts Hannah and Charlie since the Spring term Michael said:

“I had the pleasure of being hosted by Charlie and Hannah and it’s been such an awesome experience. Being here allowed me to enter the year 2018 in a loving home full of love and warmth; I am not exactly sure where I would be now if Charlie and Hannah had not come to my rescue. I have been able to continue with my course.

I first heard about Refugees at Home through Naureen, the Compass Project coordinator at Birkbeck, who made several enquiries and a request on my behalf to find secure accommodation, following a challenging time. That very same night when I thought everything was against me, Refugees at Home came to my rescue and sent me to a host’s house in London whilst they sorted out a more long-term place for me with Charlie and Hannah.

The help I have received has really been overwhelming. I have been supported, shown love and affection not just by Charlie and Hannah, but their respective families, Spergen, the dog, and friends. I am treated like a member of the family by those within this lovely community.

I am by far probably the worst guest in a long time as my mood has been going up and down like a yo-yo but through it all these guys have been amazing giving me space when I needed it and always being there to talk to and help me with any difficulty I might be facing.

For those being hosted by the wonderful people through Refugees at Home, here is my tip on being a good guest: learn as much as you can from your host and for you to share any knowledge or tips about anything with your host as this allows you to better understand and be understood. Above all open mind and love in your heart, you will never go wrong.”

Hannah talks about her experience of how she became involved with Refugees at Home and what it’s been like having Michael as a guest through the scheme:

“My husband and I have spare rooms in our house and had been wanting to host for some time. I came across Refugees at Home on Facebook and got in touch. A few forms, references and a house visit later and we were contacted about a couple from Eritrea who spoke no English and had been the country a very short while. Fortunately for them, they found more permanent accommodation before they came to us. Then we were contacted about Michael. It is fair to say Michael is not the type of person we were expecting to host as a refugee – which just goes to show all stereotypes should be blown out of the water when it comes to those seeking asylum. Michael has been in the UK for over 20 years and through a series of unfortunate events and system failures has slipped through the net and is still awaiting leave to remain.

Having Michael with us has been more like having a friend to stay. He’s easy going, full of interesting facts and stories and a fantastic cook. He has been a huge support and help to another refugee we host who does not know English or the UK system well- Michael has been able to work with us to guide him through.

We’ve found hosting to be a real joy and have learnt the support of our community through it- we’ve been given bikes for everyone to get around, invites for our two guests to meals, birthday parties and cups of tea. A group from our church even wanted to give our guests Christmas presents and made up Christmas hampers for them.

It takes a while to settle into hosting if you’ve not done it before. Learning each other’s daily routines, figuring out how to do the shop (we have a list app), finding the balance between wanting guests to be at home and be autonomous in how they live, while being able to live your own life as well. But our every growing, slightly unconventional family has enjoyed working out these ways of living with others.

We have learnt the importance of time, patience and listening and have had our eyes opened to a whole world of navigating systems and of backstories of other people’s lives that we might have touched the surface of previously but never fully understood.

If you have a spare room in your accommodation I would highly recommend you consider hosting, even if for a short time!”

The success of the students on the Compass Project who have found accommodation through Refugees at Home would not have been possible without the support of this incredible organisation. To find out more about Refugees at Home and to become a host, please visit: www.refugeesathome.org

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