Advice for opening your home to refugees

A clinical psychologist and previous host offer some practical and emotional advice to people who are opening up their homes to Ukrainian refugees
Advice for opening your home to refugees

A family crossing the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Photos. 

CLINICAL psychologist Dr Marianne Trent, from Good Thinking Psychological Services (goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk), shares her advice on what to think about if you’re opening up your home to a refugee, as Ireland prepares to welcome people from war-torn Ukraine.

Consider communication

“There’s obviously a cultural and language barrier,” says Trent.

“Google Translate might be helpful here, or quickly trying to learn on Duolingo. There might be some cultural barriers, but you could also start thinking about drawing pictures with them, to try and bridge that communication gap.”

She adds: “It might be useful to learn a bit about Ukrainian culture” – and, if you can, source products they might be familiar with from home.

“People being repatriated have lost many of their constants – most of the things they are familiar and comfortable will have been left behind. 

"So think about ways to help them connect to their own ways of soothing – we’ve all got unique ways of soothing ourselves – that might be food that we like, it might be rituals and routine.”

Encourage them to talk

“People who have experienced trauma – often they might think they want to keep it to themselves, and others won’t manage hearing about what they’re thinking about,” Trent explains.

“But it can be really helpful to talk and stay open.”

A girl from Ukraine hands food to refugees at Przemysl train station in Poland. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Photos. 
A girl from Ukraine hands food to refugees at Przemysl train station in Poland. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Photos. 

She recommends asking questions such as: ‘Could you tell me something about you?’, ‘Tell me what things you like?’ or ‘What have you done for work?’ to get to know someone, and help them feel more comfortable opening up.

When someone has experienced trauma, “It can be really useful to write things down that you remember” – so Trent says: “You might find it’s useful to give the people staying with you paper, notebooks” so they can work through the things that might have happened to them.

“It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand it, because the processing” is the point of the exercise, Trent suggests.

Take practical steps

Consider the environment of your house: “Somebody who’s traumatised might find sudden noise and the unpredictable noise of a household a bit overwhelming,” says Trent, so you might want to think about “how you can try to make noise a little bit more balanced”.

She continues: “It will depend on individual households and trust levels, but make sure they know where the doors are, they have control of the doors, they can come and go when they want to, (and) they know how they can access the internet if they want to be able to stay in contact with people who are still in Ukraine – so they feel like this is a home from home, and they’ve got control within that setting.

“Help them feel soothed – encourage them to take care of themselves and eat, sleep, drink and rest – and know people aren’t going to be barging into their room and causing chaos, but this is their space and they’re welcome to use it how they want to.”

Give them purpose

“Feeling like you’ve got a sense of purpose can be really useful, and having that choice,” advises Trent. She recommends saying something like: “I won’t mind at all if you want to help with the cooking”, or “If you want to get out there and do the garden, feel free. Routine and structure can be really useful in helping people be functional… If they want to feel like they’ve got a role and a purpose and a function, then absolutely lean into that.”

Clinical pyschologist Dr Marianne Trent from Good Thinking Psychological Services. 
Clinical pyschologist Dr Marianne Trent from Good Thinking Psychological Services. 

Advice from someone who has hosted before

Pia McEwen, aged 59, originally comes from Finland, and currently lives in Dagenham, Essex, with her partner. She first welcomed an Afghan refugee into her home around 2017, and has since hosted three more people from Kuwait, Sudan and Albania. “They were no trouble at all,” she says.

Her advice for anyone hosting a refugee is: “Allow people their time to think and be sad. If a person wants to stay in bed all day, let them.”

She continues: “Sometimes, hosting people is a way of making friends for life.”

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