Tips for opening your home to refugees

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

Remember to communicate

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

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

She adds, “It might be helpful to learn a bit more about Ukrainian culture” – and, if you can, pick up some products they might be familiar with from home.

“Returnees have lost many of their constants – most of the things that are familiar and comfortable to them will have been left behind.

“So think of ways to help them connect to their own ways of self-soothing – we all have unique ways of self-soothing – it could be the food we love, it could be rituals and a routine.”

Encourage them to talk

“People who’ve been through trauma — often they might think they want to keep it to themselves, and others won’t be able to hear what they’re thinking,” Trent says.

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

A Ukrainian woman gives food to refugees at the Przemysl train station in Poland. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Pictures.

She recommends asking questions like, “Can you tell me something about yourself?”, “Tell me what things do you like?” or ‘What did you do for work?’ get to know someone and help them feel more comfortable opening up.

When someone has experienced trauma, “it can be very helpful to write down things that you remember” – so Trent says, “You might find it helpful to give people who are staying with you paper, notebooks” to so they can work on the things they remember. may have happened to them.

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

Take practical steps

Consider your home environment: “A traumatized person might find sudden noise and the unpredictable noise of a house a little overwhelming,” says Trent, so you might want to think about “how you can try to make the noise a little more balanced”. ”.

She continues: “It will depend on individual households and trust levels, but make sure they know where the doors are, that they have control of the doors, that they can come and go whenever they want, (and) that they know how they can access the internet if they want to be able to keep in touch with people who are still in Ukraine – so they feel like they are at home and they are in control within that.

“Help them feel peaceful – encourage them to take care of themselves and to eat, sleep, drink and rest – and know that people are not going to burst into their room and cause chaos, but it is their space and they are welcome to use it as they wish.

Give them a purpose

“Having a sense of purpose can be very helpful, and having that choice,” Trent advises. She recommends saying something like, “I won’t mind if you want to help cook,” or “If you want to go out and garden, go ahead.” Routine and structure can be very helpful in helping people be functional… If they want to feel like they have a role, purpose and function, then definitely lean into that.

Clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Trent of Good Thinking Psychological Services.
Clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Trent of Good Thinking Psychological Services.

Advice from someone who has hosted before

Pia McEwen, 59, is 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 others from Kuwait, Sudan and Albania. “They weren’t a problem at all,” she says.

His advice to anyone hosting a refugee is: “Give people 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 to make lifelong friends.