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Supporting asylum seekers and refugees to volunteer with us

A highlight of important information and considerations for leaders and managers

At Scouts, we welcome people from all backgrounds to join the movement. Asylum seekers and refugees can often bring with them their own unique skill sets that everyone at Scouts can benefit from. However, we’re aware that they can often face some challenges when applying to become a volunteer. In particular when applying for a Disclosure check, which is required for the majority of volunteering roles within the Scouts. 

This guidance aims to highlight some important information and particular aspects leaders and managers should be aware of when welcoming asylum seekers and refugees as volunteers. 

Asylum seekers and refugees are allowed to volunteer in the UK 

According to the Home Office permission to work and volunteering for asylum seekers guidance, “volunteering can be undertaken at any stage of the asylum process” and “asylum seekers can volunteer whilst their claim is considered without being granted permission to work”. 

We should be mindful that there is a difference between the terms “volunteering” and “voluntary work”, as asylum seekers are not allowed to do voluntary work. 

In summary, this means that your volunteers should give their time freely, and shouldn't be paid for their volunteering time with Scouts. 

Volunteering can often be a lifeline for asylum seekers and refugees, offering them meaningful ways to spend their time, meeting people in their area, and building skills for a CV for working in this country - although it is worth remembering many asylum seekers and refugees will often have a wealth of experience already.

Applying for a disclosure might be challenging  

Asylum seekers and refugees can get a disclosure (DBS, AccessNI or PVG), however providing the right documents and address history might be challenging. There are three routes that applicants can follow, with different documents that can be used. 

If the potential volunteer doesn't have the paperwork for these routes, they could still get a DBS by providing their fingerprints at a local police station. However, please be mindful when exploring this option with someone, as some people may find this to be an intimidating and intrusive process. The Volunteer Centre Sheffield has produced some guidance on the fingerprint method. 

Due to the nature of the work we do at Scouts, requesting a disclosure might be necessary and unavoidable. However, there are some administration roles that don’t require a disclosure, and might be the right fit for asylum seekers and refugees who are interested in volunteering with us. Take a look at the Roles Table to check the roles that don’t require a disclosure.  

Tips on creating a welcoming environment 

At Scouts, we want to create a welcoming environment for every volunteer. There are some particular aspects you should be mindful of when welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, such as potential cultural differences and language barriers. 

To avoid miscommunications, try to be as clear as possible about everything, and explain things in detail. Remember that something that might be obvious for you, might not be obvious for someone coming from another cultural background. Be mindful that using sarcasm and acronyms might be a barrier for people who have English as their second language.

Try not to make assumptions about what an asylum seeker or refugee will think, understand, or know about any given situation. What we think we know may be based on inaccurate, cultural stereotyping and may cause barriers for them feeling accepted and welcome into Scouts. 

When making conversation, it might be ok to speak to someone about their home country and what they find different in the UK, but they might not want to talk about the reasons why they fled. This might be a personal and painful experience they might not want to share.  

Asylum seekers often have a low income due to their circumstances (which might include not being permitted to work), therefore you should also be aware of financial limitations. With that in mind, you can proactively explore ways to reduce volunteering costs, such as waiving membership fees and offering expenses. 

Resources for leaders

Guidance on talking to young people about war, conflict, refugees and peace.

Discover resources for leaders

Support organisations

UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency: information about the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker, and statistics about asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.  

The British Red Cross: help for young refugees and asylum seekers

Understanding the definitions

If you're not sure about the differences between the terms "refugee", "asylum seeker" and "migrant", read the article from Amnesty International explaining the definitions.