Refugees and People Seeking Asylum Project (RAAS Project)

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. In 2021, the UK received 48,540 asylum applications which is a 63% increase relative to the previous year and the highest number for almost two decades. As of mid-2021 there were 135,912 refugees, 83,489 pending asylum cases and 3,968  stateless persons in the UK.

However, for the individuals in such situations, coming to the UK can be fraught with challenges (Callaghan, Yemane, & Baynham, 2019). Whilst there is a lot of help and support available for them, from statutory bodies, voluntary organisations, and community groups, there is a lack of support for volunteers to understand the challenges of cross-cultural transitions and learning.

To help address this challenge, SIETAR UK launched a new project in 2018, where a training program and training materials were designed to help enhance the intercultural understanding and competencies of those working with and supporting refugees and person(s) who seek asylum (RAAS), in whatever capacity or organisation, so that their work may be more effective.

In doing so, we base our work on the bi-dimensional acculturation model introduced by Berry (1997) and its adapted version for cultural majority members proposed by Lefringhausen and Marshall (2016) – that is, mutual acculturation (changes in one’s cultural identity, values and behaviour due to intercultural exposure/contact) between volunteers and RAAS members can take place and that following an integration strategy (i.e., maintaining one’s heritage culture as well as adopting a new culture) by volunteers will ensure the most beneficial outcomes for themselves and the RAAS members they support.

Why the RAAS project

  • To make use of SIETARians expertise to support RAAS and their volunteers: for volunteers a) to improve their work with RAAS members (e.g. support their integration) and b) to become/remain long term volunteers (to reduce intentions to leave their role)
  • Opportunity for experienced trainers to explore new fields
  • Opportunity for inexperienced trainers to support experienced trainers
  • Opportunity to apply the latest intercultural competence/acculturation research

What are the goals of the RAAS project

Our goals are to support volunteers in becoming even better at what they are already doing by advancing their knowledge and skills in:

  • Sharing experiences and expertise with intercultural experts and fellow volunteers
  • Gaining insights into cultural journeys of RAAS
  • Learning efficient communication skills when using English with RAAS
  • Understanding and diminishing bias and stereotyping
  • Consciously choosing your own cultural journey strategy as a volunteer
  • Gaining skills to improve your well-being and motivation as a volunteer

How are we addressing the goals of the RAAS project

We address our goals in several ways:

  • A 3 x 3.5h online training program across 3 weeks
  • Extra materials to support volunteers during and after the training program (Exercise book for Volunteers and RAAS, Intercultural communication booklet, Hidden Assumptions/Unconscious bias booklet, and a Resources in the UK booklet for RAAS)
  • Extra one-off sessions to address current refugee crises (e.g., Afghanistan, Ukraine)
  • A private Facebook group for all volunteers who attended our training program with weekly exercises and materials to ensure ongoing learning
  • Connecting with other SIETARs to encourage them to start their own RAAS projects (e.g., see the SIETAR Swiss project led by Anne-Claude Lambelet
Download Intercultural Awareness: A Training Handbook for Volunteers and Refugees (Version 1)

Goals for 2022

  • Recruiting new members for the Community Development committee: you should have an interest in intergroup relations, be a SIETAR UK member, have some training experience or want to gain some (especially in the field of anti-racism training) or you are working as a volunteer supporting RAAS members in the UK; please get in touch with lefringhausen@hw.ac.uk or raas@sietar.co.uk
  • Revising and improving the created training program on the basis of feedback from multiple volunteer organisations, the committee’s expertise and volunteers’ feedback
  • Running free training sessions for charity partners and volunteers in 2022: https://forms.gle/FPfueafQWxtRrz1HA
  • Revising and improving the free Exercise Book for Volunteers and Refugees
  • Providing a one-day training session particularly for volunteers who support RAAS members form the Ukraine
  • Encouraging other local SIETARs to start their own RAAS projects

Become a Sponsor or Charity Partner

We are looking for sponsors and volunteer organisations who would like to enable us to deliver a free workshop in specific areas in the UK. Specifically, we aim to cover the travel and some work expenses for our intercultural trainers who will deliver the session as well as require a free of charge facility where the training can take place. If you are interested, please contact Dr Katharina Lefringhausen k.lefringhausen@hw.ac.uk or raas@sietar.co.uk

Join the Community Development Committee

SIETAR UK is also still looking for anyone to help us move the project forward. If you are interested in volunteering some of your time, experience and enthusiasm into being involved with this exciting work, please contact our Director of Community Development Dr Katharina Lefringhausen: k.lefringhausen@hw.ac.uk or raas@sietar.co.uk

Our volunteers

Dr Katharina Lefringhausen (Community Development Director)

Dr Katharina Lefringhausen (Community Development Director) is an Assistant Professor at the Heriot-Watt University, Department of Psychology. She worked previously at the University of Warwick as an Associate Professor. She has profound knowledge in the acculturation literature and how to assess training methods and outcomes in a scientifically rigorous way. She joined the Community Development Committee in 2018, designed and delivered intercultural awareness training for volunteers, co-authored the Training Handbook for Volunteers and Refugees and examined the training impacts on volunteers as part of a funded research pilot via the University of Warwick. Now, Katharina is supporting the revision of the training materials, will support the delivery of any training sessions as well as examine the delivery strategy and training outcomes.   

Karim Aref

Karim Aref is a former assistant lecturer from Egypt with a MSc in Sustainable Operations and Management from the University of Bradford. He is interested in the intersectionality of cultures, development, and integration.

Polly Collingridge

Polly Collingridge is a certified intercultural trainer (having completed The Interchange Institute’s ‘Crossing Cultures with Competence’ program) and in 2018 obtained an MSc in Cross-Cultural Psychology from Brunel University. She currently works part-time for Parental Choice, an agency focused on enhancing employee wellbeing where she assists relocating families with various aspects of their orientation to a new country. Polly has also co-written an intercultural communication guide for the London based charity Refugees at Home.

Dr Nelli Ferenczi

Dr Nelli Ferenczi is a Lecturer in Psychology and a member of the Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London. As a cross-cultural social psychologist, Nelli is interested in applying a cultural lens to identity, our close relationships, how we engage with others, and groups. Her research interests include the construction and maintenance of bicultural and multicultural identity, and understanding the impact of marginalisation on wellbeing and the self. Nelli is currently part of D.Rad, an EU Horizon 2020 project. Especially Nelli’s insights on cultural marginalisation, bicultural identity, belonging and social exclusion, and experiences of prejudice and discrimination,  benefit the RAAS project’s content development.

Eila Isotalus

Eila Isotalus is an experienced trainer of intercultural competence, having her own business Unidos Oy (Ltd.) since 2005. She has worked extensively in personnel development for organizations in private, public and third sectors generating learning processes of intercultural competence, anti-racist and inclusive pedagogy, language and cultural awareness. She has published also a guide on intercultural competence development for service encounters. She received her MA in Intercultural Communications and Intercultural Relations (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) and is currently doing her doctorate degree in Sociolinguistics (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) based on her ethnographic fieldwork at asylum centres. For the RAAS project, she will support developing trainings further to respond to the needs of the volunteers and refugees, and specifically enhancing the anti-racist framework.

Anissa Lamrani

Anissa Lamrani is a certified trilingual intercultural trainer (LTS Training and Consulting in Bath and SIETAR France). She also holds an MA in Multilingualism, Linguistics and Education from Goldsmiths University of London and an MA in TESOL, Vermont, USA where she taught political refugees and immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe. Her experience includes training business expatriates in France for several years. She currently teaches academic English in the UK HE to international students and French and Arabic to business people. Anissa also writes and translates language and intercultural articles focusing on Arabic speakers learning English and North African cultural customs and traditions.

Domna Lazidou

Domna Lazidou is a consultant, trainer and academic with an interest in communication, collaboration and leadership in diverse teams and multicultural organisations. Originally from Greece, Domna is based in the UK and works internationally with a range of public and private sector organisations. She also teaches about the intercultural field including intercultural communication, teamwork skills and leadership at Warwick University and Southampton Solent. Thus, her insights as a practitioner but also academic benefit the development and delivery of the RAAS project.

Caroline Lowish MA Ed MBA DMS CIM fCMgr FHEA

Caroline Lowish MA Ed MBA DMS CIM fCMgr FHEA is an educational interculturalist and experienced academic in the subject areas of management and marketing. As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln, she developed the Intercultural Transition Programme (which she managed for 3 years) to support the international student transition into the UK, nurturing a sense of respect of understanding of cultural difference and a ‘Sense of Belonging’. Caroline successfully managed the I-CTP over a 3 year period as well as added the training on ‘Global Culture Lens’ to students transitioning into overseas study. Caroline now teaches at Chongqing Business and Technology, embedding the notion of intercultural competence within the modules she teaches.

Janina Neumann

Janina Neumann is a bilingual graphic designer, intercultural management trainer, and business owner of Janina Neumann Design. JND is a bilingual design company, helping clients create a social impact in the UK and abroad. Working with charities, councils and think tanks, Janina helps clients communicate their message equally effectively across different languages and cultures. Janina speaks English and German fluently and has a keen interest in learning new languages, including French and Farsi. She looks forward to being a part of the SIETAR refugee project team.

Linda Pilling

Linda Pilling is an experienced intercultural trainer with a background in public policy and international business. She was lead officer for the North of Scotland in developing the Kosovar Refugee Resettlement program and a “Community Collaborative” volunteer in Houston, Texas with the International Rescue Committee of New York. Among achievements in this field are co-developing guidelines for the Scottish Executive on the correct use of interpreters and setting up the Afghan Women’s Support Group in Houston. Linda has lived and worked in the US, France, UK, Singapore, Kazakhstan and Venezuela as well as holds several qualifications in the intercultural field (e.g., BA German (Hons), London University; PG Certificate in Applied Linguistics as well as Certificate in Working Across Cultures, The Open University; and the Berlitz Certified Cultural Navigator).

Janice Prentice

Janice Prentice is a project manager and consultant with a strong interest in intercultural communication and the wider diversity and inclusion agenda. She brings commitment to better outcomes for refugees and volunteers supporting them combined with experience of working with an employment and enterprise charity which supports refugees and managing consultancy projects with government organisations, especially those which focus on equality diversity and inclusion.

Susan Trunkis

Susan Trunkis a marketing professional who most recently worked at one of the Big Five Tech firms until her husband’s career relocated them from the US to the UK. This move has provided her the seed for her second career studying intercultural communication. She is also a refugee, expat, and third culture kid and currently raising two third culture kids. She has her Masters in Business from Seattle University.

John Twitchin

John Twitchin is Director of the Centre for Intercultural Development. Brought up in a refugee centre, John had a long career as senior producer in BBC TV Continuing Education Dept., in charge of intercultural output. He has produced a range of training documentary films on the awareness and skills of intercultural communication – first broadcast by BBC. John can contribute to making of training video; to developing e-learning methods; to running training workshops on social inclusion for managers and front-line staff of public services and voluntary agencies.

Former members

Marta Monedero-Afonso, originally from Spain, is currently finishing her MA in Intercultural Communication and Education (Durham University) whilst already holding a MA (Hons) in International Relations and Sociology (University of Aberdeen). Before embarking on her studies, she completed a Civil Service programme as a communication manager and an intercultural project assistant in the association Concordia in Lyon (France). Her role included drafting, organisation and facilitation of one international workcamp and one Erasmus + Youth Exchange about cultural diversity, stereotypes and discrimination. She now looks forward to contribute to the SIETAR refugee project.

Zahra Shikara is a UK born Muslim to Iraqi immigrants, translator/interpreter. Has lived in the Gulf for 13 years. Great understanding of the Arab culture. Zahra is an Intercultural Consultant specializing in Iraq, the Arabian Gulf, Muslim identity, the Arab/Muslim diaspora, and being third culture. Through coaching and training she likes to guide people to have tough conversations, create awareness, and work towards cultures of belonging and engagement as well as constructive communication. She also specializes in developing museum narratives in Arabic and English having worked on the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha and the National Museum of Qatar. Zahra practices martial arts and yoga and is a student of permaculture.

Libby Small is an Intercultural Communication MA graduate and an English language teacher. She currently works for an arts university assisting international students with their English and academic skills and delivering cultural awareness sessions to staff. During her MA she developed a keen interest in the migrant and refugee experience and has also worked and volunteered for refugee charities. Recently, she worked for a London-based charity coordinating community projects and free legal advice sessions as well as recruiting volunteers.

Jaye Sundal is a qualified social worker and has worked in the Refugee and Migrant sector for the last few years. Previously being employed by Refugee Council and British Red Cross, Jaye has worked with a range of different beneficiaries and supported them with their new life in the UK. He now is the No Recourse to Public Funds Navigator for Rough Sleepers in Coventry. He has had the opportunity to lecture about Refugee Resettlement at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich and has been apart of Social Work conferences – discussing topics around Refugees and person(s) who seek asylum, across Europe.