We Must End The Scandal Of Refugees Unable To Access English Lessons

02/03/2017 08:10 GMT | Updated 03/03/2018 10:12 GMT

Our new research finds that refugees are being forced to wait up to two years to access English language lessons.

At Refugee Action we passionately believe that refugees given sanctuary in Britain should have the right support to successfully rebuild their lives. A key part of that is access to English language lessons - learning English unlocks refugees' potential to make friends with their new neighbours, find work and volunteer.

But our survey of ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) providers finds that in many areas refugees are waiting more than a year for English lessons. For one provider the average wait is 20 months, with some learners waiting two years.

Waiting lists for ESOL lessons are stretching to more than 1,000 and providers say the situation is getting worse, with a huge reduction in Government funding making it impossible to meet growing demand. As a result of the harsh funding environment, colleges are being forced to increase class sizes, reduce the number of ESOL hours offered to learners and reduce childcare options.

Funding for English language lessons has been dramatically reduced over recent years so it is now less than half what it was eight years ago. The Government announced a £10m investment over five years in English language classes for resettled Syrian refugees, but this does not come close to closing the estimated £42m a year shortfall in overall funding that would enable all refugees to learn English.

The British public recognises the value in funding English lessons for refugees. A recent poll by Ipsos MORI finds 60% of Brits believe the Government should invest in ESOL provision for all refugees. A tiny minority of just 3% believe the Government should provide funding only to Syrian refugees.

Recent government reports, including the Casey review, commissioned by David Cameron, highlight how vital speaking English is to effective integration.

We speak to refugees everyday who are determined to learn English so they can start contributing to their new communities.

Nour, 24, was forced to flee Syria with his family when the civil war erupted, just as he was due to start his degree at Homs University. Ever since his father bought him his first computer as a mechanically-minded 12 year old, who liked to "take things apart", he says he has been passionate about technology and dreams of one day running his own software company like Microsoft.

Anyone who meets Nour is left in no doubt that he will achieve his ambitions. He benefitted from being able to start ESOL lessons soon after he and his family were resettled in Birmingham last year. He is now studying computer programming at Birmingham City University.

Learning English has meant Nour could get back to his studies and pursue his career goals. As part of our Let Refugees Learn campaign, we're asking the Government to ensure that all refugees have the opportunity to learn English so that they can start to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential. This isn't a handout - it's an investment in Britain's future. The cost of two years' of language lessons is effectively reimbursed to the taxpayer after an individual's first 18 months in work at the national average wage. Enabling refugees to learn English is good for individuals and the economy.

• Watch a short film we made with the creative agency Brickwall to try and give a sense of what it is like not to speak English, based on the real-life experiences of refugees: