The Gateway Online Forum is an internet based resource enabling the exchange of experiences and knowledge between people at different stages of the resettlement process. It aims to give refugees a realistic idea of life in the UK and to exchange useful tips and information about the UK as a country of resettlement. Refugees’ in the country of asylum, waiting to be resettled, who have access to the internet, can ask questions of already resettled refugees. They can also refer to relevant information placed on the Forum by NGO staff, volunteers and refugees themselves. The Forum contains information under different headings including: - education, employment and volunteering, benefits and finance, health, housing, social and leisure, law, politics, economy and general information on travelling to the UK. Photos are used so that persons who do not read English can still benefit. Access to the Forum is secure and password limited to refugees who have been accepted onto the programme and are waiting to be resettled, those currently being supported or who have been in the past, NGO staff members and designated Forum volunteers. The Forum was created by a Steering Group of resettled refugees and NGO support staff and volunteers and is still being developed. The Forum is also being used by resettled refugees within the UK, sharing information and tips, for example, on where to buy certain foods. It was recently used by Bhutanese refugees who logged on from their camp to look at the area to which they would be resettled.
Many Iraqi refugees who arrived in 2008 came with unrealistic expectations of life in the UK and what the resettlement programme could offer. This was often due to incorrect, incomplete or misinterpreted information they had received pre-arrival and rumours amongst their peers. These unrealistic expectations caused dissatisfaction and in many ways delayed some people’s ability to begin integrating into their communities.
Lessons Learned for Setting up an Online Forum
✔✔ Recruit ambassadors' from each nationality group who have good English and IT and can develop the forum.
✔✔ Encourage refugees who have been resettled for a while to exchange information on topics at regular events. This will make the forum more attractive for people to interact
with as people will see it is being used.
✔✔ Hold an interactive online forum launch event for each arrival group and assist refugees to access the forum once in the country of resettlement, e.g. at their local library.
✔✔ Have as much content as possible on the forum for those with limited English, e.g. photographs and video. A forum can be a useful resource for practicing and learning English.
In general the Forum has required significant investment of staff time and it has been very important to be realistic about resources available, particularly in relation to staff and the capacity of partners to engage fully. There are often out-of-date or no email addresses for refugees on the pre-arrival case information, even though many refugees do have email addresses. This has made it difficult to make contact with people prior to arrival. Some refugees are not computer literate, do not understand English or simply do not have access to the internet before they arrive, therefore it is important that such a resource is not the only source of information for refugees.