Rhiannon's story

I studied English Literature at university and was considering going into photojournalism. However, I changed direction in 2016. A friend’s dad was running a volunteering group in a refugee camp in Cyprus, where many of the refugees were Palestinians. I decided to go over and volunteer. I remember speaking to the people in the camp about their journeys through Lebanon, and the horrific conditions they were living in. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to work with asylum seekers.

When I came home, I finished my degree and applied for a master’s degree in humanitarian action and peace building. I knew I wanted to work for a charity that supports asylum seekers. In 2018, I volunteered at the immigration removal centre at Heathrow airport, becoming a social visitor for a Nigerian man who was there. I then applied to be on the independent monitoring board, overseeing the standards at the centre.

Then, I joined the Jesuit Refugee Service, working in their communications team. I’d watch and write about debates at Westminster and try and raise awareness of issues affecting refugees, but I wanted a more hands-on role so I could see the difference I was making.

After a botched attempt at teaching in Hong Kong (thanks, Covid-19!), I decided to apply to become an advocate with Hestia’s Modern Slavery Response team. In July 2020, I got the job.

I love it. For my clients, I think it’s the little things that matter, like receiving a hamper of toiletries that’s wrapped up nicely, so they feel special. I recently took one man I support to a job seekers appointment and I showed him the Tower of London on the way and gave him a history lesson on Henry IIV. It’s about helping them to establish a new life here in the UK.

Most of the people we support are lonely and isolated. I’m pleased to be able to alleviate that suffering, even if it doesn’t take it away fully.

The other day, one of the women I support said that I am like her UK sister.

It’s hard not to let their stories and experiences impact you as they have been through traumatising things. I have to make sure I take care of myself and give myself time with a good book, a bath or a glass of wine.

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to go into the legal side of the sector. I was helping one woman to make a fresh asylum claim and had to attend lots of legal appointments with her. I found it really interesting.

This year, I’m starting the preparation to become an immigration lawyer.

It’s a long course – it will take about four years for me to qualify. The goal would be to become a solicitor in a detention centre, maybe in Lebanon. I’ve been shown around the refugee camps in Beirut before, and would like to go back and help out there. I plan on continuing my work with Hestia while I train.

I’m always surprised by the sheer resilience of the people I support. They are the strongest people. Several of the women I support are my age, and they are bringing up children and adapting to living on such little money. Most of them navigate living here without knowing English.

Many people still think victims of modern slavery and asylum seekers are here for an easy life. They aren’t; they are fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty. They just want to work and contribute here in the UK.

One man I support has a degree and had a business in his home country and wants to set up one here. Another dreams of opening her own bakery. One is an incredibly talented drummer.

Their aspirations for the future inspire me.

Which film has impacted me the most and why?

Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s artistically beautiful and you become totally immersed in the characters. It inspired me to go to Japan for three weeks. I also love The Great Gatsby and La La Land.

Which book has impacted me the most and why?

I read about a book a week. I love George Orwell and 1984 is my favourite. I enjoy dystopian literature, but 1984 isn’t even dystopian, as we are currently living through it. Everything we do is being watched. We are in a surveillance state. In America, 1984 actually sold more copies the week after Donald Trump became president than ever before.

Which song has impacted me the most and why?

Skinny Love by Bon Iver. The first time I heard it was at a silent rave and I cried. It’s a beautiful song.