Young Male Refugees and Asylum Seekers Sexual Health Pack

Andrew Lake
Monday, December 10, 2007

Published by Working with MenISBN 978 1 900468 06 028 inc p&pwww.workingwithmen.org

Cover of pack
Cover of pack

The aim of this pack is to provide accessible education on sexual health and relationships for young male refugees (or "refugeees" as it says on the cover) and others who have recently arrived in the UK.

I tried it out with members of Dreamers, Leicestershire County Council's youth project for young asylum seekers and refugees, running the session with Nicola O'Neill, of Charnwood Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

The young men involved were aged between 15 and 20 and originated from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Eritrea. Only one of them had received sexual health education in their home country and that concentrated mainly on HIV-awareness.

The pack comprises a facilitators' workbook with photocopiable exercises, along with a range of laminated cartoons and photographic cards. The group I worked with found these amusing, colourful and good fun, and it certainly helped the group to engage with the subject.

Some of the text did require interpretation, however. For example, one exercise involves showing pictures of various scenarios, such as following a woman home, where the young people have to write on the worksheet if they believe the situation is "legal" or not.

The problem here was that the young people did not actually understand the terms "legal" and "illegal", so instead we used "right" or "wrong". Interestingly, though, the pictures helped to prompt some fascinating discussions about whether talking to a sex worker about sex is right or wrong, and whether reading porn magazines in public is okay.

Underpinning some of the debates were some of the young men's strong Islamic values about homosexuality. The young men also had a weak understanding of the role that alcohol can play in relationship building. But the pack helped them explore through discussion the difference between social drinking and drunkenness.

Other terms used in the pack that proved difficult for the group to understand were "chemist" ("pharmacist" was better known) and "sexually transmitted infections". None of them knew what pregnancy tests were.

The pack works best with young people who have already spent some time in the UK, who have learned some of the language and are familiar with cultural values in the UK. As a result, I wouldn't recommend using it with young people who have recently arrived in the country: all too often they struggle to cope with the stress of finding accommodation, immigration problems, benefits and other issues.

So would we use the pack again? The answer is yes. The young people and workers enjoyed it. Responding to the sexual health needs of young asylum seekers is a challenge, full of language difficulties and cultural dynamics, but one well worth rising to.

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