What skills do you need to volunteer with migrants and refugees in the UK?

Are you thinking of volunteering with migrants or refugees? The thought of volunteering with such a vulnerable group could seem daunting. You might feel like you don’t have the skills or experience to help out.

If you’re worried about having the right skills to volunteer overseas with migrants or refugees then why not think about finding some opportunities in the UK to increase your experience? There are volunteering opportunities out there for you, no matter what level of skill or experience you have.

There are 21 million people who volunteer across the UK each year, contributing a whopping £23.9 billion to the economy (UK Giving report 2014, Charities Aid Foundation). Add to that UK residents who volunteer overseas and you’ve got a lot of people using their skills and experience to help others.

I’m a huge advocate of volunteering and have been since I first volunteered in inner city schools in Trenton, New Jersey as a student studying in the USA. I have gained countless new skills, friends and memories, as well as sharing my own skills and experiences to help others.

Volunteering in Mexico painting walls

When I was approached by the Government (HMG) and NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) to work on an educational collaborative project on volunteering safely with migrants and refugees, I thought it the perfect fit and just the kind of thing I want to write more about on this little blog.

This is the first in a series of blog posts and I hope it inspires you to think about what skills you have to offer when considering a volunteering opportunity with migrants and refugees.

Refugee camp in Calais

Here are a few of the skills you might need for different volunteering opportunities with migrants and refugees:


No matter what the opportunity is, volunteering is about a willingness to help and support where needed. It isn’t always glamorous, you might be helping clean up or stewarding an event, but every single person can be invaluable in making sure a charity runs smoothly to help those most in need. If you go into volunteering with right attitude then you are sure to succeed.

Communication and Languages

Many refugees and migrants come to the UK not speaking any English. If you speak a different language it could be of help. It could be translating documents or being present at meetings with social workers or other professionals to help translate in real time. Even if you only speak English, good communication skills go a long way when you’re interacting with people.

Cultural understanding

Understanding both the cultures and places the migrants have come from can go a long way in building successful relationships when volunteering. Many have been through disasters you can only begin to imagine, so learning from those who have volunteered before is the best way to approach different situations.


Children and possibly adult refugees and migrants have probably had to halt their education for various reasons and will probably be very keen to continue with their studies as quickly as possible. If you have experience teaching, there are lots of different charities who are looking for volunteers to help. The Refugee Support Network has opportunities to support a refugee with their education one hour a week.

Event organising

There are lots of different skills involved in organising an event. It might be helping with marketing, stewarding on the day or even speaking or performing at an event that could be to fundraise or promote understanding. Refugee Week from 18-24 June brings together hundreds of events and many small charities and community groups are often looking for people to help.


As well as volunteers, all charities need money. Fundraising could be anything; from organising a bake sale to getting sponsored to walk across the country, or even helping write a funding proposal to a trust fund or the national lottery. There will definitely be a way you can help fundraise, whatever your skills!


You can support refugee and migrant communities through different volunteer roles such as befriender, advocate, mentoring or becoming a trustee for a refugee charity. Volunteers Week from 1-7 June is a great place to start. Follow @ncvovolunteers on Twitter.

A spare room

Not a skill exactly but if you have a spare room there are several charities who are often looking for people to accommodate a refugee or migrant on a temporary basis while they wait to be rehomed. Refugees at Home are often looking for people with a spare room.

Refugee camp in Calais

Thank you to Flora the Explorer for letting me use some of her photos

If you’ve been considering volunteering with refugees and migrants, I hope this list has helped you recognise the skills you might be able to offer a charity supporting them. Volunteering in the UK with refugees and migrants can be a great stepping stone to finding appropriate volunteering opportunities abroad too.

Read more about volunteering safely with migrants and refugees and follow @ncvovolunteers on Twitter or @NCVOCharity on Facebook.

Clarity of terms - volunteering with refugees and migrants

This post was in collaboration with HMG and NCVO.

what skills do you need to volunteer with refugees and migrants in the UK?

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  1. What an amazing charity. It really takes a lot of heart to help these people. Moving outside your home country isn’t easy to anybody, and it’s great to see how much you can help these people.

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