Daughter of Second World War refugees opens her London home to asylum-seekers

Kathy Galashan's Jewish parents came to London from Austria in 1938. Now the retired school teacher is opening her home to refugees.

Kathy Galashan stands in the hallway of her London home

Kathy Galashan in the hallway of her home in north London, where she hosts refugees  © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell


Name: Kathy Galashan

Age: 67

Occupation: Retired teacher

Home: London

Kathy Galashan is a retired teacher whose Jewish parents came as refugees to London in 1938. When images of refugees fleeing conflict at home and undertaking dangerous journeys to come to Europe dominated UK media last year, she, like many others, felt compelled to act. 

The one thing she felt she had to offer was space. And after a little research, Galashan got in touch with Housing Justice, a UK charity set up to tackle homelessness whose London Hosting project was set up specifically to help refugees and asylum seekers in the UK capital. Within weeks, she welcomed her first guest, still living with her after six months.

I just thought, ‘I ought to do something’. It was about a year ago when there was a furore, pictures in the paper, lots of articles about camps and so on.

It's easy. And it's a win-win. It means I can read the news and not feel so helpless

So what do you do? You go online. I put my name down for this and that. And then I came across London Hosting.

It was always in the back of my mind that I have space. I’ve also worked in a homeless hostel. At first I was wary, too nervous, too scared. But I went to a meeting of London Hosting. And I realised there is a whole support system. There’s an organisation that is responsible. I thought, ‘I can do this’. You set up the parameters. They do the matching.

Kathy, right, with her lodger Rawa. After being forced to sleep in the streets, Rawa now has a safe place to call home.  © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

What I do feels to me minimal… not minimal… it’s easy. It’s not big or small it’s just straightforward. And it’s a win-win. It means I can read the news and not feel so helpless. You are doing something and you think: ‘ok, alright I can’t do anything about that, but  I can do this’.

Rawa is my first guest. I approached it as a flat share. I am not a social worker. I don’t know what a do-gooder is. I just think everybody needs to feel safe. It doesn’t matter where you are, or who you are or what you are living in, you need a safe space.

Everybody needs to feel safe. It doesn't matter where you are, or who you are, you need a safe space.

My parents came to England in 1938. They were both Viennese, but met in Britain, so they were themselves refugees. By the middle of the war, this street was empty, because it had been bombed. There’s a railway line. Houses were empty to let, so they moved in. They rented the house and eventually they bought it. They were living in this house when I was born.

Why do it? I suppose it’s a sense that you can either add to a common pool of good or a common pool of nastiness and racism and backbiting.

I’d do it again. If I am not in dire need of the money and don’t need the room, then I will do it again. It’s interesting. It doesn’t feel like it’s a big thing. It feels like you just have a friend here.


Meet others like Kathy who are showing refugees a #GreatBritishWelcome