This Refugee Week we shine a light on the people, places and projects that provide a welcoming environment for refugees arriving in the UK
While the UK government has been widely criticised for its treatment of refugees, community groups, charities and individuals are working hard to create a welcoming environment for displaced people.
In Refugee Week, we shine a light on such organisations, some of which have volunteering roles available.
Launched initially to help funnel aid to refugees living in the Calais Jungle, this community group has since found itself responding directly to the refugee crisis.
Dinghies carrying people across the English Channel are often rescued and brought ashore by local RNLI crews. Volunteers working for Hastings Supports Refugees are typically the first to welcome them on dry land.
“We go down to the beach and offer a humanitarian response,” Jane Grimshaw, the group’s convenor, told Positive News. “We bring them fish and chips, and cups of tea.”
“The emergency services are brilliant. But they have their professional roles to play, so there’s this gap where there is no humanitarian response. We felt the need to fill that gap.”
Refugees may have been at sea for hours, or even days, so volunteers come with clean, dry clothes. “The most moving thing for us is to stand there, look them in the eye and say ‘welcome to my country’,” said Grimshaw.
Hastings Supports Refugees is part of City of Sanctuary UK, a network of communities that provide support for refugees.
Image: Jametlene Reskp
This London-based project is on a double mission: to help refugees settle in the UK while saving the UK’s native black bee.
Founded by Syrian refugee Ali Alze, the organisation provides free beekeeper training and equipment to displaced people arriving in London, helping them establish black bee colonies on vacant land. The black bee was once thought to be extinct in the UK.
Alzein learned beekeeping from his grandfather in his native Syria, but it wasn’t until he settled in London, in 2013, that he turned to the practice. “I was really suffering from PTSD and severe depression,” said Alzein, who was imprisoned in Damascus during the war and had his knitwear factory burned down by the government. “My [London] beehive really helped me through all the trauma.”
Bees and Refugees scaled up during the pandemic following a successful crowdfunding campaign, plus a donation from Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
“Being around bees is really therapeutic,” Alzein told Positive News. “It calms a person down.”
Image: Bees and Refugees
Migrateful runs cookery classes led by migrant chefs who are struggling to integrate and access employment due to legal and linguistic barriers.
The organisation provides hospitality training and English lessons to refugees, and allows them to give something back to the community, mitigating feelings of helplessness.
“Having regular contact with the British public is great for confidence building,” founder Jess Thompson, told Positive News. “Feeling valued as a teacher can be so important. Many of the people who come to Migrateful are asylum seekers; they are often waiting for the state to help them. This is a chance for them to use their skills and give something back.”
Refugee-run businesses have enormous potential to stimulate economies, create jobs and reduce public spending, according to research. A study from 2018 revealed that refugees typically benefit their host nations’ economies within five years of arrival – findings that refute the popular misconception that asylum seekers pose a financial burden.
Shining a light on refugee entrepreneurialism is Anqa, an online marketplace that sells products and experiences from refugee-led businesses. Here are three refugees who are benefitting from the platform.
Image: Anna Brooks
It’s not your average online fashion outlet. Give Your Best holds no stock, every item it lists is free and all its customers are refugees and asylum seekers.
The platform was launched in lockdown by Sol Escobar after she connected with with Ilda (not her real name); a young woman in Cardiff who was unable to work because of her asylum seeker status, and who was struggling to get by on £5 a day. They happened to share a dress size, so Escobar started sending Ilda packages of clothes.
Ilda was living in Home Office accommodation with eight other asylum seeker women, who were also unable to find affordable clothes while charity shops were shut. So, Escobar asked friends of different sizes to send her photos of clothes they no longer wore. Give Your Best was born.
“The donation world can be dehumanising at times, even with the best intentions,” said Escobar. “People internalise that all they deserve are the things that they’re given. But these women deserve to choose what they want to wear.”
Image: Zsuzsanna Palami
Bread and Roses is a London-based social enterprise that uses floristry to help displaced women rebuild their lives. The organisation’s nine-week floristry training classes provide refugees with new skills and a chance to build networks and improve their English – not to mention enjoying the therapeutic benefits of working with flowers.
“I’ve never been green-fingered, so I didn’t think I’d have the skills,” said Mary (not her real name) from Ghana, who participated in the course. “Building my knowledge and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you.”
Image: Keymea Yazdanian
Moved by the crisis in Afghanistan and Ukraine, many people in the UK have been quick to offer donations, with charities reporting an influx of clothes, toiletries and other necessities.
The Manchester-based charity Care4Calais has established drop-off points across the UK, where people can take essentials that will be sorted and given to those in need.
Care4Calais says that its most in-demand items are quality footwear and coats for adults and children, as well as buggies, baby carriers and unlocked smartphones.
Image: Dan Gold
Dubbed ‘Airbnb for refugees’, this Glasgow-based charity is one of a number of organisations linking displaced people with UK homeowners able to offer their spare room.
It’s been particularly busy since Russia invaded Ukraine, despite their being limited legal routes into the UK for Ukrainian people.
Refugees at Home is another organisation doing similar work.
Image: Andrea Davis
Being displaced from your home and undertaking a perilous journey to a safe country leaves many refugees with severe trauma. Enter Migrant Help, which helps asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking recover from their experiences.
Doing similar work is Amna (formerly the the Refugee Trauma Initiative). The non-profit started in a tent on the border between Greece and North Macedonia six years ago. It has since helped more than 10,000 refugees and now works in nine countries across Europe, and Pakistan.
“We create safe and playful spaces where people can convene and heal as a community,” said the organisation. “Our aims is to provide care as early as possible to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma that can affect individual and communities for a long time.”
Image: Levi Meir Clancy
One of the most formidable obstacles many refugees face when arriving in a new country is fining work. Helping displaced people do just that is the aptly-named Breaking Barriers.
The charity helps refugees in London, Birmingham and Manchester acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to secure stable and fulfilling employment.
Want to help? Breaking Barriers is seeking volunteers who can teach English, or who are willing to help refugees navigate the UK jobs market and achieve their career ambitions.
A stranger with a story to tell and gifts to share. A well-spiced dish that can impress the world. A flying bird looking for a cosy branch to sit on in the sunlight.
These are just some of the personal definitions of the word ‘refugee’, collated in a thought-provoking dictionary that was published last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations refugee convention.
Labour peer Lord Alfred Dubs is one contributor, defining a refugee as: “Someone who brings good and bad memories from home but leaves them behind and looks to the future in a new country with hope”.
The dictionary also features an entry from pilot Maya Ghazal, who is literally flying high, after escaping Syria. A refugee is “a human being with hopes and dreams like everyone else,” she writes. “A refugee can be anyone, like a pilot flying your plane – a pilot like me!”
Image: The British Library
Main image: Bees and Refugees
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