Every day, individuals, schools and companies contact Refugee Action to ask how they can volunteer, donate and campaign to improve the lives of refugees living in Britain.
It’s too easy to argue that events of the past year, from Brexit to the Trump victory, show that people’s attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers are hardening, and that there is public support for closing our borders and turning our backs on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
I believe the majority of people support a fair, effective and compassionate response to the refugee crisis, and we see this in action all of the time. In 2016, we started to see David Cameron’s pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain become a reality. Communities all over the country are choosing to welcome refugees to their areas. We work in partnership with local authorities in rural and urban areas, from Birmingham and London to Shropshire and Herefordshire, to support refugees being resettled in Britain.
We receive hundreds of applications from people who want to volunteer to help refugees learn English and find out about their new communities.
The Oswestry Welcomes Refugees group has set up weekly, women’s-only Arabic dance evenings. These informal sessions bring together Syrian refugees with their new neighbours to dance and share food. And at Christmas, young people at a local school collected presents, filling more than 150 shoeboxes for child refugees we work with in Bradford.
MORE TO DO
Such gestures are a great way to show support for families who arrive in a strange country with so little. But there are huge challenges ahead. We’re in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in more than 60 years. There is no end in sight to the war in Syria or the long-running conflicts and instability in many parts of the world, including Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Wars and persecution are forcing more people than ever to flee their homes and risk their lives to reach safety. According to the latest figures released by the UN Refugee Agency, there are 65 million displaced people in the world, more than half of them children.
In 2017, we will continue to campaign for Britain to protect more refugees from Syria and other war-torn, unsafe countries.
Refugees and asylum seekers must also have the right support to rebuild their lives once they arrive.
This year, we’ll focus on ensuring that all refugees have full and equal access to English language lessons. A recent Government-commissioned report found this to be a vital aspect of integration, and our Let Refugees Learn campaign calls on Theresa May to commit new funding to support all refugees to learn English and contribute to their communities.
We will also continue our work to ensure asylum seekers and refugees know their rights and have the support they are entitled to. Many of the children and families we work with are traumatised and destitute. We help them to access housing and benefits, legal advice, healthcare, English lessons and schools.
Sozan Abdullah, 35, arrived here in January after fleeing IS in northern Iraq. She came with two of her young children from a refugee camp in northern France. Last July, the Home Office approved her husband’s and two older children’s transfer from France under the Family Reunion programme.
Refugee Action supported the family to register with a GP, enrol in school and navigate the complex asylum system. Sozan and her two children were granted refugee status last June. Our caseworker is now helping her husband, Tahsin, and other two children, through the asylum process and to access destitution support, such as food parcels. All the children are now attending school and the family is settling in well to their new community.
The Abdullahs are among the families who attend our day trips and welcome group in Bradford. These aim to prevent refugees feeling isolated by providing activities for children and the opportunity to develop friendships.
There are many ways for schools and nurseries to support refugees and asylum seekers, from fun runs to dress-up days – wearing pyjamas to show solidarity with the refugee children forced to flee their beds in the middle of the night.
In 2017, it will be more important than ever to show that Britain is a compassionate and welcoming nation. To find out more about our work and how to support refugees, visit www.refugee-action.org.uk/support-us.