Refugee Week 2017
Today is World Refugee Day, part of a week-long celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK.
Offering sanctuary to those in need of refuge is a proud British tradition and one which we should continue. But the bravery of migrants should not be viewed solely through the lens of migrants fleeing their home countries and seeking refuge.
Often when the “migrant crisis” is covered in the media, images of people fleeing areas of conflict, clutching their few belongings, and queueing to receive basic supplies are evoked. They are undoubtedly powerful images. But the risks posed to the wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers do not end after they have completed their often-arduous journeys. The crisis continues when the needs of migrants are overlooked, or ignored altogether, once they have arrived in the UK.
The UK Community Foundations’ New Beginnings Fund is designed to tackle exactly that and to encourage successful integration.
The fund, consisting of two rounds, was worth £965,000 in total. Contributors of the fund include Comic Relief; Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Pears Foundation; and The Rayne Foundation; Children In Need, and Oak Foundation.
The New Beginnings Fund was set up to assist small community groups already working with refugees to increase their capacity to support new arrivals. Their work is vital to helping vulnerable people who have arrived in the UK – people like Semira.
Semira* left Somalia for the USA in 2009 – but found herself abandoned in a hotel in Dublin by the people who arranged her travel. Homeplus NI, a charity supporting homeless people in Belfast, was able to provide the support she desperately needed. Homeplus NI received a £10,000 grant from Community Foundation for Northern Ireland to support refugees and asylum seekers – including those are who destitute and have nowhere to go – through their drop-in centre.
As well as providing short-term care through clothes, food, and washing facilities, the clinic provides free eye tests, English lessons and voluntary opportunities. Staff here also assist refugees with enrolling into formal education, registering with a Doctor, employment and access to training. These services are key for refugees and asylum seekers to start building a new life in the UK, contributing to their local communities through their work life or volunteering activities. With the help of Homeplus NI, Semira has taken English lessons and has found a sense of belonging.
The work of organisations such as Homeplus NI illustrate the importance of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers into the community. The identity of a refugee is not defined by the act of migration. Immigrants are more – they are the business owners, football players, teachers in our society. With the help of charitable organisations, refugees can build a safer future for themselves – a future they have desperately sought, but are not always guaranteed.
By disbursing the fund through UK Community Foundations’ network, their reach stretches to communities across the UK. As a network, the impact of local groups working with refugees and asylum seekers is amplified – creating an even more powerful response to the migrant crisis.
*Names have been changed