Different pasts, shared future
Refugee Week is a unique opportunity to discover and celebrate the contributions refugees bring to the UK.
During Refugee Week loads of events took place across the UK, all of which explored refugee experiences. Whatever you're into - be it arts, music, food or just meeting people in your local area - Refugee Week has an event for you. Visit the Events Calendar to see what events are being held this year: -
This year is the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. In order to mark the occasion and link it to Refugee Week 2011, our theme for this year is 60 Years of Contribution: -
We're currently collecting stories and case studies about the contributions that refugees have made to Britain over the last 60 years. If you have any interesting stories or photos on this subject to share, we'd very much like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us on Twitter and Facebook via the links below!
Courage: 60 Years of the UN Refugee Convention
Courage: 60 Years of the UN Refugee Convention is a documentary featuring two people who've come to the UK in very different circumstances, but who both fled for their lives.
The film was released on June 20, World Refugee Day, and screened in cinemas and arts centre that day and throughout Refugee Week, which runs from June 20-26, 2011.
An exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs has been on display along with the film at The Arches, Glasgow, during Refugee Week.
How you can screen the film!
We want as many people as possible to show the film, wherever you are! If you'd like to screen it at your work, school or local community centre etc, email us at: -
mailto:email@example.com, or call 0141 223 7927 or 07850 930418.
Courage: 60 Years of the UN Refugee Convention was made with the assistance of Media Co-op and Scottish Refugee Council, with support from the Big Lottery Fund.
The Background to Refugee Week
The purpose of Refugee Week is to deliver positive educational messages that counter fear, ignorance and negative stereotypes of refugees, through arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK, and promote understanding about the reasons why people seek sanctuary.
Refugee Week was first held in 1998, and was created in response to the increasingly negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers held by the general public in Britain. It remains the only UK-wide event that promotes the importance of sanctuary and the benefits it can bring to both refugees and host communities.
During Refugee Week 2009, between 500 and 550 events took place across the UK, organised by charities, local government, small refugee community organisations, schools, churches, arts organisations, day centres, refugee umbrella networks, regional and national consortiums amongst many others .
Refugee Week is a multi-agency project, managed by the Refugee Week Team which consists of the UK Coordinator for Refugee Week, Welsh and Scottish Co-ordinators and a small number of volunteers with specific skills. Different regions, areas and towns have their own Refugee Week Steering and Operational Groups which manage and co-ordinate Refugee Week activities in their areas.
Partner agencies and funders
Refugee Week is a multi-agency project, with representatives from the partner agencies forming the UK Steering and Operation Groups. The partner agencies currently include: Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Children's Society, Oxfam, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, City of Sanctuary, Scottish Refugee Council, STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and Welsh Refugee Council.
Apart from the partner agencies, elements of Refugee Week are also funded by: Arts Council England, Greater London Authority and by a great number of other funding bodies and individuals which support various activities across the country.
Christie Marchese runs marketing and social action strategy for Righteous Pictures, a film and new media production company that uses storytelling to foster social change. Connect with her on Twitter @ChristieM
June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day dedicated to recognizing the millions of refugees that have been displaced around the world. Genocide prevention and refugee resettlement groups are commemorating this day in many ways. Unfortunately, like most non-profits, these groups are on a tight budget.
Check out the innovative ways free online tools and social media have been employed to take action on World Refugee Day.
Get To Know Refugees in Your Community
There are more than 8 million refugees displaced around the world, and it's more than likely you are neighbors with some of them. This World Refugee Day and beyond, get out of your comfort bubble and meet these brave individuals. A coalition of organizations came together to put up all of their refugee meetup events — which included picnics, plays, potlucks, screenings and parades — online at WorldRefugeeDay2011.com for anyone to attend. By using the MeetUp Everywhere tool, anyone was able to find an event or add their own.
Watch a Film Online
Not everyone has time to attend an event, but almost everyone has time for a good movie. SnagFilms has some free films online that not only educate viewers about injustices and genocide prevention efforts, but also help them understand the life of a refugee. The Last Survivor was released last week on SnagFIlms in time for World Refugee Day and you can view it here.
[Disclosure: The author works with SnagFilms]
Support Genocide Prevention Legislation
For those of you who are all about online petitions and storming Capitol Hill, join Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network in supporting genocide prevention legislation. You can sign the petition here.
Check into Action
Non-profits are learning from tools like Foursquare and Shopkick, which offer rewards for checking in. Welcoming America has launched its own take focused around making communities more welcoming. The site offers points, badges and eventually prize money for actions to include newcomers like local refugees.
The Enough Project and Darfur Sister Schools have launched a similar program called the Summer Service Challenge for students to earn badges by helping Darfuri children get a better education. Users can then share their progress online with friends and family.
Give a Minute
Causes on Facebook has helped raise money for many non-profits. The site recently upped its game by allowing you to "donate” money without spending a dime. By engaging with a short commercial, the advertised brand will make a donation to a non-profit. Help out Refugees International by donating a minute of your time on Causes on Facebook.
And lastly …
Listen to Angelina Jolie
When Angelina tells you to do something, you listen. Watch the video she recorded for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) campaign, "Do 1 Thing.” You can follow her lead by doing at least one thing today to help the millions of refugees around the world.
We've listed a bunch of good resources, but there are many more out there. Let us know in the comments how you'll be participating in World Refugee Day 2011
Happy Refugee Day
20 June 2011 marked World Refugee Day and it was also the start of the Refugee Week. Kicking off on 19 June 2011 with the Umbrella Parade in London there was a whole host of other events around the country. This year MRN pitched in with a screening of the film "Son of Babylon”.
At the same time, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. Normally, we can hardly escape all the negative reporting in the media, but Refugee Week was always a good time to do something different and focus on the positive stories that encourage a better understanding of why people come to Britain seeking protection.
For once it seems that even the Express picked up on the press release sent out on Friday 17 June by Refugee Week team and thet took a surprisingly positive approach, with the article having a lot of good things to say about refugees.
I seriously doubt that the editors at the Express will appreciate the irony of the fact that 99% of the work press officers in refugee organisations do consists of refuting what they usually report on, e.g No failed asylum seeker should be allowed to stay. But hey let's enjoy it while it lasts.
Or perhaps this highlights the fact revealed by Refugee Council earlier this year through their clever use of opinion polling, which showed that 82% of Britons still defend Britain's role as the protector of the most vulnerable. That when the push comes to shove most of us are willing to offer protection to those in need.
But for Refugee Week whatever people were into - be it arts, music, food or just meeting people in their local area - Refugee Week had an event for everyone. Go and visit the Events Calendar on the Refugee Week website to find out what events were held.
"Son of Babylon” was screened on Tuesday 21 June 2011. MRN team was there with some materials and they were available for a chat
Mind launches Refugee Week blog special
June 20, 2011
Mind ran a series of blogs on refugee mental health to mark Refugee Week. There were new contributions every during Refugee Week from Andy Keefe at Freedom from Torture, Abdi Gure at Harrow Mind and Aysel Kirmizikan at City and Hackney Mind all talking about their experiences of working with refugees in a therapeutic context
"I think they are coming to torture me again... I can never forget”
Mind Blog, Tuesday 21 June 2011
Guest post from Andy Keefe at Freedom From Torture: how a holistic approach to treating survivors of torture can allow people to regain hope.
Torture is a global problem and it destroys people both physically and mentally. I have worked with survivors from over 70 different countries over the years, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. Over 90% of the survivors we help at Freedom From Torture are refugees or asylum seekers who come to us from all over the world.
Freedom From Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) is a charity providing rehabilitation services for survivors of torture and organised violence. At Freedom From Torture we treat the minds and bodies of survivors through a range of talking therapies, physiotherapy, art and music therapy and family therapy, since the trauma resulting from torture seeps into survivors' relationships.
Many of our clients have faced unimaginable hardship and danger escaping from the countries in which they have been tortured and travelling vast distances in hope of finding safety and protection in the UK. They leave behind homes, jobs, status, language and loved ones. Arriving in the UK they face detention for immigration reasons, the threat of deportation back to the state which tortured them and struggle to access even basic services in a culture and language they do not understand.
All these experiences add to the trauma the refugee brings with them from their torture: the nightmares, flashbacks, constant intrusive thoughts and fear.
A survivor once told me If I hear a door opening or footsteps in the corridor I think they are coming to torture me again, you see a postman, I see a man in a uniform, a killer - I can never forget.
It is essential not only to treat the survivor's trauma but also address their practical and welfare needs in a culturally sensitive manner. If the refugee's social and practical needs for housing, access to healthcare and education are not met, they can fall into isolation and despair: a devastating experience for an already vulnerable person and a lost opportunity for a society which could benefit from the enormous potential and vitality refugees bring with them.
Over the years, I have met doctors, teachers, lawyers, diplomats, priests, artists and singers forced to escape from their own countries to save their lives or those of their families.
Many of the colleagues I have had the privilege to work with at Freedom From Torture and the other refugee agencies I have worked for have been from refugee backgrounds and carried with them their own experiences of torture and repression; I have learnt hugely from the unique perspective and experience of such colleagues.
Those I have met and worked with are inspirational proof that when the right services are provided, survivors of torture can recover and go on to lead fulfilling lives and contribute fully to society.
Andy Keefe, London and South East Clinical Services Manager at Freedom From Torture
Refugee Week – A Look Back
Left Central, 26 June 2011
It was Refugee Week between 20-26 June, the aim of which was to explore and highlight refugee experience. This year's theme was 60 years of contribution, aimed at celebrating refugees' contributions with the tagline "100% British, Created by Refugees” for such British cultural icons as the Mini, fish and chips, Marks and Spencer and even the Miliband brothers. This was covered not only by the Guardian, but also the Telegraph and even the Express.
This made a refreshing change from the usually hostile and occasionally outright xenophobic coverage of refugee and asylum seeker issues in the majority of the mainstream media. You only have to pick up a copy of certain newspapers in order to read headlines such as ‘Family of 12 Ethiopian refugees land in UK – and are handed a £6,000-a month home paid for by you', or ‘No room for gays'.
This coverage tends to revolve around a similar story about asylum seekers in the UK: that Britain is the destination of choice for so-called ‘benefit tourists' who lie their way through the easy asylum process after which they are handed luxury housing, take advantage of Britain's generous benefits system and ‘sponge' off hard-working British people. Every aspect of this myth is based on false assumptions and flimsy statistical data. According to the Imperial War Museum, the UK public believes on average that this country houses 23% of the world's refugees. The actual proportion is 2.5%.
Benefits systems in Ireland, Belgium or Denmark would be much more generous. Currently asylum seekers receive 70% of income support and are not allowed to work meaning that they are forced into poverty. According to the Refugee Council, most asylum seekers' accommodation is in ‘ghettos' in deprived areas. The UK puts more money in subsidies for the arms export industry than it does the asylum system. Furthermore, the Home Office figures for 2008 show that 70% of asylum claims that year were refused outright.
Rather than attempting to debunk this myth, successive governments have pandered to it by introducing arbitrary quotas for the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) staff, and focusing above all in reducing numbers and producing electorally-pleasing statistics rather than getting the system right so that those who deserve asylum receive it. According to Detention Action, the asylum system is systematically failing those it is supposed to protect. Failed asylum seekers and those pending a decision are placed in immigration detention centres with inadequate facilities and often with no idea whether they will spend days, months, or even years there. Many are from countries to which it is impossible to deport people rendering their detention indefinite.
There is even evidence of physical and verbal abuse by privately-contracted security staff – tragically highlighted by the death of Angolan detainee Jimmy Mubengy last year as he was being restrained on a deportation flight by G4S staff – which needs closer attention both by the government and the media. Doctors in these detention centres are also privately-contracted, and are paid bonuses the more people they declare healthy enough to remain in the centres, potentially (so Detention Action alleges) resulting in victims of rape and torture being held in these centres. Such potential abuses of human rights are happening here in the UK but are virtually ignored by both the government and the media.
Governments of every colour seem to have focused their energies on reducing the numbers of refugees granted asylum rather than ensuring the protection of those who have genuinely suffered unimaginable horrors and face even more without receiving sanctuary in the UK or elsewhere. The focus is on statistics rather than people and on reducing numbers rather than perfecting the system. We need to separate the debate about immigration from the genuine need to protect those who have suffered torture, rape, violence, and persecution.
As the number of forcibly displaced people reaches a 15-year high we need not to close up our borders but to recognise that in an increasingly globalised world we can no longer claim responsibility only for those living in our backyard. It is about time the government stood up to harmful and lazy myths about asylum seekers and refugees perpetrated by a media who ought to know better.
Reasons to be cheerful: 10 things to celebrate during refugee week
www.ippr.org, 22 June 2011
Surviving persecution, fleeing across continents – for most of us these experiences are unimaginable. But as history has shown, refugee communities also produce more than their share of stand-out individuals. Yet again we are seeing that some of the ‘best of British' are from refugee backgrounds.
When I became Chair of Refugee Week in 2004, this annual celebration of the contribution of refugees to UK life had a theme each year. The previous year it had been ‘genocide' and it was due to be ‘torture' in 2005. The idea was that the theme gave some definition to the week's events and served as an educational tool to explain why people left their home countries and sought protection here. This may have seemed useful, but such grim topics (important though they are) sat most uneasily with the primary mission of the week: that of celebration. We spent the rest of the year fighting battles over asylum, I and others argued. There were other outlets for improving public understanding of the reasons for refugee flight. Surely we should use this one week of all weeks to accentuate the positives?
It is in the same spirit that I approach this article. There is no shortage of debate about all the difficulties surrounding asylum policy and politics elsewhere, so here I am going to concentrate with determined good cheer on the positive developments and the grounds for optimism. Such an exercise is not without controversy of course. Unless you exactly share my analysis and world-view you are likely to find at least some of my ‘positives' perverse. Moreover, there are, it's true, a number of positives of the ‘it could have been a lot worse' or ‘clouds with silver linings' type. I also adopt a rather narrow UK approach, which won't find favour with some. And my list is not likely to please either those on the passionately liberal or strongly restrictionist wings of the argument. I am conscious too that being cheerful might seem flippant, given the very difficult circumstances faced by both refugees themselves and the organisations that support them. Even so, I hope I can mount a plausible argument that not everything in the asylum world gives grounds for despair. There are reasons to be cheerful. So here is my list:
The survival of the refugee convention
There are lots of things wrong with the 1951 convention, it is certainly showing its age, and many countries, including the UK, honour it rather grudgingly. But even so, given the extreme political tensions generated by the upsurge in asylum arrivals into Europe in the 1990s and 2000s, we should be thankful that pressures to withdraw from the convention – or to water it down substantially - have been resisted. We should not forget that the Conservatives entered the 2005 election on a pledge to pull out. Now, there is a settled consensus that we should stick to the convention, albeit with considerable argument about how that it should be interpreted and implemented.
The end of child detention
The Coalition Agreement may not be widely loved, particularly in progressive circles. But it did deliver on its commitment to end the practice of detaining families with children. Of course, there are arguments about what will replace it, focussed most notably around whether the alternative is just ‘detention-lite'.
Still, we should welcome this victory for humanity, justice and indeed common sense, even if it is a pretty limited. Moreover, despite current policy going in the opposite direction, if alternatives to detention can be shown to work – i.e in facilitating rather than frustrating removal – then the wider argument that immigration detention should be ended in all but exceptional circumstances will be advanced.
The resolution of tens of thousands of legacy cases
The case resolution process gives, in a way, two reasons to be cheerful. First of all, it has, finally, produced some certainty for all those men and women who have been living in limbo for many years. For some, the outcome has been return – probably against their wishes. But, thankfully and sensibly, UKBA has shown some generosity to many others, who've been allowed to stay in the country that has become their home, even if, judged by the normal criteria, their claim for protection was not strong. Of course, there are some who will not see this move as a reason for good cheer, arguing that it is an amnesty in all but name and sends out all the wrong signals. However, even they might welcome the second impact of the resolution process: that it allows the authorities to get on the front foot in improving the asylum determination process for new cases. If this happens, the chances of a repeat of this regularisation process are reduced.
Small signs of improvement to the ‘front end' of asylum process
Quietly and incrementally, some solid work has been done, with refugee organisations working in partnership with UKBA (welcome in itself), to improve decision making on asylum claims. A particular focus has been providing claimants with reputable, independent, legal representation at the start of the claims process – so called ‘front loading'. It is very welcome that the Immigration Minister Damian Green has taken a strong interest in this area, sanctioning the wider roll-out of the successful pilot in Solihull. It is in the interests of both claimants and British taxpayers if the right decision on asylum claims is made first time round, more often than not.
It might seem strange to single out a particular individual – but the Independent Chief Inspector of UKBA is widely viewed as a thoroughly good egg. When he was appointed in 2008, the fact that he was a former senior police officer caused some concern among migrant supporting groups, worried that he was likely to be interested only in the tough stuff. But while it is true that he and his team have been outspoken in pointing out where enforcement is weak and ineffective (and quite right too), Mr Vine has also taken the government to task on humanitarian issues as well – and he has been assiduous in listening to the concerns of the migration sector and taking issues up with ministers and officials.
Refugee Action's decision to take the lead on voluntary returns
This nomination could be seen as provocative. Many in the refugee sector are deeply suspicious of return programmes – and indeed some remain antagonistic to the whole notion of return. But having championed the involvement of respected and trusted migrant-supporting organisations in the sensitive business of return, it is only right for IPPR to commend Refugee Action for taking up what many see as a poisoned chalice.
A large proportion of claimants will be refused asylum – fairly and rightly – under any form of asylum determination (even the most humane and generous). These refused claimants then need to be returned. It is vital that we develop a better system to deliver this outcome. If we can't, public support for asylum will erode still further. So anyone who cares about a just and effective asylum system should be hoping Refugee Action succeeds in increasing returns.
The Gateway Programme of refugee resettlement
The cheer here is muted by the very small numbers of places offered on this scheme. Seven years on from its start, there are still only 750 places available each year – in contrast with other countries, where resettlement schemes involve several thousand individuals. This is a pity, because by and large Gateway has been a resounding success, with highly vulnerable refugees being welcomed into cities and towns around the UK and rebuilding their lives as model citizens. Refugee resettlement programmes – which allow for protection to be ‘managed' in the way that other forms of migration are – seem to me to be the future. Trade-offs may be needed, but a key lobbying aim of the refugee sector should be to get Gateway increased substantially.
The unintended positive consequences of asylum dispersal
Dispersal was initially introduced to solve an immediate political crisis – and it was controversial to say the least. Of course, there are problems with it – yet by accident, rather than design, it has produced some good results. As I saw in Newcastle recently, dispersed asylum seekers have helped to revive dying parts of some our cities, creating new and vibrant communities, with entrepreneurial drive and a determination to improve neighbourhoods. Where good support services have been in place (and many are threatened by cuts), the reaction of host communities has been turned on its head – instead of hostility there is now often a highly positive reaction to having a refugee neighbour.
The continued resilience of the refugee community sector
It's tough, really tough, for the many hundreds of organisations, big and small, who work so hard to support refugees. Funding cuts have been savage and an embattled sector is finding it even harder to keep up its good work. So where's the good cheer here? Well, only that the groups keep on battling through. They've been operating in a hostile environment for well over a decade and so the best of them have become hardened to the difficulties and always find ways to survive and deliver services. If any part of our voluntary sector can weather the bitter winds of austerity (and the dubious benefits of ‘the Big Society'), the refugee sector can.
Pretty much every refugee qualifies as ‘remarkable' of course. Facing up to repressive regimes, surviving persecution, fleeing across continents, building a new life in a completely new country – for most of us these experiences are unimaginable. But as history has shown, refugee communities also produce more than their share of stand-out individuals. Just to take some very recent examples, we have Tea Obreht winning the Orange Fiction Prize, Fabrice Muamba playing for the England under 21s in the European Championships, and Mo Farah setting a new European record for the 10,000 metres. Yet again we are seeing that some of the ‘best of British' – particularly among the young generation – are from refugee backgrounds.
Amnesty International's 50th Birthday
Meanwhile Amnesty International celebrated its 50th birthday on 28 May 2011
"Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.” Peter Benenson
'It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.' Chinese proverb
May 1961. Elvis Presley is on the radio. Spurs fans are celebrating topping the football league. President Kennedy announces plans to put a man on the moon.
And one man is outraged by a news report on two Portuguese students imprisoned simply for raising their glasses in a "toast to freedom”. Amnesty International is born.
Because that man, British lawyer Peter Benenson, resolved to turn his outrage into action. He wrote an article called The Forgotten Prisoners which was first published in The Observer on 28 May 1961 and reproduced around the world.
In it Benenson highlighted cases like that of the Portuguese students, coining the phrase ‘prisoner of conscience'. He called for like-minded people to unite in an ‘appeal for amnesty' on their behalf – and readers responded to that call.
Amnesty becomes truly international
In 1962, we were officially named Amnesty International. And since then, what began as a small band of volunteers based in London has grown to a global movement of 3 million supporters, members and activists with 18 national sections and 850 groups in over 27 countries.
We have written letters, signed petitions, issued urgent actions, demonstrated outside courtrooms and embassies, launched hard-hitting media campaigns and lobbied officials directly. More recently, we have embraced the opportunities offered by social media and mobile communications.
As the world has changed, so have we. But our objective – to protect people when their rights are denied, and end discrimination, persecution and harassment – has remained constant. See the faces of some of the individuals helped by Amnesty in this beautiful video featuring the banners produced for our 50th anniversary AGM.
In the 1970s, we held the first Secret Policeman's Ball here in the UK, featuring the likes of John Cleese and Monty Python, Eric Clapton and Peter Gabriel. In the 1980s we broadened our remit to include work on refugees and human rights education.
In 1991 we decided to broaden our scope further to promote all rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in 2001 we began to work on economic, social and cultural rights, paving the way for global campaigns on maternal mortality, slums and corporate accountability.