On Friday night I attended a Gala Dinner celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Action Foundation, a small charity working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It was a great celebration, but more than this, it was a reminder of the experiences faced by people who have to leave their home country, the incredibly difficult journeys they undertake and of the fact that these difficulties do not end when they reach our shores.
According to the UN Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).
The vast majority of refugees stay in their region of displacement, and consequently are hosted by developing countries. Turkey now hosts the highest number of refugees with 3.6 million, followed by Pakistan with 1.4 million. Other significant host countries are Uganda and the Lebanon. The UK has a much smaller number of refugees. According to UNHCR statistics by mid-2018 there were 124,018 refugees, 33,035 pending asylum cases and 106 stateless persons in the UK.
Through our work at the Virgin Money Foundation we see the secondary issues of homelessness, isolation, lack of English language lessons and difficulties securing work experienced by refugees in the UK.
At the Gala dinner we met Toloso. Toloso is from Ethiopia where he was a university teacher, holding a first degree in political sciences and two Masters’ qualifications in water management and peace and security. Toloso had to leave Ethiopia due to death threats as a result of his political stance and travelled without his wife and children to the UK where eventually he was granted asylum. He talked about the fear he felt every time he had to report to the Immigration Office, fearing that he would be detained and deported back to his country where he would likely be killed.
At a time of political change in our own country I treasure the right I have to vote, my freedom of speech, my freedom to hold and articulate political views. For many refugees, like Toloso, their very desire to think freely, to hold an opposite view to those in power, to think and to educate, has led to them having to flee.
Toloso spoke of the incredible difference the support of Action Foundation made, providing him with a home, an opportunity to volunteer as a classroom assistant, a welcoming community and the support to address the trauma he had experienced. Over time Action Family supported him to apply for his family to be able to join him in the UK and he successfully secured a paid role as a teacher.
This Refugee Week I encourage you to read the stories of refugees, consider how you might cope if you had been dealt their hand of cards and bear witness to their experience.
Virgin Money Foundation