The media has extensively covered the situation regarding refugees and asylum seekers. Former England striker Gary Lineker has agreed to welcome refugee to live at his Surrey home. Their plight and the incredibly difficult challenges they face inspire the best of our humanity but also can stir negative reactions in some individuals.
What is a Refugee?
Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones.
Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as:
‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership if a particular social group, or political opinion’.
For those who watch reports on their struggles and feel they not only want to help but have a heartfelt desire to become involved in supporting such people.
When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation.
An organisation that was created to help is Refugees at Home. They are a UK charity which connects those with a spare room in their home to refugees and asylum seekers.
Nicola Clarke is 61 and lives in London. She was journalist for the BBC for over thirty years. Nicola is currently studying for a PhD in early modern history at Birkbeck University of London. She became involved in hosting through Refugees at Home. Nicola continues her story, ‘I know one of the founders of Refugees at Home very well, we were trainee journalists together many moons ago.
I thought it was a really brilliant idea to match people who were in desperate need of accommodation with people who had a spare room, which I did. I have seen enough refugee crises around the world to know that finding yourself in these circumstances can happen to anyone at any time and it can be very difficult to find practical ways to help. Sitting in front of the television watching events unfold and not being able to do anything is very frustrating, hosting helps relieve some of that frustration’.
For Nicola, wanting to help was very matter of fact ‘I didn’t do it for any other reason really than I think if you can help you should’, she states, ‘it has been rewarding and interesting but that is of secondary importance. The main points is that in some cases it has literally kept people from sleeping on buses or on the streets. It has been a joy to see guests rebuild their lives and careers and be reunited with family. I started hosting in 2016. I have hosted five guests in all, my longest stayed for 551 nights (guest nights is how we count things at Refugees@ Home) my shortest for 14. I have hosted some people with an excellent command of English and other where google translate has been a life saver, but you get by.
It has been a joy to see people rebuild their lives and careers and be reunited with family. My first guest has passed her medical conversion courses and is now working as a doctor in the UK which is terrific news.
I have learnt a lot from all my guests and I have been to Wembley to watch Spurs which is something I wouldn’t have done if one of my guests hadn’t been so very keen to see a football match at Wembley. I haven’t managed to get anyone up to Leicester to watch the Rugby as yet, and that may be tricky for a while with Covid.
My current guest has been with me for nearly a year, six months of which has obviously been through Covid and Lockdown. I hope that no having to worry about housing during a pandemic has helped her to cope with everything that 2020 has thrown at us all. I think we got through lockdown pretty well, the main thing we had to juggle was access to the room with the keyboard in it. I am an enthusiastic if not particularly talented recorder player and my guest is teaching herself the piano online. I guess lockdown gave us no excuse to skip practice and from what I hear she is making great progress.
How do those closest to refugees at home feel about their loved ones hosting? ‘Family and friends were all pretty supportive’, confirms Nicola, ‘My cousin invited my first guest to a family Christmas and introduced them to the delights of charades and a myriad of Christmas board games. She has gone on to host herself and I will continue to host’.
The UK is home to 1% of the world’s 29.6 million refugees. Asylum seekers make up a very small percentage of overall migrants to the UK with study and work cities as the main reasons why people why people want to come to the country, according to research from Oxford’s Migration Observatory.
Facts based on the Government’s latest immigration statistics – for the year ending 2020:
- People seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain
- Not everyone gets a grant of protection the first time their case is looked at
- Refusals are often overturned on appeal
- Asylum cases often take years to be resolved
- People seeking asylum receive little financial support and are not allowed to work
- Newly granted refugees often face destitution and homelessness
- Refugees face huge challenges in reuniting with their separated families
- 38,756 the number of cases awaiting an initial decision for more than 6 months
- 53% of applications granted asylum or protection at initial decision stage in the year ending June 2020
- 32,423 asylum applications made in the last 12 months