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Refugee Week: How we can empower, uplift, and welcome refugees

At WONDER, we actively work to welcome, uplift, and empower refugees. We oppose cruel treatments of refugees and instead, we ask: how can we make people feel like they belong here, too?

As many people are aware of, the British government recently outlined a new deal to process asylum seekers abroad in Rwanda. Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated it would “save countless lives” by cracking down on human trafficking.

However, many refugee organisations have pointed out the flaws in this plan and deemed it cruel, with the United Nations High Commission for Refugee saying that the deal went against international human rights law. At the time of writing, the first plane to Rwanda was prevented from leaving the UK after the European Court of Human Rights intervened.

The government’s recent Rwanda plan is only one in a series of hostile immigration processes the government has passed or is seeking to enact. The frequency of these policies can make you believe that Britain takes in a large number of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

Yet in reality, Britain takes in a very small number, even compared to its European neighbours. The UK received 37, 550 applications for asylum in 2020, three times less than Germany, France or Spain.

Refugee, asylum seekers, migrants: what do they all mean?

One important step towards supporting newcomers to the UK is understanding the difference between the various terms used.

Asylum seekers are people who have fled their homes, arrived in another country through whatever means possible, and make themselves known to the authorities to submit an asylum application. They have a legal right to stay in the country while awaiting a decision.

A refugee is someone whose asylum application has been accepted because there is evidence they would be at risk if they returned to their home country. A refugee has indefinite leave to stay in the UK, and has the right under international law to bring immediate family members to join them.

Refused asylum seekers are those whose applications have been rejected, and who must leave the country unless they appeal the decision.

Finally, a migrant is someone who has moved to another country for reasons such as work, study or to join family members.

Under international law, if someone applies for asylum on your territory, it is your duty to process that claim. The reason the Rwanda deal is unlawful according to UNHCR, is that the government is outsourcing that responsibility to Rwanda.

How WONDER works to help refugees feel like they belong

WONDER has participated in many projects about refugees, both here in the UK and elsewhere. The key concern that guides our work is always how to make people feel like they belong here. In the words of our Chief Programmes Officer, Olivia Darby: “How can I make you see that our community is better because you are here with us?”

We recently concluded the FATIMA project, active across four European country. It supported the empowerment and social integration of migrant women, providing them with one-on-one support through language classes, personalised development programmes, work experience, and more. This approach has been echoed in Project MIRIAM, which we are implementing in partnership with the Baytree Centre in London.

Another recent project, Being and Belonging, has engaged young people on the topic of migrant integration. We question policies and practices that place the burden of integration on migrants, and encourage young people to think of ways to build a more welcoming and inclusive community.

Additionally, we work with local partners who welcome refugee and migrant women. In the UK, our partner the Baytree Centre provides support services to women and girls who have recently arrive in the UK. This include offering English lessons, financial management, mentoring, and support so that children can enroll and succeed in a new school system.

Meanwhile in Poland, our partner PONTES is welcoming women and their children who are fleeing war in Ukraine. They provide them with shelter, Polish language classes, employment support and more, so they can navigate life in a new country.

Author: Fflur Jones