There are 26 million refugees in the world, 85% of whom are hosted in developing countries. They have left everything because of violence, threats and persecution and often face a new environment that rejects and discriminates against them. Half of the refugees are children. This reality, which many do not understand, will be analysed and debated from 14 to 20 June during Refugee Week in the United Kingdom.
The figures are from Amnesty International which makes it clear that ” The international community, and in particular wealthy nations, are failing to meaningfully share the responsibility for protecting people who have fled their homes in search of safety.”
This is worrying, especially when 80% of the world’s displaced people are in countries or territories affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition, and of these 26 million have fled their places of origin. Their tragedy is compounded by the lack of media coverage and public sympathy for refugees.
People all over the world are being forcibly displaced to flee a multitude of human rights violations, predominately torture. Many are often targeted for their ethnicity, religion, sexuality or political beliefs.
“Every minute, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror”, states the United Nations.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Global Trend Report 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced. They estimate that 40% of these people were children, under the age of 18. This means that between 30-34 million children are currently being denied access to education, health care, employment and freedom of movement.
And again according to the UNHCR, the year ending with March 2020 was when the number of first-time asylum applicants reached a high of 155,295 in Germany, closely followed by France with 129,480, Spain with 128,520 and Greece with 81,465.
After the arduous journey to another country, most fall into poverty and homelessness because the asylum process is complex and makes it difficult for people to provide the evidence required to be granted refugee status. In the UK, people seeking asylum do not have the right to work, therefore they rely solely on state support. The cash support currently available is £5.39 a day for food, sanitation and clothing.
The wait for a final decision from the government can take years. 66,185 people were waiting for an outcome about their asylum claim at the end of March 2021. Of these, 50,084 have been waiting for over six months, which is 18,568 more than the previous year.
The pandemic has elongated this process and made it considerably more difficult to obtain a visa for refugee families with VACs. Home Office Statistics found that there was a 94% drop in family reunion visas granted from April to June 2020, compared with the year before.
The majority of refugees rely on the courts for protection, rather than the Government. The Refugee Council found the proportion of asylum appeals was 39% by the end of December 2020.
Women are more likely to have their needs recognised by the courts. After conversations with refugee women, the Refugee Council state that the asylum system can feel hostile which makes it difficult for them to describe the details of violence they have experienced.
Women for Refugee Women found that “almost a third of the women who had been raped or sexually abused in their home country were then raped again or subjected to further sexual violence while destitute in the UK.”
Over time, the terms ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ have become shackled to false myths and misunderstanding despite the UK’s enduring pride of their historical role in providing sanctuary for refugees. “We celebrate our role in sheltering Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution while letting young people escaping war-affected nations drown in the Channel”, said journalist Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, ironically.
A YouGov poll revealed that 49% of the British public have little or no sympathy for the migrants who were attempting to cross the Channel from France to England in the summer of 2020. In contrast, 44% had some or a great deal of sympathy.
Batchelor-Hunt said this trend may originate from the “pro-immigrant sentiment” that grew during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic because it became known that migrant workers made up a substantial proportion of the key workers.
Mariña Fernández-Reino and Denis Kierans 2020 report found that migrant workers represented 17% of the key workforce. In addition, the Refugee Council found around 1,200 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association’s database. It is estimated that to support a refugee doctor’s practice in the UK costs £25,000 while training a new doctor costs approximately £294,164. An alternative explanation is that negative perceptions are arguably fuelled by the government. In January 2020, MPs voted to remove their commitment to reunite children with their family from the Brexit Bill. Later that year, Boris Johnson described those crossing the Channel in small boats as “stupid, dangerous and criminal”.
The Second World War triggered a wave of unrestrained xenophobia, during this time the government detained 27,000 Jews as “enemy aliens” with Nazi sympathisers until they were released in 1943 following public protest.
World Refugee Day is an internationally recognised day that was designated by the United Nations to honour refugees across the globe and bring worldwide attention to the hardships of those seeking refuge.
And the Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival that celebrates the contributions, innovations and strength of refugees and individuals seeking asylum.
Founded in 1998, the umbrella-festival is held yearly and organised around World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20th this year.
The week aims to integrate communities together through a range of events including art festivals, exhibitions, public talks, media and creative campaigns.
Each event provides a safe platform for refugees to express their experience, on their own terms. This helps to unveil the myriad misconceptions surrounding refugees.
This Week commences on Monday 14th June and runs until Sunday 20th June, and this year’s slogan is “We cannot walk alone”, inspired by Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, which reflects that the pathway to equal rights must be one of solidarity between people from all cultures.