Posted: 17 June 2015

Refugee Week: Escaping and searching for peace

This week thousands of people across the country from all walks of life will join together to celebrate Refugee Week, – a programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK and promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

In recent months we have seen a lot of media coverage about the devastating fate that has met thousands of refugees seeking safety as they travel across the Mediterranean to Europe. Just last week the UN Refugee Agency reported that 103,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean so far in 2015, coming mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many individuals, including children who make up around half of the world’s refugees, have perished making this journey. The death toll is said to be around 2,000 so far and the International Organisation for Migration estimates that this could reach up to 30,000 in 2015 based on current figures.

The majority of the world’s refugees remain in developing countries like Pakistan (which hosts 1.6 million refugees), Lebanon (1.1 million) and Iran (982,000). In the UK we receive around 20,000 applications for asylum each year including approximately 2,000 from unaccompanied children who arrive on their own without parents or guardians.

Once they reach safety, despite the horrors of war and abuse that they have suffered, and the terrifying journeys they have endured, many refugees go on to successfully rebuild their lives and integrate into their host communities.

Refugee Week is a celebration of this very fact and aims to shine a light on all the positive ways in which refugees have contributed to British society – a place which has provided them with a much-needed refuge and peace in their lives.

Brave new world

Through my work at The Children’s Society I have had the privilege of meeting some of these extraordinary young people. One such young person is Gulwali, who arrived in the UK after a long and dangerous journey aged 13.

Overcoming the difficult experiences of his early childhood he has become involved in a range of national and local initiatives aimed at helping disadvantaged children. He was a member of the Bolton Children in Care Council and more recently took part in the national Children’s Commission on Poverty.

Another young refugee, Riyya (not her real name), came to the UK aged 11 with her mother, who has severe mobility difficulties. With hardly any support, Riyya has cared for her mother from a young age, doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping by herself. At first she could hardly speak English and didn't know anything about the new country in which she was living. But she persevered. She learned English, did well in school and became involved with our work to help improve the lives of other young people.

Refugee Week across the UK

This week thousands of people across the country from all walks of life will join together to celebrate Refugee Week – a programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK and promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

For more information and to find your local events, please go to the Refugee Week website.

If you would like to know more about our work in this area and how you can help, please send me an email.

By Ilona Pinter - Policy team
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