It has been another tough year for anyone who cares about refugees and we often forget to stop and reflect on the successes and good news.
From Syrian entrepreneurs to Eritrean Athletes, UK citizens rallying to defend refugees’ rights and stories of economic success: Here are 14 Inspiring Refugee Stories from 2019 to Warm Your Heart.
1. Syrian refugee sets up Mo’s eggs and takes London’s culinary scene by storm
Originally from Damascus, Syria, Mohamad Rahimeh found a talent for cooking in the Calais refugee camp.
Mo came to the UK just two years ago, after spending a year in Calais, where he learnt to cook. “I taught myself. I didn’t know how to cook. I was a political science student. I started because I had to. I used to be in the jungle, in France, I started to cook because I have a Syrian friend, his name is Mohammed, he’s like my brother. We tried to come to the UK together. When we tried, he broke his legs and I had to take care of him and when I first started cooking it was for him. In the Jungle, it’s a bad situation and you have to make something nice that reminds you of home while you’re there. So I started to cook, asking my mum, asking friends”
Mo still lives with his friend, Mohammed, in a shared flat in Brighton, and still cooks for him: “I cook, he does the washing up”. They live with their cat, Camun, the Arabic word for his favourite spice cumin.
Mo says it was the volunteers he met while in the camp that inspired him to start a Syrian brunch in the UK.
2. Behrouz Boochani, voice of Manus Island refugees, is free after 6 years detention.
After suffering hell for six years inside Australia’s offshore detention scheme, we are so delighted to celebrate that Behrouz Boochani is now free.
The Kurdish Iranian refugee and journalist, campaigned tirelessly for the rights of those incarcerated on Manus Island. Showing such incredible resilience in the most testing of circumstances, his peaceful resistance has triumphed.
“I will never go back to that place,” he told the Guardian, shortly after leaving PNG. “I just want to be free of the system, of the process. I just want to be somewhere where I am a person, not just a number, not just a label ‘refugee’.
3. Arvin and his Brother make it to the UK and start school
When we met Arvin, he had been through a long and dangerous journey from his home in Iran.
Despite still living in desperate circumstances, he had a lot of hope for the future. Arvin and his younger brother, who has autism, made the dangerous journey across the channel in a dinghy earlier this year.
We are absolutely delighted that Arvin is now safe and he has started school in the UK. Beaming with joy, Arvin sent us pictures of his his new uniform list and all the school rules he had been given.
Let’s make 2020 the year that more children like Arvin find safety.
4. One thousand refugees receive vital food packs, thanks to the determination of employees at Barclays UK.
The team at Barclays UK collected and made up a fabulous 1,000 food packs to go to the people in Brussels. A totally amazing effort!
Every pack contained nutritious tinned fish, healthy nuts and cereal bars and fresh water. Perfect for our friends forced to live outside. Without supporters like those at Barclays our work would not be possible.
5. Thousands of people come together in solidarity with refugees
In 2019, businesses, universities, foundations, faith-based organisations, youth groups and millions of individuals came together in support of refugees
Marches like The Global Climate strike in September, saw people from across the UK standing up for all those people affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Sometimes our voices can feel small against all the negativity and hostility. But together in solidarity we can be heard.
6. Efrem Gidey defies expectations, to win a European Cross Country Championship medal for Ireland
In November, the inspirational story of Efrem Gidey made news, after he won a bronze medal for Irish athletics.
Originally from Eritrea, Efrem was forced to flee with his family, taking the dangerous journey to find safety in Europe. In 2017 he spent six months in Calais before being granted refugee status in Ireland.
“I’m so happy, I don’t believe it,” said Gidey after his race, admitting his target had been a top-10 finish. “It’s just amazing.”
“I’m so happy because every time I’m looking for the Irish team, what places we finish. My [target] was for Ireland, my country, to win.”
A journey of hope and resilience, what an incredible achievement.
7. Richard Gere stands up to injustice, from aboard a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea
Richard Gere inspired thousands to make a stand against injustice, when he visited people stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
He rented a boat and delivered vital water and food supplies to over a hundred people who had been on board for weeks. From the ship, named the Open Arms, the actor also stood up against the Italian far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who had prevented the ship from docking.
“Demonising people has to stop everywhere on the planet, and it will stop if we say stop,”
8. One London woman shows incredible kindness by inviting 16 refugees to live in her home
For Karina Litvack the current refugee crisis is a cause she identifies with closely.
At the age of 12 one of her grandfathers fled Poland to Canada after persecution in the 1920s, while two of her other grandparents sought safety in France in the 1930s when the Nazi movement was gaining ground. They later lost most of their family members in the Holocaust.
“When you see what is happening in the world at the moment, I want to do something.”
And what she is doing, is opening up her home in Notting Hill to refugees from around the world. Some stay for a few weeks but others can stay for years.
9. Germany’s refugees boost economy by filling skills gaps and worker shortages
Thousands of refugees in Germany are now filling skills shortages in professions that are vital for the economy.
This didn’t happen overnight – it’s taken investment in language learning programmes, job training and other support systems, and it’s an ongoing process.
But with an ageing population and major skills shortages in key industries, Germany is on track to really benefit from its humanitarian welcome to asylum seekers nearly four years ago.
We hope other governments (including ours) will pay attention to Germany’s example.
10. In this tiny French village, refugees have become part of the social fabric
This tiny hilltop town of Ferrette, in Alsace is housing around 80 refugees and despite initial hostility to the idea and a sizeable far-right following in the area, things have gone well.
This is most likely thanks to support from the major and the efforts of a local group called ‘Neighbours Around the World’, who have organised ways to welcome them into the community.
“They told me that Alsace was an area where there was racism but I haven’t felt it,” says a smiling Djoe Kabuka, a Congolese national.
Another story showing that when refugees and asylum seekers actually become our neighbours, tensions often go down not up!
11. Dover’s seafarers show compassion for refugees crossing from Calais.
Matt Coker, skipper of the Portia sports fishing boat showed compassion and stood up for people who are making the perilous crossing, saying “Fishermen work out there, we know what it’s like. The only ones who don’t feel sorry for them are people on the land who don’t realise what they’re going through out there.”
“What would make someone try this in a dinghy? Just desperation,”
Opinions change when you look past preconceptions to see a person and listen to them properly. After walking through Calais and Dover, meeting so many people with quietly remarkable stories, we can only agree with the words of these seamen.
12. Italian charity ship defies Rome to rescue 50 off Libyan coast
The ship was bought and equipped by a group of leftwing politicians, anti-racist associations, intellectuals and figures in the arts, saved 50 people in the Mediterranean.
Defying the Italian Government’s hard line stance on rescue missions, The operation was supported by two NGOs – Proactiva of Spain and the aid group Sea Watch. Its mission has been called Mediterranea.
13. High Court orders suspension of Home Office policy of deportations without warning
The Home Office removals policy allowed them to refuse an asylum case and forcibly remove people from the UK, within hours.
In March however, the policy was suspended by a High Court judge, due to “grounds for real concern about access to justice”.
“Someone who is at risk of being forced to leave the country must have sufficient time to access legal advice and the opportunity to challenge their removal in the courts. This is a constitutional right afforded to every person in Britain.
“The Law Society welcomes the High Court decision to suspend the current immigration policy which unjustifiably allows for people to be ejected from the UK with just hours’ notice, creating a grave risk of unlawful removal that may put lives at risk.” Law Society of England and Wales president Christina Blacklaws.
14. Attitudes towards refugees are changing
According to a poll conducted by the BBC’s Crossing Divides season, almost half the people in the UK believe immigration has been positive for the country.
Together, we can make change happen! We can move towards a fairer more compassionate society.
The single best thing you can do in 2020 to support refugees, is to set up a recurring donation. Recurring donations allow us to respond immediately to crisis and emergencies without the need to fundraise first.
Whatever you can afford, the smallest amount makes such a difference to what we can do.