VIAN, a Refugee Environmental Project

VIAN, a Refugee Environmental Project
This remarkable environmental project, run by refugees, is one of the friendliest, most energetic and cheerful groups you could imagine, doing something rather extraordinary in a little corner of the English countryside.
These refugees are from countries like Iran, Namibia, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. Together they pick up litter – and not just from pavements but from tree roots, ditches, canals and streams.
‘We love nature and the environment,’ their leader, a Kurdish Iranian man called Bahman, told me. ‘Every week local people tell us an area that needs to be cleaned, and we come to do it. It’s our way of giving back to the community.’
The group, VIAN, is named after the Kurdish word for ‘love’. Bahman, a teacher and environmental volunteer seeking asylum in the UK, started it 3 months ago with like-minded people from the hotel that he’s been put in.
‘We all wanted to respond in a responsible and civilised manner to the support and help we receive from the British government and people,’ he told me. ‘We don’t want refugees and asylum seekers to be perceived as either useless or worse sponging off the British economy.’
In fact, local people love the VIAN crew. ‘Oh yes, when they see us, they always greet us and come and thank us for what we’re doing. Now they’re asking if they can get involved with us, and join the group. I feel so happy that we seem to have created this emotional bridge between people.’
VIAN now has 29 members from all walks of life, including a doctor, 3 teachers, a lawyer, a vicar and an engineer. Many of them are supported by Care4Calais volunteers. Meeting every Friday, they’re growing more and more ambitious. At the moment the members are trying to persuade asylum seekers in local hotels to use reusable eating utensils, to reduce disposable plastics in the hotels. In the spring they’ll be planting trees.
It all makes you wonder what could be achieved if asylum seekers had their claims processed more quickly so they could get to work.
‘In my opinion, says Bahman, ‘refugees living in the hotels are a great potential force. With careful planning and management, that force could be used in many fields such as helping the environment.’
‘If asylum seekers were involved in schemes like VIAN, their time will be filled productively, and the British government could make good use of the huge amount of energy of the asylum seekers living in hotels.’
Bahman has asked to thank Karen Reeve, of West Berkshire Action for Refugees; Sam Jonkers, Helen Bowen and Rosie MacGregor from Care4Calais, Christine Ngutonua, Thatcham council for the equipment help and sincere cooperation, and finally ‘The kind and loving people of Thatcham, who treat asylum seekers very kindly and respectfully.’
VIAN relies on support from Care4Calais volunteers. If you would like to help refugees and asylum seekers connect better with your local community, please get in touch with us at
You can find out more about Vian, and give them a like at their Facebook page:

About Care4Calais

Care4Calais was founded by a group of volunteers with the sole aim of supporting the people of the Calais refugee camps, providing fresh meals, warm clothing, heating and important legal and medical support.

We are not politicians – we are people like you who simply believe that every human has the right to be treated in a fair and dignified way.

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