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How you can help refugees

The most important thing to remember is that refugees are people like you; people who have experienced
something incredibly awful. We live in a globalised world in which government policies and actions in one
country have an effect far beyond its borders; the consequences of this mean we have to take responsibility and
look after each other which, in any case, should just be something that humans do. Here are some ideas of how
you can take positive action. They are quite UK-focused but can be adapted, in most cases, to other contexts.
PART 1: Know the facts and challenge other peoples thinking
Thanks to the tabloid press and some of our politicians, the term asylum-seeker has become a dirty word.
Some peoples negative views on refugees come from genuine economic concerns and that should be
recognised, but a lot of otherwise rational people perpetuate myths around this issue because they just dont
know enough about it. By taking a look at a few key sets of information, you can make up your own mind about
where things really stand and you can use these facts to challenge other people when they make inaccurate or
unfair statements:
Fact 1: Word choice matters
People are coming to Europe and other countries for different reasons. In some cases people are economic
migrants who are seeking better prospects for themselves or their families, primarily due to the level of
inequality between different parts of the world. This group should follow immigration laws which may allow
them to move freely or may require a visa etc. Others are refugees fleeing some of the worst conflicts in the
world - in the case of Syria, the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. A refugee is a person who 'owing
to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a
particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or,
owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country (Article 1, 1951 Convention

Relating to the Status of Refugees). Refugees have very specific rights under international law. An asylumseeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee and is exercising their legal right to seek asylum in another
country, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated. This distinction is really important because it
affects peoples entitlements and receiving countries legal obligations.
Fact 2: There is no such thing as an illegal or bogus asylum seeker and refugees do not have to claim asylum
in the first safe country they reach
In international law, the Refugee Convention enshrines the right to claim asylum for those in need of protection.
There is a general principle in the EU that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach but
this is not a legal requirement.

Language often plays a role in where refugees aim to claim asylum because, frankly, theyve been through
enough, and starting a new life in a new country where almost everything is unfamiliar is terrifying enough,
without struggling to communicate with anyone.
Fact 3: Developing countries host over 80% of the worlds refugees
People in high income countries often feel like their countries are expected to bear an unfair share of the
burden of hosting people who have fled their homes. Of the 59.5 million people classed as forcibly displaced
persons in 2014, 64% of them were not refugees but internally displaced persons (IDPs) which are people who
have had to flee but to another part of their own country:
The vast majority of refugees are hosted in the countries surrounding their country of origin and 86% are hosted
by developing countries. The major refugee hosting countries at the end of 2014, in order of refugee population,
were: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Chad, Uganda and China:
The country hosting the largest refugee population is Turkey and the number of refugees there went up from
1.59 million in 2014 to 1.94 million today. In Lebanon, the number of Syrian refugees hosted is equivalent to
25% of the local population (the highest ratio of this kind in the world). In total, the countries neighbouring Syria
(Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, in order of refugee population) are hosting over 4 million Syrian
refugees, as well as refugees from other conflict-affected countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia:
Fact 4: Britain receives fewer asylum applications than several other EU countries
So far in 2015, 350,000 people have reached the EU borders according to the International Organization for
Migration. Asylum applications in the UK were at their highest in 2002. In 2014, the UK received 31,400 asylum
applications (only a fraction of which were approved). This was less than Germany (166,800), France (63,100),
Italy (56,300) and Sweden (81,300). 59% of initial decisions were refusals. 28% of appeals were eventually
approved. The UKs share of Europes asylum claims has declined as well, from approximately 10% in 2008 to
about 5% in 2014.
Fact 5: Europe does have space and migration can have a positive impact
The EU has a population of 506 million people. In the countries neighbouring Syria (as well as other conflictaffected states), a refugee crisis is genuinely taking place and has been for years. Europe has the capacity to
absorb a significant number of refugees and a crisis is only unfolding because of how badly its governments are
dealing with refugee arrivals. Not only that, but Europe actually needs to add more people by migration in order
to avoid economic stagnation.

The UK has been doing a good job in terms of funding made available for the response in Syria and neighbouring
countries but this does not negate obligations in other key areas such as negotiating a political solution and
refugee resettlement. Remember, when you see comparisons of funding provided by different European
member states, that the figures shown might not necessarily include funding that is provided through the
various EU funding instruments as well as directly. The government of Turkey reports having invested USD 6
billion in humanitarian support to Syrians. Here is a fair share analysis from Oxfam for funding and
resettlement which was up to date in March 2015 (and does not include figures from the Kuwait pledging
conference that month in the 2015 section, as it was produced for this event):
It is estimated that the UK alone has existing infrastructure to accept 50-80,000 refugees a year:
Fact 6: People seeking asylum do not receive significant benefits and they do not come to take peoples jobs
Firstly, 51% of the worlds refugee population in 2014 was under the age of 18. Some 34,300 asylum
applications were lodged by unaccompanied or separated children in 82 countries in 2014, mostly by Afghan,
Eritrean, Syrian, and Somali children. This was the highest number on record since UNHCR started collecting
such data in 2006 (UNHCR Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2014 report:
The majority of people seeking asylum do not have the right to work in the UK so must rely on state support. If
the UK would grant the right to work, this could be avoided in many cases. Housing is provided for those who
can show they are destitute, but people seeking asylum cannot choose where it is, and they do not have access
to council housing. Cash support is available to some, and is currently set at 36.95 per person, per week, which
makes it 5.28 a day for food, sanitation and clothing. Others receive an Azure card, which can only be used in a
very limited number of places. Others receive nothing and end up street homeless. In the UK, thousands of
people seeking asylum are held in immigration detention centres, without any charge being made against them,
for the duration of their application and appeal. Detention of people seeking asylum is opposed by the UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In 2012, of 21,843 main applicants for asylum, 11.4% (2,482) of applicants were
Fact 7: EU policies and the barriers to legally seeking asylum are putting peoples lives at risk and
disadvantaging the most vulnerable
Take the Syria crisis people are risking their lives getting to Europe by boat using smugglers because EU
member states will not allow them to apply for asylum in embassies in the countries neighbouring Syria:
Additionally, they are taking boats even though this route is more expensive than flying because EU members
states are transferring the responsibility for deciding who is or isnt a refugee to airlines which face financial
implications if they are wrong.
In the case of Syria, the vast majority of people who make it to Europe are granted asylum but they are still
forced to risk their lives because safe routes for seeking asylum are not made available. In addition, the

extremely vulnerable are further disadvantaged because they are usually not able to afford to pay smugglers to
help them reach Europe.
Fact 8: Almost every single refugee wants to go home if they have the choice
The vast majority of people want to stay near home where the culture makes sense and their community and
social support network is, if they have any choice. People leave their country because they have no choice.

PART 2: Use your rights to stand up for the rights of others

Whether we like it or not, if we live somewhere safe and relatively prosperous, other humans will come to us for
assistance when they need it and, importantly, their right to do so is enshrined in international law. So we have
a responsibility to push our governments to collaborate to establish effective and appropriate systems to deal
with this phenomenon in a humane way and to use their positions to create positive change for people affected
by crisis, wherever they are.
Idea 1: Write to your MP (or, even better, go and meet with them), the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary,
the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development, lobbying for the British
Government to do the following:
1. Play a meaningful and active role in really seeking a negotiated political solution to crises like the Syria
2. Continue to provide fair share of funding for appropriate aid in affected countries e.g. Syria and
neighbouring countries. The UK has taken an active lead in this area but this does not negate its
obligations in others such as seeking a political solution or committing to appropriate, fair-share levels of
refugee resettlement.
3. Work collaboratively with other EU member states to develop a coordinated and effective system for
responding to refugee arrivals in Europe that allows for safe transit routes that avoid unnecessary risk to
personal safety or of exploitation. This should include reception centres for processing of asylum claims
and provision of aid to meet food, water, sanitation, protection and shelter needs. An unfair burden
should not be placed on countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean e.g. Greece and Italy.
4. Ensure that search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean are maintained.
5. Commit to resettlement of a fair share of refugees, so that responsibility can be better shared by
governments, and work to remove the barriers to legally seeking asylum.
6. Grant the right to work for people seeking asylum in the UK and use diplomatic channels to advocate for
other governments in countries hosting significant refugee populations to grant refugees the right to
Idea 2: Lobby your local MP, local council and mayor to take your town/citys fair share of refugees
Like these people in Stroud did:

Idea 3: Attend pro-refugee demonstrations

Saturday 12 September is the Refugees Welcome Here National Day of Action. There will be a march and rally in
London and events all over the country. Search for Refugees Welcome Here and the name of your local town to
find yours.
Idea 4: Sign petitions and raise awareness
Support the campaign to allow people seeking asylum the right to work (which would help the economy through
taxation and reduce the need to support through benefits, as well as having a significant psychosocial impact):
Watch CAREs video and raise awareness by using the #NotThatDifferent hashtag:
For more campaigning opportunities:

PART 3: Donate to effective humanitarian responses

You can donate money to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station which is working in collaboration with Medecins Sans
You can donate to the British Red Cross Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal for the response of Red Cross national
societies in the affected areas: or donate to specific crisis appeals of
organisations that you trust
You can donate food (to help people in the UK) - info about food banks around the UK is here:
There are also a lot of local homelessness and refugee charities providing hot meals and food parcels. Your
nearest City of Sanctuary is likely to know about these:
We have mixed feelings about the movement that has sprung up in the last month with several volunteer-led
organisations collecting items and running convoys to the camps in Calais. On the one hand, its great that
grassroots civil society is mobilising. On the other, the humanitarian aid sector has professionalised significantly
over the past couple of decades, with good reason. Todays aid workers are trained in internationally accepted

minimum standards and in how to carry out their work in a way that minimises unintended harm and protection
risks to the affected population. If professional aid organisations are working in the area, presence of amateur
aid groups also makes coordination (to avoid duplication of efforts, try to avoid gaps in coverage and maximise
sustainability of interventions) even more difficult than it normally is. These are our concerns, but we dont
pretend to know the quality of this work in detail and if you want to support these efforts thats fair enough and
this is a place where you can find more information on them:
Help with donations to established aid organisation Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World)s work in Calais:
A map showing donation points across the UK for refugees is here (check with them if donations will assist
people arriving in your area or be taken over to other European countries if you mind one way or the other):
Clothes can be donated in Leeds and Wakefield for new arrivals in these areas:

PART 4: Volunteer your time/space to support refugees

There are different ways you can help e.g. by offering a spare room for a person seeking asylum to stay in or by
helping someone to settle in to their new hometown by getting orientated and understanding how things work.
One thing is for sure, if you get to know someone who has fled their home as a refugee, it will touch your heart
and genuinely change your outlook on life.
Avaaz is partnering with Citizens UK to link people up with volunteering opportunities for lobbying, mentoring,
orientating and hosting:
Its possible to volunteer with the Red Cross in certain parts of the UK:
or with Refugee Action:
You can host people for short or long stays in spare rooms to help make sure they dont have to sleep on the
Again, you can contact your local City of Sanctuary group to find out about other ways in which you can help: