By Davina Patel
In June, Initiatives of Change’s Sustainable Communities Programme in partnership with the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ICERAS), hosted their fourth annual event in celebration of World Refugee Day. The theme of the event and in keeping with the theme of Refugee Week 2020, was imagine. Imaging a better future – in the unprecedented time of Covid-19 – the call to ‘imagine’ feels more important than ever. The panel of speakers drew inspiration from the theme where they imagined a better future for all refugees.
Lord Dubs gave the keynote speech urging the government to re-think their policies concerning unaccompanied child refugees. He stated that all they want is hope and safety. He said: ‘Human being can put up with terrible things if they have hope for the future. What characterises many refugee camps is lack of hope. What we can do together is to give these children hope that they can get to a place of safety where they can resume their lives, with love and affection and education, to be normal human beings.’
Lord Dubs was joined by Professor Giorgia Dona, Co-Director of the Centre for Migration – Refugees and Belonging, University of East London, who explored the reasons who are refugees and why they seek asylum. She added that the issue of mobility has become unequal. ‘The right to seek mobility is a human right.’ Families and communities are sending young men because they are at a higher risk of being recruited by armies and extremist groups. ‘We have seen that 85% of refugees are internally displaced and have moved within their own country’s borders and to the south.’ Refugees that Giorgia has spoken to have said that they are finding the hostile environment humiliating and traumatising. They can’t work while they are in the asylum system, yet they are penalised for accepting state benefits. Beth Gardiner Smith, Chief Executive of Safe Passage International, spoke profoundly about the work that Safe Passage does and the urgent need to have safe legal routes for refugees to seek sanctuary.
The speakers urged the audience to continue to support and fight for the rights of refugees. Safe Passage has a number of useful resources to lobby MPs and tools to help campaign for legal and safe passage for refugees.
The event brought much food for thought, with music, poetry and entertainment playing a central part of lifting the mood and inspiring the audience to think creatively in these challenging times ahead.