The theme of this year’s Refugee Week(14-20 June) is ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’. Over the pandemic many of us felt lonely and isolated at times. For asylum seekers and refugees this has been even more acute.
Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Founded in 1998 and held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June, Refugee Week is also a growing global movement.
Refugee Week enables people from different backgrounds to connect beyond labels, as well as encouraging understanding of why people are displaced, and the challenges they face when seeking safety. Refugee Week is a platform for people who have sought safety in the UK to share their experiences, perspectives and creative work on their own terms. It also helps challenge some of the prejudices, racist notions of refugees and negative stereotypes that too many in our society hold.
Refugee Week’s vision is for refugees and asylum seekers to be able to live safely within inclusive and resilient communities, where they can continue to make a valuable contribution.
KLS supporting refugee communities
At Katherine Low Settlement we’ve been supporting refugees and asylum seekers since the 1990s, with a focus of getting ahead in education. We work with adults providing free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses and qualifications. This enables migrant and refugee communities in Wandsworth to improve their English literacy and language across the four skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. We also work with refugee children and young people through our Love to Learn education team, by broadening their educational experiences, improving educational outcomes and confidence, and supporting their aspirations.
The refugee families and young people we work with already have tough lives. The Covid-19 lockdowns have amplified some of the poverty factors they experience:
- household financial hardships – 80% of our parents have lost jobs and/or income during lockdown
- lack of food and hunger
- lack of IT and online connectivity, which has limited their access to school and education (this has been significant and will impact on their future employment prospects and earning potential)
- increased mental ill-health (stress, anxiety) and reduced physical wellbeing (as many didn’t leave their flats for months)
- safeguarding issues (e.g. including neglect and domestic violence)
With a looming recession and significant unemployment likely towards the end of the year and into 2022, which always hits those on lowest-incomes hardest (i.e. our young people & their families), their lives are about to get a lot harder. It is imperative we support them through this difficult period, and equip them with the education and skills they need to get ahead.
Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees: Schools of Sanctuary
We co-founded Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees back in 2015. Today they are an independent, local charity of 11 volunteers, working with all of the refugee charities in the area, in order to provide a welcoming environment for people seeking sanctuary and raise awareness of their lives and stories.
They’ve recently formed a schools sub-committee to provide support to local schools, who would like to provide a welcoming environment to refugee pupils, and teach all children about the reasons why refugees are forced to leave their countries. The Schools of Sanctuary awards scheme/network for the borough, gives recognition and support to schools who would like to make welcoming refugees part of their year-round ethos. This explicitly demonstrates the school’s commitment to equality (including the duties under the Equality Act 2010 of eliminating discrimination and fostering good relations) and gives access to a support network of over 300 schools around the country doing the same.
There is a Zoom event on 29th June 4-5.15pm for schools who are interested in becoming Sanctuaries. If you’re interested, please get in touch to find out more. And here’s a very useful resource pack for teachers of videos, books and subject/age specific activities and lesson ideas.
This Refugee Week (14-20 June) we will be sharing one story each day, here on our blog, about some of the people we work with and the difference we’ve made to their lives. We’ve also organised some visits to see our work in action. Stay tuned and help us walk together through Refugee Week 2021 and beyond.