Refugee Week is always a special week for reflection, celebration, and collective thinking for us all at ACH (formerly Ashley Community Housing). With offices in Bristol, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Coventry and over 14 years experience of working directly with refugees, we understand the enormous benefit they have and continue to bring to their adopted countries and communities.
ACH’s Rethinking Refugee campaign advocates that refugees should be seen as people with talent, skills and aspirations who can contribute to our society if we give them the right opportunities. Refugee Week is a great platform to share experiences, highlight refugees’ successful contributions and discuss ways to improve their healing and reintegration into their host communities.
Where once refugee matters were discussed in the periphery in most countries, including the UK, today it's at the centre of international political thinking. The ongoing war in Ukraine and the global scramble to find safe solutions for the refugees escaping this violence is only further evidence of the prevalence of this matter.
At ACH, we've always stood with refugees and we continue to advocate, promote and practice partnership working to ensure refugees in the UK are welcomed, settled, supported and integrated into society so they can re-establish themselves. We recognise that they have been through an impossible and traumatising struggle to escape from the very homes they knew and loved.
Despite what we often read in the newspapers, we've never met a refugee that ever wanted to leave their home willingly to risk everything for a foreign land. Warsan Shire put it so eloquently in her poem ‘Home’:
- Warran Shire, Poet
At the ACH, we believe that recent deportation policy is flawed and is likely not to stop migrants from crossing the channel. While it may be considered a deterrent, experiences in countries such as Australia who have implemented similar policies, show it's very costly and there is no evidence of it working as a deterrent strategy.
We agree something must be done to improve the current asylum system. We suggest improving the processing of asylum claims. Putting more resources into casework and speeding up the process of reaching a decision on asylum claims would be worthwhile. Secondly setting up large scale resettlement plans like the current successful Ukraine and Hong Kong resettlement plans will offer a safe route into UK. We must remember that the number of refugees arriving in the UK is less than 0.3% of the displaced population in the world.
At ACH, we know that refugees are an asset to their new societies. Most of them are young, hardworking and in many cases, come equipped with skills, including languages. If given the right support refugees could offer a solution to the million workers missing in our employment market.
However, once they arrive in their new countries, they need holistic and culturally sensitive support to rebuild their confidence, helping them come to terms with their difficult experiences and navigate a maze of public services that are vital for their welfare.
As one former refugee tenant, now proudly in full-time employment in Bristol, said: “All the doors are open and all the doors are closed at the same time.” The job of ACH and its partners is to ensure that the refugees can open these doors by themselves and confidently so that they can do the same for others as integrated and productive citizens of their new communities.
ACH’s package of supported housing, skills training and language support, either in-house or with partner educational establishments, is built on the concept of holistic support. It aims to achieve meaningful and sustainable social inclusion for refugees. Neither housing nor jobs alone, as important as they are, can achieve inclusion. Patience, support, guidance and skills acquisition are vital elements that must combine for refugees to lead independent and meaningful lives in their new homes.
In this difficult political period for refugees internationally, ACH has enhanced its refugee advocacy and awareness programs to include digital campaigning. In 2016, we proudly launched #RethinkingRefugee campaign which aims to educate the wider public about the realities associated with being a refugee and the positive contribution they make to our country, communities and individual lives.
Every day we are a witness to this truth and we will continue to enjoy this privilege as we aim to work even more closely across refugee reintegration and support policy. We will continue to work regionally, nationally and locally to inform and improve best practice to empower refugees to become integrated and successful citizens.