Today is World Refugee Day and is hugely important to both mark and celebrate. The theme this year is #StepwithRefugees, asking us to lessen the distance between ‘us and them’ and walk together towards a more accepting and inclusive future.
It is heartening to see videos like this from the International Rescue Committee that highlights the many public figures who were once refugees. It includes scientist Albert Einstein who was a German-Jewish refugee that fled to the United States before the Second World War, and more recently performers Freddie Mercury who fled the revolution in Zanzibar and Rita Ora who fled Kosovo, Yugoslavia during its persecutions of Albanians, both resettling in the UK. It reminds us that there is so much knowledge and joy to be shared across cultures if we are open enough to accept it.
There is a perception that being a refugee is a shameful status, much like poverty, that you only transcend if you work hard. It is this idea of taking what is not ‘yours’, taking away from others who feel they have ‘earned’ what they have. Empathy, humility and indeed education is missing in this conversation, we forget that in times of crisis there is no other option but to leave everything behind and to ask others for help, and often the help available is not set up for refugees to build independence and contribute positively to society.
The situation of refugees applies directly to issues such as domestic abuse and sexual violence. To be terrorised in your home leaves you with the horrific choice to stay and be abused or leave without resources and become vulnerable to the often fragile systems of support available. We also know that migrants are disproportionately affected by abuse and their precarious immigration status is used against them to threaten and control.
Many of the migrant women we see at Solace disclose abuse to their local authority and are flatly told that they will not be supported and should either return to their home country or the home they shared with the perpetrator, putting them further at risk of further abuse or homelessness.
We have a duty of care to support all those who are fleeing violence and support them to build safer, stronger futures no matter where they come from.
Imagine yourself in their shoes. Who would be there for you?
To get involved in #StepWithRefugees events happening near you - visit https://www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/