Everyone has the right to seek safety and protection:
- whoever they are or what they believe,
- wherever they come from,
- whenever they have been forced to flee - be it because of war, violence or persecution.
The response to the war in Ukraine and the number of people signing up to become a Sponsor in West Sussex has shown how much local people want to help those escaping from war and persecution.
There are many reasons why people around the globe seek to rebuild their lives in a different country. Some people leave home to get a job or an education. Others are forced to flee persecution or human rights violations such as torture. Millions flee from armed conflicts or other crises or violence. Some no longer feel safe and might have been targeted just because of who they are or what they do or believe – for example, for their ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation or political opinions.
Refugees come from many different countries and bring diversity of culture and thought when they settle in the UK. Everyone has their own unique story and experiences. We celebrate that diversity and want everyone to feel welcome in West Sussex, wherever they have arrived from.
* Healing image credit: Nima Javan for Refugee Week
The terms refugee, migrant and asylum seeker are often used interchangeably, but what do they actually mean?
Refugee - a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Asylum Seeker - a person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another.
Migrant - someone who has moved to another country for other reasons, such as to find work.
Refugee resettlement involves the identification and transfer of refugees from a country in which they have sought protection – usually somewhere with a large number of refugees – to a third country which has agreed to admit them as refugees where they can rebuild their lives.
Did you know?
There is no such thing as an ‘illegal Asylum Seeker’ or ‘illegal Refugee’ – this is because under Asylum and Human Rights law, any person has the right to arrive in another country to seek safety and sanctuary, and to stay there whilst authorities process their claims.
The rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are protected by international law, regardless of how and why they arrive in a country. They have the same rights as everyone else, plus special or specific protections including:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14), which states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.
- The 1951 UN Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol), which protects refugees from being returned to countries where they risk being persecuted.
- The 1990 Migrant Workers Convention, which protects migrants and their families.
- Regional Refugee law instruments (including 1969 OAU Convention, 1984 Cartagena Declaration, Common European Asylum System and Dublin Regulation).
Did You Know? In May 2022 the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said the global number of forcibly displaced people passed 100 million for the first time.
Refugees make a huge contribution to the UK in many ways. For example, about 1,200 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association’s database and can start work as healthcare professionals.
Refugee populations typically include higher than average numbers of people with a university education.
Children in the UK asylum system value education and contribute very positively to schools across the country. This in turn enables more successful integration of families into local communities.
Below are just a few examples of famous refugees that have come to the UK:
Singer and actress Rita Ora was born in Pristina, SFR Yugoslavia (present-day Kosovo). Her parents were Albanians and faced persecution during the Yugoslav wars. Her family moved to the UK when she was just a year old.
Victor Moses is a Premier League footballer who has played for Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham. He was born in Nigeria to Christian parents, who were tragically killed in religious riots, afterwards coming to the UK as a child.
Ncuti is an actor who has been announced as the new Doctor Who. He was a toddler when he and his family moved from Rwanda as refugees, fleeing the genocide. Ncuti then grew up in Scotland.
Queen’s brilliant and multi-talented lead singer was born Farrokh Bulsara in the Sultanate of Zanzibar (now Tanzania). He and his family fled to England during the 1964 revolution, when many civilians lost their lives. Mercury arrived in Middlesex at the age of 17 and went on to join Queen in 1970.
The supermodel Iman was born in Somalia as the daughter of an ambassador. When she was a teenager, the family was forced to flee Somalia on foot and ended up walking to Kenya, where they were accepted as refugees.
The Nobel Prize winner is well known for his scientific discoveries, but in the midst of his work, he was forced to flee Europe due to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany.
Refugees have been arriving in the UK for centuries and despite all the positive impacts refugees have on our communities, they can be viewed with suspicion or negativity. Let’s take a look at some of the claims made online and try and break them down.
“Why do people come here on unsafe boats and dinghies?” – Sadly, there are very few safe means of travel to the UK for people fleeing their country, particularly if travelling from places outside of Europe, this often means people make a choice between staying in an unsafe place and leaving via unsafe means.
“It looks like most of the people on boats are young, strong men” – There could be a few things going on here:
- Sometimes the media likes to play on our existing feelings, sharing pictures that fit the narrative they want to push out.
- There are UNHCR schemes for refugees and asylum seekers seeking sanctuary in countries like the UK. Most of these schemes are set up for women & families, this means that often, lone men don’t have further options available to them, other than to make dangerous journeys.
- It may be assumed it’s safest for a young man to make the most dangerous journey, so that they can organise for their more vulnerable family members or friends to join them by safer means after they have arrived.
“But why don’t they go to a country near to them?” – People seeking asylum don’t have to stop at the nearest country, there is no law stating they do. 86% of refugees live in countries neighbouring their country of origin (Refugee Council). There are things that someone fleeing would consider:
- Will I/we be safe & free to live without persecution?
- Will we receive help on arrival?
- How long could we stay there before being moved on?
There are many countries which are very dangerous to refugees & asylum seekers, therefore the decision is sometimes made to come to Europe, even when it’s not the closest option.
The English language is spoken by many people around the globe, even if it is not someone’s mother-tongue. For this reason, people may want to go to an English-speaking country so they can more easily communicate with other people.
“If someone can come here and legally seek asylum, why would they pay people smugglers?” – A person must physically present in a country before claiming asylum. As there are little to no safe routes of entry, out of desperation, people opt to pay people smugglers to help them escape to the new country.
Risks for refugees
An increase in trafficking during times of war and crisis is nothing new. With millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country, it is predicted that victims and predominantly women and girls who have been recruited at the border will be forced into situations of exploitation including trafficking for sexual exploitation.
A new website 'Ukrainians Welcome' has lots of useful information for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK – with a view to making their lives easier and keeping them safe from exploitation.
Resources and useful guidance for Ukrainian nationals arriving in the UK and for hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme can be found on the Human Trafficking Foundation website.
West Sussex does not tolerate hate crime. If you think you have been targeted because of your Faith/Religion, Sexual Orientation, Race/Ethnicity, Transgender identity or Disability you can get support.
You can report a hate incident at www.westsussex.gov.uk/hatecrime, contact Victim Support directly at SussexHateIncidentReport@victimsupport.gov.uk or call 0808 1689 274.
In their own words
What does it feel like to start again in a new country?
We spoke to a refugee from Syria to get their perspective on life in the UK.
- Where did you live before coming to the UK and why did you have to leave? I lived in Lebanon for seven years after leaving my country (Syria) after my family and I being hit by bombs and get injured and destroy our house.
- What was your first impression of the UK? It was a safe place for me and my family. That's why it was an excellent impression.
- What do you miss most about your country? The thing I miss most about my country is my family that stayed there. I'm in a state of great longing for them, and at the same time, I’m always worried about them because of the bad situation there.
- What has surprised you about living in West Sussex? There were a lot of things that surprised me, like the differences in the culture, food, medicine, schools.
- What do you think is the best thing about you? I think the speed of my adaptation to the new place was a surprise to me. But I think I'm working very hard to support my family to secure a better life for them.
- Is there anything that people don’t know about you that you’d like to share? I think I'm a very clear person. I like to share what I feel with my friends around me but at the same time I prefer to keep my personal life private. I work hard to reach my goal. I think my journey turned me into a stronger person and taught me how to do things my way.
- What advice would you give someone who has just arrived in the UK? My advice is to try to fit in and integrate with those around you as soon as possible. I know it's not easy to do that, especially with a lot of obstacles and the biggest is the language, But don't give up. Keep going, you can do it.
Our support for refugees
West Sussex accepts and supports refugees from around the world under Government schemes.
As a County Council we work with our local authority partners in the district and borough councils, the local NHS, police and other services and voluntary groups to help relocate and settle families and individuals within the county.
We also work with several organisations and groups to support refugees and people seeking asylum.
More details about what we do and who we work with is on our Refugee Resettlement pages.
One of our Refugee Resettlement Team tells us what it’s like to work in this area.
What is your job title and what does that involve?
I am the Refugee Resettlement Coordinator for West Sussex County Council. I am privileged to be part of a specialist team, who assist families that are uprooted due to war and settling in Great Britain as part of the UK Government’s international obligations to offer a safe haven for refugees. I am the safeguarding lead for my team and I also deliver training, oversee partnership work and coordinate an amazing group of volunteers throughout the County, which are an essential part of our resettlement work.
What is the best thing about your job?
Meeting and interacting with our refugee families is the best part of my job. It’s a joy when I visit a family and they greet me like a long lost family member!
What is the worst thing about your job?
Our refugee families have gone through most traumatic events and they have lost everything before coming to the UK. They have lost their homes as well as many loved ones died during conflicts. They all miss their families terribly and we are always mindful of the fact that feeling safe and at home for them will take time. Worse times are when our families face racism or prejudice for being refugees.
Why is this work important?
We live in a global society where the culture is enriched by diversity and refugees have plenty to offer. The resettlement process is about making UK their home after so much loss and our work is the first step to ensure that they feel safe and can be a part of community here.
What is your most memorable moment?
When I visited an unofficial refugee site in France during the Syrian crisis in my personal capacity as a volunteer, I met a family who were living in a tent and they had very little. Yet they invited me to share their food and, despite the extremely challenging circumstances, they made me a cup of tea. I always remember their generosity and kindness and I also remember finding their resilience for survival inspiring. Refugee stories are human stories which we can all learn from and I feel understanding refugees who are survivors of extreme circumstances is very important for all our communities.