The Refugee Council is the largest charity
working with refugees
and asylum seekers in the UK
. The council helps refugees and asylum
seekers directly, lobbies and campaigns on their behalf, supports the development of refugee-related organisations, and works with partners including the Scottish Refugee Council
and Welsh Refugee Council
The council runs one stop services and other facilities in its five offices in London, West London, Ipswich, Leeds, and Birmingham. Here refugees can obtain free advice and information on any problems they may have including the asylum process and support and entitlement. Some offices also offer specialist advice, induction programmes, support for separated children and emergency accommodation.
The council also operates a resettlement programme to provide information, advice and support to refugees as part of the UK's resettlement programme. This is known as the Gateway programme, and has links with the UK government, and the UNHCR.
Training is provided by the council for refugees and refugee community organisations. This has in the past included providing learning, development, and employment opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers but is currently suffering from funding problems. Support and training for refugee community organisations includes in-house and London-wide training and seminars by the council's community development team.
The council provides information on voluntary and assisted returns (where refugees and asylum seekers return to the countries they previously fled) to interested parties, including refugees themselves.
Lobbying and campaigning
The council works to inform and influence the public and government on matters relating to refugees and asylum seekers. It campaigns, attempts to influence policy, carries out detailed research, and works in parliament and with the media.
Campaigning is seen as vital to the council's work, as it attempts to bring refugee issues to the notice of the public and policy-makers, in the hope of bringing about changes that will benefit refugees. One recent campaign advocated a halt to returning asylum seekers to Zimbabwe during the recent political upheaval there.
The Refugee Council works to influence policy through its policy team, which aims to influence decision-makers on refugee and asylum policies, and works with organisations with similar aims to its own, including other charities and professional associations. The council specialises in four main areas of policy: protection policy, separated children, employment and training, and children's education.
The council's research programme is seen as important in its effort to improve policy and provision for its client group. The council works to build bridges between researchers, policy-makers and practitioners. Its research topics have included: the impact of anti-terrorism measures, inclusive secondary schools, refugees’ experiences of integration, an older refugees programme, and protection-sensitive borders.
The council works in parliament in an area that is one of the hottest topics in UK politics, which has seen five pieces of legislation in the past decade. This legislation has often had a negative impact on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, and indeed impacts on the work of the council to help them. The council seeks to ensure that the voice of the refugee or asylum seeker is heard by parliament when they are considering such legislation, reminding MP's of the human impact of these laws on already vulnerable people.
The political importance of refugee issues is reflected by its coverage in the UK media, and the council works to counter reporting which is often negative, hostile, and ill-informed. It also seeks to be able to respond quickly to breaking news stories, ensuring its voice is heard, and seeks to ensure refugee case stories, and positive news stories about refugees and asylum seekers are heard in the media.
The council supports the development of many organisations which work with, support, and help refugees and asylum seekers. It supports refugee communities, other local organisations and regional networks, and provides information and training courses to these organisations.
The Basis Project is a collaboration between the Refugee Council and Refugee Action, another charity working with asylum seekers and refugees. The project aims to help strengthen and develop refugee community organisations.
The council also works in the areas of community and regional development. Community development involves further work with and support for refugee community organisations. The regional development team works with other organisations to help promote the successful integration of refugees in the UK.
Working with partners
The Refugee Council works with national and international partners on issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers. The council seeks to influence European asylum policy, and works with the UNHCR to help its consultation and decision-making processes. The Refugee council also works on contingency planning for emergency programmes, and works with other partners and networks to establish country of origin information. The council's international work includes work with ECRE, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
Partnership projects which the council engages in include: The Basis Project, Asylum Support Partnership, Refugee Week, Refugees into Teaching, British Agencies Afghanistan Group, and Refugees into Business.
My own work with the Scottish Refugee Council