Supporter Magazine of the Refugee Council / Autumn 2016
Front cover images:
Top: Refugees from Lithuania are
pictured on arrival at Liverpool
Street Station in London, 1966.
Middle left: A photographer
helps a girl to disembark on
the Greek island of Lesbos after
arriving with around 125 people on
a boat from the Turkish coast, 2015.
Middle Right: A plane carrying
the first Kosovo refugees to come
to Britain since the outbreak of
war, landed at Leeds Bradford
© PA Images
Hello, I am Ayham, and I was thrilled to be
asked to introduce this issue of Update
magazine, celebrating the Refugee
Council’s 65th anniversary.
In the 65 years since the Refugee Convention
was signed, the UK has been a place of safety for
refugees fleeing some of the most horrific events
you can imagine. I am one of them.
Two years ago I was resettled to Bradford
where my little brother was offered treatment
for leukaemia. If we hadn’t come to the UK, my
brother might not be alive.
Before the war in Syria I was in Year
10 at school, my results were good, and
I dreamt of becoming a doctor. Then one day my
father was shot and killed just outside of Damascus.
It became too dangerous to stay in Syria. I was
just about to start medical school so the decision
to leave Syria was the most difficult of my life, but
I couldn’t stand to lose another loved one. When
the UN asked if we’d like to go to another country
where my brother could be treated, of course we
Now I’m working with the Refugee Council
in Yorkshire. I help Syrian refugees who are being
resettled here to settle into their new lives.
I’m also still studying to try and get into medical
school and doing lots of volunteering. It’s very
difficult to work, study and look after my family at
the same time but I manage to balance everything.
Being resettled here means my family has been
reborn; we’ve come back to life. The good news is
that the doctors are hoping we’ll be able to stop my
brother’s treatment soon.
In this issue you will read about some of the
lives that Britain has saved – and the amazing
contributions that refugees have made to the
communities who said welcome. I want to say
thank you. Your ongoing support has helped me
and my family, other Syrians, and many other
refugees to start our lives again. Thank you.
Refugee Council was there for Hungarians in 1956
and Czechoslovakians in 1968. There for those who fled
war in Bosnia and Kosovo. There for those from Eritrea,
Iran and Iraq. We are still here, for Syrians,
and anyone who needs our help.
With your help we will always be there for
refugees, as long as we are needed.
Britain has a proud tradition of protecting
refugees and the Refugee Council has been
there every step of the way – helping refugees
to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
These are their stories.
When we arrived in
England, refugees were given
a great deal of sympathy.
George Szirtes, multi-award winning Hungarian
poet and translator, fled to the UK in 1956 aged
eight. He lives in Norwich with his wife.
“My mother survived two concentration camps
in her youth, and lost her entire family. After the
Hungarian Uprising, she was desperate to protect
In August 2015, I returned to Budapest again.
This time, rather than people desperately fleeing,
they were desperate to enter. I saw mostly young
families, with nothing but the clothes on their
backs, sleeping on the cold stone floors with their
babies and small children.
This didn’t bring back memories for me. It is
not how we were treated. British people and
the state were incredibly supportive – they were
receiving a lot of desperate people from a range
of backgrounds, who ultimately had a lot to offer
the nation. I believe Britain should remember its
previous generosity now.”
That’s why I
the Refugee Council
teachers for 20 years.
Bob Vertes left Hungary in 1957. Both of his
parents were Holocaust survivors and greatly
feared the rise in anti-Semitism.
In 2016, more people then ever
before, have been forced to flee
their homes, according to the UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR). War and
persecution have displaced a record
65.3 million people – more than the
whole population of the UK.
Images: Clarissa Upchurch / Bill Knight
I wasn’t what most people would think of
when they imagine a refugee – I’m white, I speak
English, I’m well educated and I flew in a plane
to get to the UK, I didn’t have to risk my life in
a flimsy boat. But it’s important to remember
that becoming a refugee is not a choice. It
is something that can happen to anyone. It
happened to me.”
refugee is not
Gillian Slovo is a novelist, playwright and
memoirist. Born to Joe Slove and Ruth First,
both famous major figures in the anti-apartheid
struggle in South Africa, Gillian fled to the UK
with her family in 1954.
“I have published thirteen novels and a family
memoir, and written three verbatim plays. My
latest works are a novel, Ten Days, and a verbatim
play based on the accounts of a group of mothers
whose children went to join Islamic State in Syria,
which has just finished a run at the National
Theatre in London. My works often explore the
impact of politics on individuals – something that
interests me because of my history.
I am a refugee. But
first and foremost, I am
a human being.
Paul Lorber (pictured on the left outside
the community library he founded) fled
Czechoslovakia in 1968 following the Soviet
invasion of the country. His parents, who had
both survived concentration camps, feared for
the lives of their children. They took their family
to safety in Britain, where Paul went on to
become the Leader of London’s Brent Council.
04 Update Update 05
Images: Jonathan Ring / Paul Lorber
Leaving aside our clear
obligation to those in need of
shelter – and I know what that
feels like – I want to welcome
refugees because they have
so much to give to us in this
country. I want my daughters
and their friends to benefit
from the richness brought by
people who come to us.
Raju Bhatt was expelled from Uganda at age 15
along with 80,000 other Ugandan Asians. He is
a lawyer and co-founded a firm which represents
families who have lost their loved ones through
death in custody. He was also a member of the
Hillsborough Independent Panel.
such a difference to
a person, especially
When he arrived in the UK in 1979 Vu Khanh
Thanh worked for the Refugee Council resettling
other Vietnamese refugees.
He and his daughter Linh fled Vietnam as ‘boat
people’ when Linh was just seven years old. He
established the An Viet Foundation, providing
support for Vietnamese refugees in London,
before being elected local councillor in Dalston
and being awarded an MBE. Linh is an architect
The support of the
saved our lives.
Humberto and Gabriella fled Chile in 1973
after Pinochet’s military coup placed the
country under brutal restrictions and terror;
Humberto spent months in detention where he
was tortured and eventually released without
charge. Humberto worked for Swansea
Metropolitan University for 30 years and
Gabriella as a social worker for over 25 years.
Both of their children work in the NHS.
“While Humberto was detained, me and
my mother were frequently harassed by the
authorities. I was totally lost. The ordinary
things like a salary, a family, to speak, to laugh
– were all gone. I couldn’t visit him and didn’t
know if he was alive or dead. Finally, after 9
months, he was released without charges and
we fled to Argentina. But a military coup in
the country again put our lives at risk. With a
grant from the World University Service and a
visa extended by the British Consulate we fled
With the support of the churches,
universities and unions in Wales, we organised
huge fundraisers for political prisoners in Chile
– the Welsh absolutely loved the Latin music
and the saucepans full of my rice, empanadas
and Humberto’s special chilli con carne.
This is our home now, this is our country.
When I see people fleeing across the
Mediterranean, my heart breaks. We spent
just one year in a refugee camp, these people
have spent so many. I know, first hand, the
danger of countries turning a blind eye to the
kind of humanitarian crisis we are currently
A gift of
£30 could go
towards the cost of
for a refugee
torture or war.
06 Update Update 07
Images: Sarah Booker / Child Migrant Stories
Image: Bill Knight
Without Britain’s protection,
I would not be alive today.
I’m so grateful to the UK
for giving me the chance
to learn & achieve.
Poet Shash Trevett fled civil war in Sri Lanka in
1987. As a well-known surgeon, her father had
been repeatedly kidnapped both by the military
and the Tamil Tigers and forced to operate on
their wounded. As a result, the lives of his wife
and daughter were in serious danger from both
sides. Shash has no doubt that safety in Britain
saved her life. She lives in York with her husband
and two children, who are both choristers at York
“I wrote this poem thinking of my father during
his final few months battling Alzheimers. I knew
there were all these words locked up in him that
he was unable to articulate. I would spend hours
watching his silence and wish I could reach him
In Your Old Age
Appa 1 , do you remember evenings with us
on the veranda, eating cutlets,
and patties and fried fish?
The smell of freshly made string hoppers,
of hot coconut sambal flecked with
green or red chillies?
Do you remember playing bridge
with your friends, drinking
whiskey and arrack?
Surrounded by laughter and companionship,
the tinkling of Tamil,
of youth majestic with hope and vigour,
of the peace of a life abandoned
when the Troubles began?
If you could speak,
would you tell of the music
of the wind in the palm trees,
or the feel of your feet on the hot sand?
Would you picture the golden beaches of
Mullaitivu, or the intricate carvings
of the Murugan temple?
Could you paint the green of the paddy fields,
the red of the hibiscus, or the
tumble of purple bourgainvillea?
The scent of the open jasmine
perfuming rooms and hair,
trophies of a life lost to you
years before your memory began to crumble.
Appa, in your confused mind
what do you remember now?
Image: Shash Trevett
Image: Emina Hadziosmanovic
Emina fled Sarajevo in the 1990s after being
medically evacuated with her baby sister,
who was born with Down’s Syndrome. After
completing a Masters at Oxford, she pursued
a PhD in clinical psychology and now works
with British army, navy, and air force veterans,
assessing the support they receive when they
have returned from service.
“My first memory of Britain is being with
dozens of other Bosnian families in Birmingham
Central mosque. Then the two bedroom house
we shared with three other families. By all means
it was crowded, but we were safe. At last.
When I see what is happening in the news now
I hope we can offer services that address trauma
quickly. The effects of war can still be seen among
so many in my community, it will always be a part
of us but we are rebuilding our lives and I am
proud to be supporting others to do so.”
A gift of £50
could help fund
our vital services
to help refugees
When we arrived in
the UK, the Refugee
us so much – with
their help we found
somewhere to live and
for my children to go to
school. We will always
appreciate the support
of the British people.
Dr Nasimi (picture centre, below) fled the Taliban
in Afghanistan in 2000. He now runs a large
refugee organisation in the UK and has just
opened the first citizen’s advice bureau (based on
the UK model) in Afghanistan.
I was desperate for my
daughters just to survive.
Aziz Anzabi, a University Professor at the
University of Tehran, fled Iran after being harassed
and imprisoned by the authorities after the
2009 election. He is now a London-based artist
expressing the experiences of refugees through
painting and sculpture.
“Since I arrived in the UK my work has been
featured in dozens of exhibitions and won
international awards. The people of Glasgow
were so friendly and supportive. But it wasn’t
easy. Five years ago I relied on charities for second
hand paint brushes.
I was a teacher of psychotherapy at the
University of Tehran. I was also politically involved
with the opposition party. After the revolution
a lot of people went to prison. The authorities
frequently broke into my house and turned it
upside down time and time again. They threw me
in and out of prison.
I didn’t decide to come to the UK, I just knew
that my family and I had to be out of Iran - life
for us was becoming incredibly dangerous. When
we put our lives into smugglers hands we had
nothing but the clothes on our backs. For two
and a half months we spent all day in the lorry.
We went to the toilet in plastic bottles. We came
out only at night to grab gasps of fresh air. I was
desperate for my baby daughters to survive.”
Images: The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association / Aziz Anzabi
Images: Caroline Irby
Dr. Charles Dotou is a Consultant Obstetrician
Gynaecologist who has just retrained to work as
an NHS doctor. He fled Senegal when his efforts
to stop the spread of HIV and support the LGBT
community lead to death threats and violence
from those who fought against gay rights in the
“I’ve just requalified as an NHS doctor thanks
to the Refugee Council – they helped me from
The Refugee Council has been hugely
important in helping refugee doctors to get back
to their profession – and to benefit the NHS with
our skills. This is such a worthy investment. Fahira,
who runs the Refugee Healthcare professionals
project, is an incredible woman.
I am so looking forward to using my skills to
benefit the country that gave me a new life, a life
Did you know?
The British Medical Association
estimates it costs approximately
£294,164 to train a Doctor in the
UK. A refugee Doctor can be retrained
for £29,000, a fraction of
that cost. (Building Bridges Programme:
Impact Report, 2015-16)*
*With the annual funding of £290,510 we support
over 150 Refugee Health professionals towards
employment, enabling 10-12 refugee doctors
to start working in the NHS each year.
Nine-year-old Sara and her family witnessed
ferocious fighting in her home town of Aleppo,
Syria. Her parents made the decision to flee the
country for the protection of themselves and
their children when the building next to their
home suffered a direct hit. They had no idea
if they would make it out alive; they just knew
their only chance was to run.
Against all odds, Sara and her family reached
Turkey. There they became one of the first
Syrian families to be offered refuge by the UK
government and are now settled in their new
home and looking to the future with renewed
hope. Sara’s Father told us:
“We have been supported by Refugee Council
from the start. They were very friendly. When
my son was sick, they accompanied us to the
hospital and made sure he received the correct
treatment. Thank you for welcoming us. We are
so grateful to this nation and its people for the
chance to start life again in a safe place with
no threat of bombs. The most important thing
to us was the safety of our children. Here, we
know the bombs will not fall.”
10 Update Update 11
place. Each time I attend, I do not want to
leave.” Feedback from a member of the
creative therapy focus group.
Refugee Council helps refugees to find
a place of safety and begin to rebuild
their lives. In 2016 the Refugee
Council is still needed and with
your support we are still here for some of
Britain’s most vulnerable people.
Every year thousands of children fleeing
violence and war come to the UK alone. Some
are trafficked into the UK to be forced into
domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.
After the horrors they have been through,
we are here for children so that they can enjoy
their childhood again.
We help resettled refugees to find a place
to live and help them settle in to their new
lives. We make sure they have a GP, that
children can go to school, and that everyone
knows how to get around town.
Images: Refugee Council
Images: Refugee Council / Bill Knight
“The Refugee Council advisor has been
there like a friend, like a mother. If it
wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would
be by now. I trust her more than anyone
else.” Melody, trafficked to the UK
Refugees often suffer flashbacks, night
terrors and depression having witnessed the
death of family members or suffered torture.
Our specialist therapists are there every step
of the way to help refugees around the UK
on the road to recovery.
“When I joined, I was so vulnerable and hurt
deeply in my heart. I am now a changed
person. The group is such an inspirational
We help refugees find jobs, access training
and education and find somewhere to live.
We help refugee doctors and nurses
retrain to use their skills in the NHS.
We provide a warm meal, a shower and
vital advice to refugees sleeping rough with
nowhere else to turn.
“Words are not enough for me to say
“thank you”. You gave me my freedom
back and made me know there is more
to life.” Nadifa, who was age disputed
as a child.
A gift of £100 could cover the
cost of hot showers, nutritious
meals and warm blankets for
destitute asylum seekers with
nowhere else to turn.
12 Update Update 13
We are delighted to tell
you that the Refugee
Council has won one
of three London Homelessness
Awards, which celebrate
organisations doing vital work to
tackle homelessness in London.
Our dedicated team help
newly recognised refugees
to find a home in the private
rented sector so that they can
settle in and start to rebuild their
lives. We also support landlords
throughout the process, so that
we can create secure, long-term
tenancies for refugees.
When they are granted
refugee status, refugees in
Britain are given only 28 days
to find a new home before
they are evicted from asylum
accommodation – leaving many
homeless and forcing them to
rely on charities or friends for
food and somewhere to sleep.
This is why our work is so
essential. Refugees must not be
forgotten once they have been
offered refuge in Britain.
One of our incredible
supporters, Matt George,
ran an epic 32 marathons in
36 days – across the entire
length of the UK from Lands
End to John O’Groats! Matt
ran to raise crucial funds
for our work with refugees.
His commitment has
been steadfast and we are
overwhelmed by his support
and that of his team.
See how he got on:
walks the line
for the Refugee
Thank you for
marching in solidarity
On Saturday 17th
September, the Refugee
Council was thrilled by
the amount of supporters who
joined us to take to the streets
of London and send a huge
“refugees welcome” message.
It was a fantastic day and we
were joined by many supporters
who cheered and chanted as
we marched to Parliament
Square. We heard speeches from
politicians and celebrities including
Lord Alf Dubs, Vanessa Redgrave
and Douglas Booth. There was
a great atmosphere and unity
behind the call for Britain to do
more to protect refugees.
Image: Maxine Saca McMinn
Image: Ben Van der Velde twitter
Comedian Ben Van der Velde
(pictured here on the left) has has
walked the entire Tube Network
in aid of the Refugee Council!
The five and a half week walk
included a monumental 270
stations, stretching out over 320
miles. We are so impressed! If
you would like to support Ben
and learn a bit more about his
incredible efforts please see -
If you have a fantastic fundraising idea
or would like to learn more about how to get
involved – through volunteering, hosting a
RefuTEA, or taking on a challenge, email us at:
Thank you for your support!
With a gift
in your Will
we can always be there
for those seeking safety
When you began supporting Refugee Council,
you showed a deep compassion to children and
their families fleeing war and persecution. Thank
you for your generosity – with you by our side we
have been able to offer more people the support
they need to move on from the horrors they have
witnessed and build a new life.
For 65 years, we have been one of the few
organisations working directly with refugees and
asylum seekers in the UK. Now as the world is in
the grip of the worst refugee crisis since World
War II, we are needed more than ever to help
refugees cope with their desperate situation and
transform their lives.
More and more people are choosing to
remember Refugee Council with a gift in their
Will. Making or updating your Will is easier than
you think and doesn’t have to be a solemn task.
In fact, it can be one of the most inspiring things
you can ever do. It will cost you nothing in your
lifetime and it means you can continue to be a
lifeline for refugees long into the future.
For more information on leaving
a gift in your Will or for a confidential
chat, please contact our Supporter
T 020 7346 1205
Image: M Muheisen / AP / PA Images
The Refugee Council
PO Box 68614
London E15 9DQ
T: 020 7346 1205
*Disclaimer – some client names may have been changed to protect identities.
Refugee Council is a registered charity, no. 1014576