Supporter Magazine of the Refugee Council / Autumn 2016





refugees for


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

Airport, 1999.

© 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

said yes.

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.

Kind regards,


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.

02 Update

Update 03


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

her children.

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.”

When we

arrived in

England we


vital support

from refugee


That’s why I

volunteered for

the Refugee Council

retraining refugee

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.”

Becoming a

refugee is not

a choice.

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.

Welcome makes

such a difference to

a person, especially

a child.

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

and restaurateur.

The support of the

international community

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

to Wales.

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

one-to-one therapy

for a refugee

traumatised by

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

some way.”

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

find homes.

08 Update

Update 09


When we arrived in

the UK, the Refugee

Council supported

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 beginning.

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

in safety.”

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.”


drawn by


10 Update Update 11


Still needed,

Still here

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

Refugee Council

recognised for

helping refugees

Our Fabulous


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.

A marathon

effort for


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

with refugees

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!

14 Update

Update 15


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

Care team

T 020 7346 1205

E supporter@refugeecouncil.org.uk

W www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/legacies

Image: M Muheisen / AP / PA Images

The Refugee Council

PO Box 68614

London E15 9DQ

T: 020 7346 1205

E: supporter@refugeecouncil.org.uk


*Disclaimer – some client names may have been changed to protect identities.

Refugee Council is a registered charity, no. 1014576

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