Helping refugees: bide’s pledge to make a difference

Helping refugees: bide’s pledge to make a difference

This Refugee Week, we explore the important role employment plays in successful integration for a refugee, but how so many barriers make this a challenge. How can we help break these down?

20th-26th June marks Refugee Week – a week-long, UK-wide festival of arts, culture, sports and education that celebrates community, mutual care, and the human ability to start again.

The event aims to challenge negative stereotypes and create a space and platform where refugees can be seen beyond their experience of being displaced. The programme of events allows people from all walks of life to connect beyond labels, and encourages an understanding of why people become displaced from their homes in search of safety.

This year’s theme is healing – and who could understand this better than those who have had to leave their homes behind and rebuild their lives on foreign soil? Refugee Week’s vision is to show us how “we have much to learn from refugees about holding onto hope when going on seems impossible,” and help us see how art, creativity and community can help in the healing process.

Here at bide we support and stand with refugees. We work closely with the charity Breaking Barriers – an organisation that helps refugees acquire the knowledge, confidence and experience to gain fulfilling and stable employment. Our home manufacturing network offers an accessible and inclusive route into work for people who have been displaced, but before we delve into how this initiative helps and supports them, let’s go back to basics and look at some facts and figures.

Who are refugees?

Legal terms and figures can be helpful in explaining and picturing the situation around the world today, but they can cloud our view. It’s important to remember that each number, each use of the word ‘refugee’, equates to a human being. A person with a family, friends, a home, a career and passions. A person that could be you or me had we been born elsewhere. Someone who’s been forced to leave everything behind in search of safety in the face of atrocities such as war.

The legal definition of a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” A refugee is someone who has been granted rights in the country they have sought refuge in.

The UNHCR estimates that at the end of 2021 there were 27.1 million refugees around the world and 4.6 million asylum seekers[1]. Due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, this number will now be considerably higher. Unlike a refugee, an asylum-seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum, but is not yet legally recognized as a refugee[2].

What is it like for asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK?

The UK is home to more than 374,000 refugees, with the government receiving 48,540 applications for asylum in 2021. When people arrive in the safety of the UK, it is by no means an easy start to a new life. The UK asylum system is tightly controlled and complex, requiring asylum seekers to prove to the Home Office that they are at risk of persecution and serious threat. Until they are granted refugee status, they must live at the mercy of a bureaucratic system that denies them the opportunity for paid work and offers only the most basic support. Housing is covered by the state (often in properties that councils find difficult to let) and financial support is set at just £5.64 a day. This is all they are given to cover food, clothing and sanitation[3].

It can often take years for decisions to be reached on an asylum-seeker’s case – these years often having detrimental, long-lasting effects on mental and physical health as they live with extreme uncertainty, according to the Refugee Council.[4] Along with this devastating impact, people can often lose any work-based skills they had when they arrived in the UK, making their integration even more challenging once they are granted refugee status. Additionally, most people recognised as a refugee are only given permission to stay in the UK for five years, making it difficult to put down roots in a new home, make plans for the future or find long-term work. Tua, who now works as a carer told Breaking Barriers: “I’ve had a lot of challenges for many years. I waited for 15 years for my refugee status, eventually getting my documents in 2019. I started looking for jobs, but it was a bit difficult because of the pandemic and because I had been unemployed for so many years. […] I’m really grateful, and I really appreciate meeting Breaking Barriers. My caseworker has been like a sister to me.”[5]

What barriers are there to finding a job?

Once they have made it through the challenging system necessary to be granted refugee status, they often remain trapped by their circumstances – on benefits or in low paid work that doesn’t utilise their skills. But despite all the hardship refugees have faced, the majority want to contribute to the country that has offered them safety in times of extreme difficulty. Kemi, a volunteer with women from migrant backgrounds, says, “We came to the UK to make a living. We didn't come to the UK to cause trouble or to take benefits or other things. We leave our country because of violence or for so many other reasons. […] Working in the UK as a refugee is, to me, a privilege. It gives us room to be able to develop, to be part of the community, to integrate ourselves with the community, and also share our own knowledge with the community.”[6]

Breaking Barriers believes that finding a job is the most important factor in successful, long-term integration. Not only does it offer an opportunity for financial independence, it provides a sense of purpose and identity, as well as the chance to become involved in a community.

Yet, this journey to find work is complicated and challenging, with huge barriers to overcome before securing a job. Some refugees are re-starting their careers in a new country, having to apply their skills, qualifications and experiences to a job market that may be very different from the one they’re used to. Others may have had to flee their home countries before completing their educations, while other highly skilled workers may struggle to get their qualifications recognised by employers in the UK. They need to navigate a foreign country, job market, language and culture, often without a support network around them to help. Concerns about stereotyping could mean a refugee stays silent instead of asking for the help and support they need.

Each person has so much to offer and contribute, but the system seems to work against them on their journey to contribute to the society that has offered them safety and refuge.

What’s more, the UK has no national strategy in place to help refugees move into the labour market, relying instead on charities and non-governmental organisations to provide employment services for refugees. This is where charities like Breaking Barriers come in – supporting refugees in their search for meaningful employment and advising businesses on how to best support them in order to thrive in the workplace.

How are we making a difference?

Here at bide, we care deeply about the planet and the people in it. We believe that everyone has something to offer and can make a valuable contribution to society, regardless of their background and circumstances. This is why we designed our home manufacturing network – an initiative that helps remove some of these barriers to earning a living, empowering the unemployed and historically marginalised to gain financial independence. This, of course, includes those with refugee status. Currently 17% of our active registered bide home manufacturers are refugees. We see our role as providing a stepping stone for people to get back into their careers, offering the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and transferrable skills.

All of our eco cleaning products are made by hand at kitchen tables around the UK, with the raw ingredients and training brought to our home workers to create an accessible and inclusive route into work. We partner with charities, like Breaking Barriers, to further support the marginalised, and learn more about how we can utilise their skills, help them achieve their aspirations and fulfil their potential.

How can I help?

While Refugee Week lasts for only one week, we are encouraged to carry the energy of kindness and creating a fairer world all year round, supporting refugees wherever we are able – however big or small your actions may seem. Donations or running fundraising events for charities that support refugees are always welcome: the British Red Cross, Refugee Council and Refugee Action are just some of the many charities whose work with refugees makes an invaluable difference.

Refugee Week suggests a range of simple acts we can do to stand with refugees and connect with those in our community, all inspired by the theme of healing. Their suggestions range from sharing a dish – bringing a community together over food – to having warm and open conversations with new people in your community or workplace. Sharing messages of kindness, hope and support on social media or in community spaces is another way of standing with refugees.

There are many groups and organisations you can also join to help support refugees. City of Sanctuary UK is ‘building a movement of welcome across the UK’, coordinating groups to provide support, dignity and welcome to those seeking sanctuary. The charity works with individuals, groups and organisations across the country, offering a whole host of ways to stand with refugees through advocacy and volunteering. You can find out more about their work, and how you can help, here.

Sponsor Refugees is currently building the Community Sponsorship movement in the UK, working with communities to help sponsor, welcome and settle a refugee family into the neighbourhood. Whether you’re a group of friends or members of a faith institution, you are invited to get involved. If you know a child of school age, you can help schools participate through the Schools of Sanctuary network: a growing community of more than 300 primary and secondary schools that are committed to welcoming the thousands of young people who seek refuge here and raising awareness of the issues that refugees face.  You can also point your child’s school in the direction of the National Education Union who provide important resources on how schools can welcome refugee children and create an anti-racist environment. Meanwhile, Student Action for Refugees is a network of student groups in colleges and universities that volunteer with local refugees and campaign for policy change on a national scale.

The Refugee Council says that people who have been given refugee status only have 28 days to find a home beyond their asylum accommodation. Renting out a spare room or property if you have one is a great way to offer a safe space for a refugee to call home. You can find out how to get started here.

This Refugee Week and beyond, here are bide we will continue to offer support to refugees, caring for the planet and the people in it. Supporting our business will help us continue our mission – will you stand with us and help us create change?


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[5] https://www.leavehomesavelives.




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