'Refugees seeking help in Sheffield are just people like you and me'
I spoke to volunteer Sara just after one of her weekly trips to support the refugees who have been temporarily located in Sheffield.
Some groups have claimed that they are live in luxury in but this is far from the reality. The refugees have only the basics to live on.
Some weeks Sara takes specific deliveries to the refugees such as medications but often it is the basic items of clothing that she delivers on behalf of Stand Up To Racism and Care for Calais.She works as part of a small team of volunteers and it is these basic items that the two charities have now put an appeal out for.Often the refugees have fled desperate situations and are here with only the clothes they are standing in.Sara tells me that people go to great lengths to get to the UK and a place of safety: “One refugee had spent two years walking from Africa”, she says.
The UK receives a tiny percentage of the world´s refugees, less than one per cent in fact.In total 85 per cent of the world’s refugees are in countries neighbouring their country of origin such as Turkey or Bangladesh.
And Sara feels it is because of media bias that many people have a negative reaction to the refugees.
“All they have heard from the majority of the press in Britain is negative, but refugees are just people."They are often described as invaders or illegal, but no human is illegal. "Put yourself in their shoes. Why would you choose to leave your country, friends and family?
“People are fleeing persecution. It is not possible for them to collect a passport or go to an embassy or easily access legal advice.
“They have dreams, aspirations, and fears just as we all have and most of them have so much to offer, they could be useful to our society. They are highly trained and among them are doctors, engineers and computer programmers.”
There can be a swift turnover of refugees located in Sheffield which was the country’s first City of Sanctuary.
City of Sanctuary is a movement to build a culture of welcome and hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers. In 2007, with the support of the City Council, Sheffield became the UK’s first City of Sanctuary for asylum-seekers and refugees—a city that takes pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety.The Home Office moves people on and through the asylum system while it is processing their claims.This can make it difficult for them to access support and services and they can sometimes spend years in a state of limbo.It is why the men (it is often but not always lone men who have come in search of safety) need basic clothing but also why loneliness remains such a problem for them.
Sara said: “A lot of these guys are really lonely. I would hate to think that, if the same thing happened to me, I would not be welcomed in the country that I was in.
"They just need a friendly face and a chat. They are often separated for months or years from their loved ones.”
And this is why Sara volunteers, she says: “Because the refugees are just people like you and me.”Sara has also volunteered in the Care for Calais warehouse sorting through donations for refugees who find themselves stuck in Calais waiting for safe passage to the UK.
And it has been this experience that has taught her the importance of giving quality donations.
“It is so important that the dignity of the refugees is respected with donations that are not damaged hand me downs.”Therefore Stand Up to Racism and Care4Calais are specifically asking for trainers in size 41, 42, 43, skinny jeans in waist size 28- 32 and joggers, T-shirts and hoodies in sizes small and medium.They do not have any storage space but if you are able to donate any items, please contact them by emailing: [email protected] you would like to help refugees nationally visit www.care4calais.org
Columnist Karen Mee Ross works to support refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield.