By Cathy Togher, UK Grants Manager at Comic Relief.
I am incredibly proud to work at an organisation that has been supporting refugees for over 30 years and happy to be celebrating World Refugee Day, but also sad that we now have more displaced people than in the Second World War and that refugee status is still needed for millions of people across the world.
But today is a day to celebrate, all of the amazing organisations and the people we have supported over the years – we salute all of you!
I am privileged to have met many of these people and see the impact our funding is making to people’s lives here in the UK and across the world. In dire circumstances I have always been welcomed with generosity; be it in a refugee camp in Jordan, the “jungle” camp in Calais or in the UK by destitute asylum seekers. Over the years the most compelling thing I have taken away is that the term ‘refugee’ is a status and not the person.
And speaking of warm welcomes I would like to share just a few of the many I have received over the years at Comic Relief.
One was at Room to Heal, a wonderful organisation providing support to people who have experienced torture and human rights abuses. Once a week people meet in a peaceful community garden where dinner is cooked and eaten together, while people share their stories and grumbles about the weather (the universal conversation point). As well as sharing food they provide individual and group support. This place is a lifeline for many people, and clearly is as much about friendship and community as it is about healing the mental wounds that people have to live with every day.
Another was a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of attending Women For Refugee Women conference – an incredibly uplifting and hopeful experience. The women are inspirational and powerful and through their work they have helped to end child detention and last year saw the end of indefinite detention of pregnant women to a limit of 72 hours.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet some of the bravest children I will ever meet in my life in Calais and in the UK through our projects with Help Refugees and Safe Passage. Despite the horrific things they had been through they welcomed me and shared their stories and hopes for the future. They even attempted to teach me the rules of cricket and I disappointed them greatly – I will never understand that game, but understood how important it was for them to have a routine and something to look forward to everyday. Children are children wherever you are.
People with refugee status have changed the world we live in, from Nobel Prize winners, politicians and community leaders, to the mind-blowing Team Refugee at the last Olympics. This day and week celebrates those achievements and we at Comic Relief are proud to have contributed to touching the lives of thousands of people right here in the UK and internationally. We will be celebrating alongside all of our neighbours new and old, today and long into the future.