Across borders: routes to safety for refugees

Applications Open 

12 noon BST Friday 26 July 2019


12 noon BST on Monday 16th September 2019

Country Focus

Along the migratory route from Middle East, North Africa into Europe and the UK

Now Closed

Our Eligibility Criteria

Before beginning an application, please take the eligibility quiz, check our main eligibility criteria and consult the guidance thoroughly.

Take our eligibility quiz


Worldwide there are over 70 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of war, conflict, persecution or human rights violation; that is 25 people every minute. This is double the level of 20 years ago. 

It is estimated 25.9 million of them are refugees and 3.5 million are asylum seekers. More than half of all refugees are children, many of them are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families. These figures are overwhelming and it’s easy for the media to de-humanise people and forget the personal story behind the statistics. Comic Relief’s funding call, Across Borders: Routes to safety for refugees, is about putting people first, hearing what they have to say and finding solutions to some of the devasting situations people on the move are experiencing.  

The opportunity

As part of our A Safe Place to Be pillar of work, we are launching a funding programme for organisations supporting refugees on the move along the key migration routes, from Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to Europe, including the UK.

Our overall aim is to support refugees and people seeking asylum to safe, legal and dignified routes to fulfilling and happy settlement, whether that be in the country of destination, transition country or country of origin 

Whilst all the work we fund should be rooted in and informed by service delivery with effective participation of people with lived experience at the heart, we are looking for a mixed portfolio which aims to achieve holistic social change through a combination of:

  • Direct service delivery at grassroots level
  • Shifting public attitudes and countering negative narrative through campaigns, the arts, media, popular culture both in the UK, Europe and further afield 
  • Changes to policy, practice and legislation


We are looking for innovative and solution focused approaches, but successful applications must demonstrate:

  • That they are working in collaboration with other organisations, or through funded partnerships to achieve greatest impact  


  • That the work is informed by people with lived experience, aiming to shift the dial so that more people with lived experience can genuinely and tangibly shape the sector and systems impacting on their lives

Whilst applications must evidence the above, we welcome innovative approaches to social change for example; using the arts, working with the media, using technology, sport for change or different funding models for reaching fragile and conflict-affected areas. 

We are deliberately not being prescriptive in any specific issues the work should be tackling as we want that to come from the grassroots, people living and working with this experience. But some of the challenges we have identified during the scoping of this call which you may want to address include, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of access to services (including psychosocial) and basic human rights
  • Lack of data and information flows
  • Hostile environments
  • Negative public attitudes and media coverage
  • Barriers to integration
  • Ongoing risk of violence, trafficking, detention, state enforced brutality 
  • Increased risks for vulnerable groups including women, unaccompanied or separated children and stateless refugees
  • Increased risks for people working or volunteering on the ground, including risk of criminalisation
  • Inefficient and ineffective implementation of legislation and policy leading to broken and chaotic systems 

PLEASE NOTE: Comic Relief recognises the need to improve the provision of specialist immigration and asylum advice in the UK. We are taking a collective approach to addressing that and collaborating with other funders to develop a pooled fund, separate but aligned to this programme, which will aim to increase access to justice for people in the immigration and asylum system in the UK. More information on that pooled fund will be available soon.

We will therefore NOT prioritise applications that aim to increase access to and improve UK legal systems through this Across Borders funding programme. 


We know that safeguarding risks are amplified due to the nature of the work and we are committed to ensuring effective and comprehensive approaches are in place to reduce risk and harm. To that end successful applicants will outline a clear understanding and approach to safeguarding.  


This call is focused on organisations working along the key migration routes from Middle East and North Africa into Europe, including settlement in the UK. We know that routes into and through Europe change due to border closures and shifting socio-political contexts, and that many people are ‘stuck’ or forced to take increasingly dangerous and informal routes to reach their destination country. 

We therefore want to hear from you about why your work and collaboration with partners will help achieve positive social change for those making or having made that journey into Europe and the UK.

Our funding is split between the UK and International work:

  • For organisations applying for UK based work, it should be clear from your proposal that you are committed to working with and informed by people who have made that journey 
  • For organisations working along a route into Europe, we are not identifying one specific route, but your proposal should outline the context of the specific route (or routes) you’re referencing and why it’s important


Funding is available for a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 years.

Successful applicants will demonstrate that they are committed to working in partnership, either through informal collaborations or through a more formal funded partnership.  

Please note that if your organisation and your partners are delivering work that fully aligns with our criteria for this programme, we are happy to consider requests for core funding, this includes expenditure that is not connected to delivering projects but focusing on investing in the organisation, such as basic running costs. 

UK based work

We have two options for funding in the UK:

  • One investment of up to £800,000 for a funded partnership. We want to see true partnership working across the sector in the UK with a commitment to working together, involving those with lived experience to shift the dial and make positive change for refugees and asylum seekers. Whilst there will be one lead organisation, the proposal should evidence a true partnership approach with at least three partners working together 
  • Investments of £150k - £250k for a smaller funded partnership or for a single organisation, but evidence of embedding a collaborative approach is essential 

International work along the route into Europe

We have two options for investing along the route:

  • Limited number of investments of up to £700k for intermediary funders Organisations must evidence that they are reaching grassroots organisations along the route and can be flexible, agile, and responsive to the ever-changing needs on the ground
  • Investments of £80,000 - £400,000 for small funded partnership or for a single organisation, but evidence of embedding a collaborative approach is essential

What we are looking for

  • Partnerships and collaborations
  • Intermediaries that can reach grassroots organisations 
  • Cross sector partnerships
  • Direct service delivery as well as innovative approaches that might engage the arts, media, tech, sport etc
  • Movement along migratory routes rather than place-based approaches, unless they have reached their destination
  • Commitment to genuinely ‘shifting the power’ to refugees and asylum seekers and grassroots responses
  • Working towards systemic change to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers
  • Appropriate measures are in place to reduce risk and harm in as much as possible
  • Appropriate, risk-based, measures to ensure that financial crime and sanctions risk is managed effectively


Whilst Comic Relief has invested in work supporting refugees and asylum seekers for over 25 years, this route-based approach to funding is new for us.  Therefore, this programme provides many valuable learning opportunities and there is potential to explore learning questions such as: 

  • What are the needs and experiences of people on the move and their journey to settlement?
  • How can the sector better maximise the participation of people with lived/worked experience, so that refugees and asylum seekers have greater agency over their lives and the systems that impact on them?
  • How can the approaches being funded help to shift attitudes and behaviours and influence wider change in systems, policy and practice? 
  • What are the risks associated with this work, including reaching people in fragile or conflict-affected areas and how can they be effectively managed? 
  • How can more money be leveraged into the sector with particular consideration given to strengthening grassroots responses?

We seek to work with organisations that share our commitment to learning – it is central to much of what we do at Comic Relief. For that reason, we will invest in organisations that can: 

  • Be self-reflective; considering which aspects of their programme are working well, which aspects are less successful and why
  • Respond to changing contexts and emerging needs – the issues you are dealing with may change over time and your work may need to respond to that
  • Feed learning back into service delivery, with a desire for continual improvement
  • Engage with other Comic Relief funded partners, where appropriate, practical and valuable. We see real  value  in  organisations coming  together  to learn from each other where they have shared approaches, target  groups, contexts  and  challenges
  • Share learning externally, to support wider learning and coordination in the sector


Please note there is a two-stage application process:

  • The deadline for first stage applications will be 12 noon BST on Monday 16th September 2019.  Please note that applications received after this time will not be considered. 
  • If your application is shortlisted you will be given a further 3 weeks to submit a full proposal, and the Stage 2 deadline will be 12 noon GMT on Monday 18th November 2019

Stage 2 proposals will then be shortlisted for a full assessment (and we will provide shortlisted proposals with further details of what this means). 

You can read our detailed application guidance here.

Once assessments are completed, the funding decisions will be made by the Comic Relief Trustees/Social Impact Committee by the end of March 2020.