Despite facing its hardest year yet, the Across Borders cohort continues to demonstrate that our best hope for the future lies in a strong community.
By Jacob Warn and Tanya Murphy, Learning Coordinators for Across Borders
What is Across Borders?
In early 2020, Comic Relief launched Across Borders, a £7 million funding programme supporting 19 civil society organisations and partnerships working to defend the rights of people on the move. This route-based programme brings together organisations from North Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe up to the UK to catalyse collaboration across the common routes to safety that refugees and asylum seekers often take.
This cohort is providing direct support to people on the move through grassroots approaches, developing arts-based advocacy projects and large-scale cross-border interventions. This cohort has been transforming lives together since 2020 and is set to continue its work beyond 2023. During this period, information-sharing, innovative practices and enhanced collaboration puts the Across Borders cohort at the cutting edge of modern-day refugee response.
We have the privilege to work with 19 incredible organisations developing routes to safety for refugees and asylum seekers. Yes, it is a privilege. Not often are you afforded a bird’s-eye view of how so many leading charities work across continents. Not often are you able to speak intimately with founders, staff, volunteers and service users to paint a vivid picture of migration.
Perhaps rarer still is the opportunity to watch how organisations respond as a network when confronted with crisis. For though these organisations have never had it easy - they already work in one of the toughest and most polarised sectors - in the past 3 years they have faced down emergencies and wars, policies and pandemics. And each time they have done so with steely determination and sterling positivity.
In 2020, we greeted a cohort of organisations thrown headfirst into the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, we found them at the centre of the international and domestic humanitarian response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. In 2022, we held space as they pivoted again to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
To make matters worse, a politics of hostility is hampering humanitarian efforts Europe-wide. Indeed, these emerging policies that confound aid provision, complicate asylum processes and contravene international law might serve to further erode the spirit of these organisations.
Yet it does not.
Instead, we have watched for 3 years as each emergency is addressed with energy; every crisis countered with creativity. Without fuss, the Across Borders cohort have nimbly pivoted their work to reach newly-affected populations and reach current ones through new channels. They put their heads, hands and hearts together.
This year, drawing on the deep levels of trust and warm relationships between this community, they have nurtured one another in response to Ukraine, with Safe Passage, Amna Refugee Healing Network, Choose Love and the European Network on Statelessness building capacity to support at the frontline. IMIX, Refugee Action and Medical Justice have taken on bold new campaigns to defend the rights of asylum seekers and detainees in the UK. Many of the organisations including St Andrews Refugee Services in Egypt and Velos Youth in Greece came together to release a stunning new podcast series reaching tens of thousands of people and building a deeper level of understanding of the refugee journey.
And alongside all this, the smiling faces of so many from each of these organisations have frequently come together with gusto for our online webinars. According to the members themselves, these are “a critical space for reflection and collaboration” (St Andrew’s Refugee Services), “a unique opportunity which you don't normally find of being able to connect with others in the field whose work is so closely aligned” (Family for Every Child) and a place “to meet other organisations, share knowledge and has resulted in further collaboration” (Stop the Traffik). Here, they have celebrated each others’ achievements, exorcised frustrations to listening ears, shared wisdom generously, and established new partnerships. Much of this is also publicly available. You can listen to the podcast series here(opens in new window), and watch an example of community learning from Good Chance Theatre’s The Walk here(opens in new window).
Across Borders shows us that no matter how hard the challenge or how far away the solution, the road is clear: community and camaraderie will get us there, stronger than ever.