Collaborative practice in the refugee sector

19th July 2021

By Jacob Warn with Tanya Murphy - Comic Relief Across Borders Learning Coordinators

All the greatest issues of our age are global. 

From the #MeToo movement against sexual assault to environmental justice efforts, in the 21st century, humanity is responding to pressing, global issues in coordinated and powerful ways. And our collective responsibility to protect people on the move is no exception.

Today more than ever, migration is a part of our daily conversation. Contemporary history and global media have brought the plight of refugees directly to our newsfeeds. 

Yet while governments and media spread fear and panic, there is a movement within the refugee support sector that recognises the true potential for synergy and innovative collaboration within this global environment.

This global vision is allowing the refugee sector to better contextualise the journeys displaced people take. On average, refugees spend over 10 years(opens in new window) on the move and during this time often face multiple cycles of displacement. Where historically we have sought to respond to the immediate needs of those seeking asylum, we are now better able to take a route-based approach that is both more empathetic and effective.

So, what is this route-based approach? 

It starts by transforming one’s thinking to place the focus on the broader journey experienced by a person on the move. This journey begins before, and often ends long after, one particular place. It extends beyond the scope of one single organisation. This kind of thinking informs a considered and interconnected response that works across borders, seeking to support both an individual’s current and cumulative concerns.

To achieve this, we must create new and powerful communities of learning amongst civil society. We must test our technical and local expertise on an international level, share discoveries, harvest innovations, and develop a 360° vision. 

If we are successful, much like the climate movement, our international refugee coalition-building efforts will unlock enormous benefits. It will release the potential for bold new media campaigns, truly intersectional approaches, and major funding opportunities through new international partnerships.

And the good news is, we’ve already started. 

Funded by Comic Relief, the Across Borders programme is an example of how this kind of collaborative practice is already bringing about positive change. As a coalition of 19 civil society organisations and partnerships, we are working across countries and across sectors. As one funded partner says, “Such collaboration is rare. In fact, it is difficult and actually quite radical. But if we can get this right, it will be phenomenal.”

How are we doing this? Organisations such as the European Network on Statelessness(opens in new window) and Stop the Traffik(opens in new window) are working across the cohort to harness technology to provide ever-more-effective data visualisations; dynamic funders such as Choose Love(opens in new window) and the Fund for Global Human Rights(opens in new window) are enabling rapid information exchange amongst grassroots partners and donors; Refugee Action(opens in new window) and Family for Every Child(opens in new window) are focusing on embedding best practice horizontally across national and international groups, rather than simply rolling these out in their own organisations. Beyond all this, the whole cohort is coming together regularly to share learnings and insights from across the European migration routes. These are bold new approaches, many of which have been catalysed by a shift to virtual communication during the global pandemic and are creating ripple effects worldwide.

The issues of our times are truly formidable. But there is a way forward. With an approach that begins with an understanding of the whole story, we are able to harness technology and digital communication to embrace radically new ideas that unlock powerful international solidarity and collaboration. In doing so, we give ourselves - and those we support - the best chance possible at a safe and equitable future. To do this, we must work together.

Across Borders(opens in new window) is a Comic Relief programme supporting 19 civil society organisations and partnerships that are working to develop routes to safety for refugees. 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(opens in new window) at the cutting edge of modern, refugee response. Stay tuned as we share further updates from this cohort’s powerful work over the next few years. 

Read the first Across Borders blog post from June 2020 here.