This is the question being put to us by Refugee Week 2020. Kicking off (virtually) on 15 June and focusing on the theme ‘Imagine’, Refugee Week is an opportunity to learn about, stand with and celebrate the contributions of refugees.

Our union has a proud history of solidarity with refugees both in the UK and around the world (see our information on welcoming Refugee children to school and videos of refugee voices here) However, a call to action that requires us to step back and consider the world that we want to live in could not be timelier. Recent global events such as the gross racial injustices in the US, the Covid-19 pandemic have shaken some of our most basic values of inclusion, dignity and equality – exposing fractures between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.  Refugee Week is therefore an opportunity to reaffirm both our values and our solidarity.

(Banner photos © Jillian Edelstein)

Refugees around the world face significant challenges

From Afghanistan to Venezuela, Syria to South Sudan, approximately 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict and persecution.[1] Discrimination, language barriers, no right to work or health care, exploitation and gender-based violence are just a few of the challenges that refugees face as some of the world’s most marginalised people. Refugees are also acutely vulnerable to crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

Worryingly, children represent around half of refugees and they are frequently denied their right to education. Just 63 per cent of primary aged refugee children are enrolled in school, compared to 92 per cent globally. As they get older, less than one in four attend secondary school.[2]

As leaders of Europe's largest education union, this is seriously concerning. We know that the best way to secure the wellbeing and futures of children is for them to receive a minimum of 12 quality years of education. The NEU therefore collaborate with and support several sister unions and projects to help live up to the promise that ‘no child is left behind’.

UK must work harder to empower refugees

But it’s not just around the world that refugees face systemic challenges. Here in the UK, home to 127,000 refugees, they are too frequently denied access to both the specialist and basic support and services that they need. Government policies can often create barriers to health care, legal advice, welfare support, the job market and integrating into the education system. Further, many are vulnerable to exploitation and women are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.[3]

We all therefore need to advance our efforts and retool ourselves to ensure that the UK Government creates policies that accept, protect and empower refugees.

Refugee Week is an opportunity for solidarity

Despite such adversity, refugees are some of the most resilient, innovative and strongest contributors to UK society. We see this played out in classrooms, playgrounds and local communities. We also see this in the work of organisations that the NEU supports. For example, the British Rohingya Community, Lift the Ban Campaign, Ongoing Journeys and Refugee Week itself. However, these stories too often go untold and uncelebrated.

This is why Refugee Week is so important: it offers the chance to celebrate the achievements of refugees and recognise their contributions. To learn, make new connections and reaffirm our solidarity. The NEU has a great history supporting Refugee Week and therefore we encourage all our members to engage with the resources below and, if they can, to take part in this year’s virtual events.

On the refugee week site there are some fantastic resources for schools, and children and young people.

Take action

For Refugee Week 2020 (15-21 June) we’re inviting you to do one or more of eight Simple Acts that can all be done at home, inspired by the theme ‘Imagine’.

Simple Acts are everyday actions we can all do to stand with refugees and make new connections in our communities.

Whether you plan an event or activity around a Simple Act or just take part during the week itself, you’ll be joining a big, creative, collective movement to imagine a better world.

Their call out is to ask for people to do a ‘simple act’.

Draw, paint, craft or write a poem or story about the world you want to see

  • Write a poem or short story starting with ‘Imagine if…’ or ‘Imagine a world where…’
  • Imagine you had to leave your home behind. What would you take with you? What would you hope to find?
  • Stick your imagining in your window, send it to a friend, or share it on social media using the hashtag #SimpleActs #Imagine.”