With 65.6 million people who have been forced from home and 22.5 million refugees around the world, finding solutions for the world’s displaced has never been more pressing.
Refugee Week has arrived, and we are going to give you some ideas on what you can do to make change. Why not start by asking your organisation to host a Refugees Welcome Dinner?
Refugees Welcome is a dinner series designed to bring refugees and non-refugees around a table to break bread and break barriers, which recently won the 2018 Webby Award for Best Website in Activism. Set up by Purpose in collaboration with UNICEF Global, the series was launched on Valentine’s day in the US in February 2017. This was prompted by the idea that the day is not just about romantic love, but about love for your neighbours and love for community. Sooner after, the Refugees Welcome campaign spread across the world with dinners being hosted by companies and individuals, in countries such as Canada, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The latest events in London have been hosted by Abel & Cole, an organic food delivery company, and Girl Effect, a non-profit that builds youth brands and mobile platforms to empower girls. They welcomed refugees and asylum seekers of all ages, who have arrived in the UK from an array of countries, such as Albania, Lebanon, Belarus, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and many more.
For Abel & Cole’s latest lunch, they welcomed newcomer guests into their cosy dining space where the company’s employees enjoy a cooked meal every day. However instead of an average work-day lunch, this time the meal was punctuated with conversations between Abel & Cole’s employees and their guests from all over the world during a two-course organic meal served restaurant style. The meal got off to a warm start with the children of the families who attended immediately gravitating towards the table tennis set up at the office. Many of the newcomer guests told me it was a delicious meal.
Girl Effect, in contrast, took an evening approach and hosted an early dinner in their modern and luminous office block, where guests dined on a range of pizzas and homemade cheesecake. The newcomer guests were welcomed on arrival with a bright pink screen saying: ‘Welcome to Girl Effect- we’re excited to meet you’, with smiling faces and music softly playing in the background. It didn’t take long for everyone to relax and start chatting, with hosts and guests playing with the babies and children at the meal.
By the end of both the Refugees Welcome events, everyone bid each other farewell in the same way close friends would, with hugs and big smiles.
The success of the dinners lies in their simplicity- bringing people from different backgrounds together to share stories over the universal bond of good food. They offer a way for refugees and asylum seekers to make connections with people outside of their networks, and build bonds with their new neighbours in their new host countries. As Tracey from Migrant Help, whose clients have attended the dinners, notices ‘it lets them know that there are people who care about their stories and their opinions…. It isn’t a case of feeling special, but a case of feeling normal and human’.
It cannot be taken for granted how important social interaction is to help people feel integrated and accepted, and for people in host countries to get to know their new neighbours. Additionally, with an increase of more than 50% of asylum seekers in the UK waiting longer than six months for their claim to be processed, surviving on just £5.28 a day, the significance of having an event to look forward to cannot be taken for granted either.
Yet as Sarah, who helped set-up the Refugees Welcome to dinner series in London notes, it is a two-way exchange, ‘the best thing that the initiative does is put humans in front of each other. A lot of people that care about this cause have never actually met a refugee or asylum seeker’. As Sarah begins to explain here, the experience not only helps those who have fled their countries, but also educates the employees and enriches their lives.
To learn more about the dinner series and how you can host a dinner visit Refugees Welcome To Dinner.
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