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Why refugees’ self-reliance is important.

February 25, 2020

Our new volunteer Marina Munoz writes about her experiences living for a year in Nairobi. She observed the difficulties that refugees experience integrating in Kenya and addresses the benefits of Uganda’s approach to refugees and how IRT contributes to it. Uganda: A Role Model for Refugee Integration Uganda, as of February 2020, hosts around 1.4 […]

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Our new volunteer Marina Munoz writes about her experiences living for a year in Nairobi. She observed the difficulties that refugees experience integrating in Kenya and addresses the benefits of Uganda’s approach to refugees and how IRT contributes to it.

Uganda: A Role Model for Refugee Integration

Uganda, as of February 2020, hosts around 1.4 m refugees that run from political instability and violence from neighbouring countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Despite the massive influx of refugees, Uganda is considered one of the most progressive refugee hosting countries in the world because of their ‘Refugee Self-Reliance Strategy’. Under this model, refugees have the right to work and move freely within the country, which is believed to have supported the national economy’s development. Moreover, Uganda’s government has been allocating plots of land for these refugees so they can grow their own food, which makes them less dependent on food aid, boosting their self-esteem and providing them with useful skills that they can use in rebuilding their communities upon return.

How is IRT working towards the achievement of this goal?

IRT acknowledges the importance of self-sufficiency for refugees by partnering with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) which operates in Uganda, and aims to empower people to force a positive change through their StepUp Programme.

StepUp is divided in four main areas: sustainable agriculture, social ventures, savings, credit, gender and community development. In order to promote sustainable agriculture, better farming as well as crop management skills are taught. The social venture project is mainly focused on three enterprises: improving hygiene, raising awareness about solar lighting and production of sanitary pads. As a member of the community expressed: “I was very ignorant because I did not go to school. Because of OCA, I acquired a lot of knowledge. I now use a sewing machine and make reusable sanitary towels for women and young girls in the community”. Refugees were also trained to manage their own finances, explore small scale business opportunities and loan record keeping. As another member of the community indicated: “OCA taught me how to do business, and I thought about selling cooking oil, soap and onions. The business is helping me in paying school fees, that is why I thank OCA for the plan that they gave me”. Lastly, IRT aims to empower women within their own community encouraging them to take on leadership roles and offering girls basic education. As refugees, Aceng Collin and Ogwal Bruno, shared: “I thought girl-child education was useless, I never advised my children to study hard. We did not bother to check their report cards. When OCA came in, they trained us on the importance of education and encouraged us to give our girls equal treatment as the boys.” 

My experience in Kenya compared to Uganda

I think that IRT’s support to the StepUp Programme is crucial to ensure the self-sufficiency of refugees to remind them of their autonomy and agency. Fleeing one’s home is a traumatic experience for many refugees, normally having terrible consequences for their mental health, self-confidence and integration in the host society. During my experience last year living in Kenya where there is an encampment law that does not allow refugees to leave the refugee camps, I understood how relevant projects like StepUp are to provide refugees with the skills to depend on themselves and integrate. IRT acknowledges this issue and needs your support to make the life of refugees in Uganda much better.


Why I chose to write about refugees

January 29, 2020

Our new volunteer, Jonny Moynihan, looks at the way his dissertation on refugee treatment in Kenya and South Africa has led him to work at IRT. Deciding the Topic When I was deciding what subject to write about for my dissertation in MSc -Security Studies at University College London, I wanted to choose an area […]

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Our new volunteer, Jonny Moynihan, looks at the way his dissertation on refugee treatment in Kenya and South Africa has led him to work at IRT.

Deciding the Topic

When I was deciding what subject to write about for my dissertation in MSc -Security Studies at University College London, I wanted to choose an area of politics which had been relatively untouched by academics compared to other areas such as the European Union and terrorism.

China and the Uighurs

It led to me wonder about other topics I could choose for my dissertation. I first thought I was going to do it on the link between oil and civil wars. However, it proved to be already vastly researched by academics. The next topic was the discrimination of the Uighur Muslim population by the Han Chinese central government in Xinjiang Province in the northwest of China. Nevertheless, in the end I didn’t end up doing my dissertation on the Uighur population because of the fear of being hacked by the Chinese government and the difficulty of not being able to speak Mandarin, which was a fairly major point come to think of it.

The Refugee Crisis in Europe

On the other hand, searching for another topic, which was both under researched and interesting enough for four months straight, I came across the topic of refugees. I knew virtually nothing about refugees apart from the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law around the world. At the same time, I thought about the refugee crisis, which was happening in the Mediterranean on islands of Italy and Greece. I had seen the refugee crisis in Europe across the mainstream media and realised that there must be the same issue in Africa. The reason for choosing Africa, and specifically Kenya and South Africa, was because they are English speaking countries with large economies and large refugee populations. Thus, I felt I could research something a bit outside of the box of doing something popular like the refugee crisis in the EU.


Dispelling the myths about refugees

I set about understanding as much I could about refugees and their lives along with their experiences in Kenya and South Africa. From the first moment, even in the first few academic articles and google searches, it completely changed my view on refugees and their daily lives of living in limbo, which became my dissertation title. The first few academic articles about refugee treatment in Kenya and South Africa really did dismiss all the myths I was seeing in the media about refugees being economic migrants, coming to the UK just to obtain benefits and ‘steal our jobs’.

Refugee Treatment in Camps

I began to understand that refugees weren’t as David Cameron put it; ‘a swarm’ as he had previously mentioned in a speech, rather that they were just people like you and me, fleeing war and violence to camps or cities in safer countries close to the warzone. I also started to realise that getting to camps wasn’t the end of their trauma of escaping conflict. I learnt about the fact that there is still communal conflict in the camps along with a host of other problems such as gender violence, corruption and inefficiency.

Moving onto IRT

After the process of writing my dissertation and dispelling all of the myths I had previously felt were right, I began to look at charities. At a humanitarian charity, I could put my dissertation research into practice, which led me to volunteer at International Refugee Trust. At IRT, I’m gaining experience about what charities are doing to help refugees in Africa, in states such as Uganda and South Sudan, where even less research academic research is focused.

My Work at IRT

My work at IRT involves writing content for their social media, and using my PR experience to help raise awareness of the current refugee crisis. I also write compelling content for IRT’s website, explaining how their work is so important to bringing thousands of refugees out of poverty. I’m currently working with their project partners on the ground, editing videos showing real stories of the current situation, stuff that the mainstream media simply aren’t broadcasting. I have been working closely with IRT’s Fundraising Manager Jessica Eames and their CEO Steven Smith MBE, learning how IRT works and why my work is so important. Being a volunteer has not only given me insight of the third sector but has been a hugely rewarding experience.


INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE TRUST (IRT) GETS A MAKEOVER!

August 20, 2019

Sharon Hewins As a charitable organisation, we don’t have any spare money to update our work space or equipment. All our furniture was mismatched, shabby, old and in desperate need of updating. Kate Phillips of Handelsbanken had mentioned to me a while ago that her company’s office was being refurbished. She kindly approached her Manager […]

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Sharon Hewins

As a charitable organisation, we don’t have any spare money to update our work space or equipment. All our furniture was mismatched, shabby, old and in desperate need of updating.

Kate Phillips of Handelsbanken had mentioned to me a while ago that her company’s office was being refurbished. She kindly approached her Manager and asked if we could have their old furniture as it was all in really great condition. Luckily, they were happy to donate this to us and a date was set for us to collect.

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We needed a way of transporting this furniture from their offices in Reading, Berkshire to our office in Chiswick, West London. Hiring a lorry was too expensive and so it looked like me might miss the opportunity. Thankfully, Ian Weston of i4Exhibitions, Hook, Hampshire stepped in and kindly offered us the use of one of his company Luton vans, for free! On Friday 12th July, my husband, son (extended IRT family) and I picked up the Luton van and then went on to collect the furniture.

What a lovely, kind-hearted bunch of people I met that day. Ian and Kate especially. While we were busy with the collection, my IRT colleagues were frantically clearing out our office furniture in preparation for when we arrived. It didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped because of a traffic situation on the motorway, but we finally got all our ‘new’ furniture in situ.

WE REALLY CAN’T THANK EVERYONE ENOUGH! WE NOW HAVE A LOVELY WORKING SPACE WITH MATCHING, STURDY NEW-LOOKING FURNITURE, ALL THANKS TO THE GENEROSITY OF THESE CARING INDIVIDUALS.

A BIG special thank you to:

Kate Phillips – for securing the furniture

Ian Weston – for the loan of his vehicle

Daren and Craig Hewins – for their blood, sweat, tears and patience (in the traffic)

By Sharon Hewins Programme Funding Manager at IRT


1989

July 23, 2019

Jessica Eames 30 years ago, in 1989, the International Refugee Trust (IRT) was founded, and it was certainly an important year in history. People in the Western world may remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ‘man v tank’ in Tiananmen Square (pictured), the execution of Ted Bundy, Nintendo releasing its ‘Game Boy’, the […]

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Jessica Eames

30 years ago, in 1989, the International Refugee Trust (IRT) was founded, and it was certainly an important year in history. People in the Western world may remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ‘man v tank’ in Tiananmen Square (pictured), the execution of Ted Bundy, Nintendo releasing its ‘Game Boy’, the release of the very first Microsoft office, the first ever GPS satellite put into orbit, plus many other historical events.

A few years before that, in 1985, the world was watching just how charitable the UK could be during the ‘Live Aid’ concert, one of the most defining events of the 80’s. Nearly 40% of the world’s population watched numerous legendary bands and artists perform at Wembley, free of charge, to help Bob Geldof raise funds for relief of the Ethiopian famine. During the concert, we were exposed to harrowing footage of starving Ethiopian children, suffering, and gasping for sustenance in their millions. These images were accompanied by an emotional soundtrack of ‘Drive’ by The Cars, which can be remembered by all who watched it as a distressful and upsetting moment of the broadcast.

For some of us, it was the first time we were exposed to such shocking images. Some of us were not even aware of the famine in Ethiopia, but Geldof’s humanitarian act had a huge impact on the nation, raising over £40 million globally. Geldof insisted that half the money raised was spent on long term development and the other half on food.

Furthermore, Geldof raised awareness of the terrible suffering around the world. He showed us that as a First World country, we were able to help these people, by donating and fundraising. The nation proved that, collectively, we can help less fortunate people, thousands of miles away, to survive and rebuild their lives. This is something we should be very proud of.

A few years later in 1989, an Irish Missionary Priest, Fr. Kevin Doheny, founded the International Refugee Trust in Chiswick. His aim was like that of Geldof’s, helping vulnerable refugees and displaced people around the world and raising awareness of how war and conflict have destroyed the lives of so many families overseas.

Over the last 30 years, IRT have helped thousands of refugees all over the world in countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Thailand, Cambodia, and Jordan.

Bob Geldof’s ‘Live Aid’ was in aid of the Ethiopian famine which took place approximately 10 years into the Ethiopian Civil War. It is thought that this famine was because of war, conflict and government policies relating to agriculture. The refugees that IRT help are in a similar position, as a result of war and conflict in their home countries.

Today, IRT are helping thousands of refugees overseas, who are innocent victims of war and conflict. In some of the countries where IRT work, the conflict has been resolved, but there are still millions of people who are displaced and have been forced to leave their homes with nothing but the shirt on their back.

With thanks to our incredible supporters, we have been able to sustain our vital work for the last 30 years. When the media and large charities have moved on from an initial crisis overseas, IRT stays to continue supporting projects. These projects help refugees to live sustainably and rebuild their lives, ending their poverty and suffering. Read more about how IRT achieves this through our StepUp programmes in Uganda, one of our many projects overseas (www.irt.org.uk).

IRT will be holding a series of events over the course of the year to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Please keep an eye on our news page for updates.

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“Finish your dinner!”

July 23, 2019

Jessica Eames Jessica is the Fundraising manager at IRT, and shares why she chose to join IRT and support overseas refugees: “Finish your dinner! There are starving children in Africa!” That’s what my mother would bark at me as a child when I refused to finish my dinner! “Well why don’t you put my dinner […]

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Jessica Eames

Jessica is the Fundraising manager at IRT, and shares why she chose to join IRT and support overseas refugees:

“Finish your dinner! There are starving children in Africa!”

That’s what my mother would bark at me as a child when I refused to finish my dinner! “Well why don’t you put my dinner in an envelope, and send it to them then”, a cheeky adolescent Jess would reply.

In hindsight, I’m not sure how an envelope with my leftover sausage, potato waffles and beans, would help a starving child in Africa. The beans would leak everywhere, and I imagine the food would rot somewhat during transit, so in fact, would probably do the starving children more bad than good!

80’s kids dinner
Fast forward 35 years, and I finally realise the point my mother was attempting to make. My mother is Spanish, and the most amazing cook (I would walk a million miles for her meatballs!). I know we all say that about our mum’s cooking, but she really is! She worked very hard, whilst bringing up three noisy, opinionated daughters, often fighting over whose turn it was to play ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ on the Casio keyboard. On occasions, when she only had 15 minutes to make the family meal, she would make the standard 80’s, kids’ dinner. My siblings and I were spoilt with delicious and nutritious meals so often, that I would turn my nose up at potato waffles. My mother is a charitable humanitarian at heart, so it must have been so frustrating and disappointing to see her daughters behave in such an ungrateful manner.

So why was she harping on about starving African children? She wanted me to appreciate the food in front of me. She wanted me to know that not all children around the world are fortunate enough to be presented with a delicious plate of food, three times a day. I’m not that precocious child anymore. I appreciate what I have now, and I want to help those less fortunate than myself.

Send your left over sausages to...
Sending your left-over sausages to the African children is not the answer. At IRT, we teach refugee families in Uganda how to support themselves, through our successful StepUp programme. We teach them farming techniques, so they can grow enough food to eat and sell. How to look after livestock. We dig boreholes to provide clean water. We teach families how important education is, and how important it is to keep their children healthy, not just for survival, but so they are fit enough to attend school every day and build a future for themselves.

Many girls are taken out of school at a very young age and married off to a 50-year-old man, or even warlords, in exchange for the ‘bride price’. The poverty is so extreme in some parts of Uganda, that refugees will resort to selling their daughters in order to feed the rest of the family. In fact 1 in 2 girls are married before the age of 18.

You can help them by donating. Your money will help to support these families, teaching them to grow, nurture, clean, teach, learn and survive. These refugees are regular people just like you and me, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The only difference between them and us, is that we got lucky.

Read more about IRT’s successful StepUp programme in Uganda.


Why do we support Syrian refugees?

July 23, 2019

Jessica Eames IRT’s CEO Steve Smith talks about why we should support Syrian refugees: What’s the problem? The civil war in Syria has resulted in a refugee situation on a catastrophic scale. In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the UN identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than […]

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Jessica Eames

IRT’s CEO Steve Smith talks about why we should support Syrian refugees:

What’s the problem?

The civil war in Syria has resulted in a refugee situation on a catastrophic scale. In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the UN identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and around 5 million had fled the country as refugees (UNOCHA report , 16 Feb 16). The vast majority of refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where most live below the poverty line. Unemployment and low wages are the norm. Many rely on less sustainable sources of income, food vouchers, credit or borrowing money, mostly from friends and relatives. Falling into debt is common. For this reason, refugees face difficulties in accessing services and in providing food, housing, healthcare and other basic needs for their families.

No home to go to
To those of us living in peaceful, developed countries, refugees are often viewed with suspicion or aversion – as if it’s their fault that they are in their present situation. The truth is that the majority are just people like us. In their former lives they may have been doctors, lawyers, accountants, factory workers, shopkeepers, office clerks, social workers or farmers. To put their situation in context, one might imagine going on holiday with the family from England to a foreign country, then receiving a phone call, mid-vacation, to say that you can never come home. Ever. Your home has been destroyed and the area taken over by people who will kill you on sight. Now you have to survive, with whatever you have in your suitcases, and whatever savings you may have. If you can access them, and if you bank is still able to operate.

How we help
It is people like this that International Refugee Trust is trying to help, through its support of the two ‘Italian Hospitals’, located at Amman and Karak, in Jordan. Established some 90 years ago to treat the poor and refugees, these hospitals are now facing unprecedented demand. But the staff simply will not give up. As one of the Missionary Sisters said to IRT, ‘This is now our new normal.’ Surely no cause could be more worthy of our support.

Read more about how IRT’s projects help Syrian refugee’s in Jordan.