8 ways to help refugees this Christmas

If you’re looking for an alternative to the Black Friday frenzy and craziness of Cyber Monday, here’s a list to get you giving, sharing and helping out those seeking sanctuary during the festive season. From buying boots for those living in tents in Calais to hosting a refugee in your home over Christmas to having better conversations round the dinner table, there’s something here for everyone who wants to do it a bit differently this year.

1. Buy a bike for a young refugee

The Bike Project is a brilliantly innovative scheme which takes old bikes, repairs them and then passes them onto refugees and asylum seekers in London and Birmingham. You can donate to buy a bike for a young refugee or an adult as well as a cycling safety kit. This will help refugees often living on low incomes to move around the city, go to school or college, get to job interviews and appointments.

2. Donate your unwanted beauty products

Every year Women For Refugee Women host a party for 100 refugee women, many of whom have had to flee violence in their own countries. The majority of these women live in incredible uncertainty and poverty, even once they reach the UK, struggling to afford the basics like soap and sanitary towels. The organisation is asking for donations of any spare, unused beauty products to give to the women as presents at the party. Perfumes, shower gels and body lotions are particularly popular. Donations need to be dropped off by Tuesday, 3 December at Women For Refugee Women’s London office: Tindlemanor, 52 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RT.

3. Visit the Choose Love pop-up shop

For the third year, the Help Refugees pop-up shop is back in Covent Garden where you can buy real gifts for people seeking safety. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, a whole array of items will be on sale which get gifted to refugees living in Europe, the Middle East and on the US-Mexico border. Coats, tents, boots, sleeping bags and much more are all on offer. For each purchase you get a gift card to give to your loved one to let them know what present has been purchased on their behalf. The shop will also be hosting talks, performances and DJs but if you can’t make it there yourself, everything is also available to buy online. Open from 10am-7pm, Mon-Sun, 29 November until 24 December. 47-49 Neal St, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9PJ.

4. Change the conversation

We’ve all been there, round the Christmas dinner table, when that one distant relative makes a derogatory (often ill-informed) remark about a refugee or migrant. Maybe it’s a slightly racist slur or a sweeping generalisation about what immigration has or hasn’t done for the country. Challenge this by telling a positive story about someone from a refugee background, either that you know or have read about. The IMIX Human Journeys series features stories of people who have made extraordinary journeys to the UK and would make a great talking point for a meal. Last Christmas the headlines were dominated by news of people travelling to the UK from Calais by boat – if this story hits the headlines again, this blog on how to talk about the Channel crossings will be helpful. Take a look at some of our other blog posts on how to make your words matter or our research into public attitudes to migration and audience insights. These will all give you a framework for beginning to have difficult conversations over your brussel sprouts.

5. Buy a winter snug pack for a refugee sleeping outside this winter

Care4Calais’ snug pack includes a hat, scarf, gloves and a pair of socks – and will be a welcome gift to the many people forced to live in the freezing cold in Calais and Dunkerque this year. Other items available from their Christmas shop include a pair of waterproof walking boots (currently in urgent need), a warm coat and a collection of artwork. Care4Calais also offers opportunities to volunteer short-term in France and collect donations or host collection points in the UK.

6. Host a refugee in your home

If you have a spare room in your house, someone maybe in urgent need of it. Room for Refugees, Assist in Sheffield, the Boaz Trust in Manchester, the Bristol Hospitality Network and Housing Justice can all link you up with people seeking sanctuary who desperately need somewhere safe and warm to stay. Refugees At Home have put out a call specifically for the Christmas season as many of their usual hosts have family coming to stay over the holidays and so they need even more spare rooms during this time.

7. Volunteer your time and skills

You might be able to offer English lessons or help with preparing for an interview or showing someone new to your area where the bus stops, post office and local shops are. There are lots of ways to volunteer with refugees all over the country. You can sign up to receive volunteer alerts from Refugee Action. Breaking Barriers has great opportunities for you to use your skills to advise and guide a refugee into employment and teach English language classes. The best thing to do if you want to volunteer is to get in touch with a local Refugees Welcome or Community Sponsorship group supporting refugees in your area and find out what they need help with. Sponsor Refugees and Reset can link you up with local Community Sponsorship group or provide support for setting up your own one.

8. Get cooking up a feast

There isn’t a much better way to get to know someone than by cooking and sharing a meal together. Local Welcome exists to bring refugees and locals around a table to cook and eat together as well as share stories. Meals happen all over the country so look out for one happening in your area. For the amateur master chefs in your household you could also buy a gift voucher to a Migrateful cookery class where they will be able to learn culinary skills from people seeking sanctuary or living in vulnerable situations. Chefs come from all over the world including Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Pakistan and Ecuador – so this gift promises to be a truly tasty and heart-warming treat.

Author Katherine Maxwell-Rose

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