2020 has been a tough for everyone, but throughout the year, the team at IMIX has been continually inspired by positive stories in the news and social media which have shown how many people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, and the organisations which support them have been making a massive difference in their local communities.
During the pandemic we have highlighted over 80 stories on our blog of people and organisations stepping up to help out, offer kindness and hospitality to those most in need. We believe these positive stories are significant because they can make an impact on the public’s perceptions of migration and encourage more understanding, empathy and cohesion.
To end the year, we picked out some of our favourite stories from this collection – the list is by no means exhaustive though and you can read the full collection here!
In Bromsgrove, Mazen Salmou, a Syrian refugee cycled all over the area delivering shopping and critical prescriptions to the vulnerable, disabled and elderly in his community. Local radio station, BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester even gave him a ‘Make a Difference Superstar’ award with the prize of his name being printed on the side of a GWR train! As the presenter said of Mazen and the other winners: “Everyone will know their name and everyone will know they made a difference.” For Mazen, it was important to give his time and energy to help the local community: “I owe something to the UK – it gave me safety when I really needed it, so this is the right time for me to pay it back. I’m going to dedicate myself to helping locals and neighbours.”
2. Getting connected
Early on in the pandemic, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) realised that many of the young unaccompanied minors they support through their befriending project JUMP had no way to access the internet in their accommodation. They launched an emergency appeal which has so far raised nearly £5000 and has enabled them to provide the young people with laptops and Wi-Fi access. Staying connected is hugely important for these unaccompanied minors who are already in a hugely vulnerable situation; getting online enables them to stay in touch with their families, continue with their studies and keep up-to-date with the latest coronavirus guidance.
3. Free veggie meals!
The Syrian Dinner Project is a pop-up restaurant set up by five women resettled from Syria in Aberystwyth, Wales. The women decided to cook 100 meals for frontline workers in their local hospital. One of the founders of the project, Latifa said she had a desire to give back to the the Ceredigion community who had given the resettled families so much help and support. “My family were welcomed and have settled in Wales. The people are very lovely here. It is very important to help them. Now, especially in these worrying times, we should all work together. I cook from my heart. I really care about our new community and I wanted to say thank you.”
4. Refugees on the NHS frontline
Many people from refugee backgrounds have stepped up to serve the NHS during the pandemic. Hassan Akklad provoked a media storm and even caused a policy change when he started posting on social media about the realities of working as a hospital cleaner during coronavirus. David Carril gave up busking with his Spanish bagpipes on Westminster Bridge to clean his local hospital saying, ‘I wanted not to just do my job, but to do something better than my job.’ In Scotland, Marzieh who was originally a midwife in Iran has retrained as a phlebotomist making her a vital NHS worker during the crisis, while Sakina is a carer looking after elderly people and those with serious health conditions in their homes in North Lanarkshire. Dr Ahmad Alomar has been using skills he learnt working during the Syrian civil war to stay calm working on the wards of the Royal Oldham Hospital in Manchester. His powerful interview with Fergal Keane for the BBC is one we will remember for a long time.
Honoured to join an army of cleaners disinfecting Covid wards our local hospital after receiving training. London has been my home since leaving Syria, and the least I can do is making sure my neighbours and the amazing NHS staff are safe and sound. #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/7XkBwSiXW8
— Hassan Akkad حسان عقاد (@hassan_akkad) April 7, 2020
5. Hosting and hospitality
People up and down the country (including the one and only Gary Linekar) have been hosting refugees in their homes during the pandemic as well as during the lockdowns through the charities Refugees at Home and Action Foundation. Those who host often describe it as ‘mutual giving’ and for many this became even more true during lockdown as Marian, a volunteer with Action Foundation describes: ‘I’m very grateful that during a time in which I could have been very isolated, I have been able to help someone and at the same time enjoy their company. Hosting is a humbling experience; it makes me very grateful for what I have and teaches me not to take it for granted.’
Penultimate #LockdownLights with Nick, Alison, Lauren & Eleanor from #Bromley, who’ve recently begun hosting Egyptian M – their 8th guest.
He was street-homeless – in a pandemic & lockdown too – until moving to this family.
Lovely to have warmth & light to share. #RefugeesWelcome pic.twitter.com/ZHPC6r82iC
— Refugees at Home (@RefugeesAtHome) December 23, 2020
6. The Syrian Tailors
When it became clear for the urgent need for face masks and PPE equipment many people picked up their needle and thread and started to sew. For those who had previously worked as professional tailors in their home countries, helping out in this way came naturally. In Sheffield, Syrian tailors Youssef and Zaher were part of a team who made over 50 masks for a care home and scrubs for key workers. They also gave virtual workshops to teach other refugees how to sew masks by hand or with a sewing machine. The World Jewish Relief programme STEP programme supported them with this, providing material for the masks as well as supporting Youssef and Zaher into work. Talking about this generous project, Zaher said: “It is in my nature to help people. When Covid-19 hit, when I knew I could do something to help using my skills I didn’t hesitate. I try to help people. Even when I have problems, I like to help others as it raises my spirit.”
7. Md’s Little Help Foodbank
Despite seeking asylum himself, Md Mominul Hamid ensured those in need received vital supplies during the first lockdown. He packed up food parcels in a Covid-safe way and then delivered them on his bike all over Newcastle. On his YouTube channel, he also shows people how to cook low-cost and nutritious meals from his experience of working as a chef. When asked about why he wanted to give in this way, he said: “It was my really big desire if I could do something for my community… if I keep helping people like us, the vulnerable people, the community will be a much better place.”
8. Singing for Freedom
Throughout the pandemic, The Sing for Freedom choir have continued to meet and sing together online. The choir run by Together Productions who specialise in arts for social change is made up of refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced torture as well as other Londoners who join to sing in solidarity with them. During the lockdowns many of the singers have been in dire straits and the choir has been a total lifeline. In spite of th year’s challenges, the choir along with the Mixed-Up Chorus and the Singing Our Lives project also run by Together Productions have managed to stage several virtual concerts including this beautiful and moving winter celebration which you can watch below.
9. The New Scots
In Aberdeen, Omar Al Hmdan has been busy with the Syrian community cooking 100 meals for NHS staff and 30 meals for the homeless. Omar is part of a group of families from Syria who have been resettled in Scotland and are known as the New Scots. He is chairman of the As-Salam project which helps New Scots to learn skills and bring their talents to the local community. Omar said: “This was something we really wanted to do in order to give back to this lovely city and the generous people here who have given a lot to refugees like ourselves. The people of Aberdeen welcomed us after our lives were saved from war in Syria and we’re forever grateful.” We were lucky enough to interview Omar for Human Journeys and find out more about his journey to the UK.
10. Proud of Peterborough
Community goodwill has extended into the winter and Christmas season as many local groups and charities continue to look out for the most vulnerable. In Peterborough, PARCA (Peterborough Asylum and Refugee Community Association) wanted to make sure all children from refugee families in the city had a gift to open on Christmas Day. They have been playing Santa collecting presents from the local area, wrapping them up and making sure they are delivered on time. We couldn’t agree with local MP, Paul Bristow more who said: ‘They make me proud of Peterborough’.
As we come to the end of this difficult year, we want to thank each and every person who has gone out of their way to help their local community during the pandemic. You inspire us and give us hope for 2021!