“Tis the season to be jolly”, and for many millions of people in the UK, this sentiment rings true. Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, share meals, and make new memories. However, for many others, especially migrants and refugees living in the UK, Christmas is a time of heightened loneliness and isolation. And even if Christmas is not part of your culture or religion, the constant bombardment of Christmas adverts, movies and songs promoting the season with family strikes emotions hard.
There is no question that many continue with the Christmas traditions they shared with their families and friends in their country of origin. Their festivities are often extended to those in their new community, ensuring everyone feels included. And with the added benefit of social media, many can connect virtually with family and friends in their home country, making even those far away part of the celebrations.
But the truth is that far too many migrants and refugees awaiting their visas are living in hostels or being moved from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation without much notice, making it impossible to create a sense of Christmas for themselves or their families. The asylum process is stressful at any time of the year. Still, at Christmas, it seems to resonate even stronger as Christmas festivities seem to belong to other people and not those seeking sanctuary. And with the possibility of another Omicron COVID-19 lockdown looming, the spirit of Christmas is disappearing more each day.
The statistics on how the UK is handling the refugee situation is harrowing. According to a recent article in The Guardian
- 13,210. The number of people the UK granted protection to via asylum or resettlement routes in the year to September 2021 This is significantly lower than before the pandemic hit in March 2020.
- 64%. The proportion of initial asylum applications that were successful in the year ending September 2021. This rate has increased in recent years. In addition, almost half of unsuccessful applications are granted on appeal.
- 17th. The UK’s ranking against EU countries in terms of the number of asylum applications it gets, adjusted for population. The UK’s asylum application per capita rate is almost half the EU average. Germany received 122,015 asylum applications in the year ending March 2021; France, 93,475.
- 25,700. The number of people who have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the dangerous Channel crossing in small boats. This is three times the total number who came via this route in 2020.
- 83,733. The number of people awaiting an initial decision on their asylum application at the end of September 2021. Delays in the asylum system have increased rapidly since 2018: this is 41% higher than a year ago.
- The UK is home to just 1% of the 26.4 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries worldwide. Around half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18.
- £39.63. The amount that asylum seekers get per week to live on in the UK. In France, it’s £42.84, and in Germany £65.63. In Germany, they are allowed to work three months from making their applications; in France it’s six months. In the UK, they’re not allowed to work regardless of how long it takes to process their application.
These statistics do not allow for much celebration, though they contradict much of the rhetoric fuelling the war against asylum seekers in the UK. If, as a nation, we want this to be the season to be jolly, we need to open our minds and hearts to migrants and refugees. Many people in the UK already work closely with different types of organisations offering support to refugees and migrants but there is always a need for more help. If you have a spare room in your home, contact Room for Refugees, Assist in Sheffield, the Boaz Trust in Manchester, the Bristol Hospitality Network and Housing Justice. These organisations desperately need safe and warm accommodation for people seeking sanctuary. Refugees At Home is an amazing charity that has placed over 2,500 guests for over 195,000 nights in the homes of UK residents willing and kind enough to offer up their spare room. If you can provide space in your home, please contact these charities.
And, if you are alone this Christmas, reach out to your national community groups or associations. Many of these organisations run traditional cultural events over the period. You can find them through a simple internet search or pop into your local library and ask for their help finding your ethnic group. You can also reach out to your community religious organisations, as many have Christmas events that you can join and give you a sense of typical Christmas festivities and meet a new community at the same time. Christmas is a time of many emotions, joy, and sadness, but it is possible to find the true spirit of Christmas by giving your time to others. Many charities and organisations need you to volunteer and support others in similar situations to yourself. And even if Christmas is not part of your religion, many are non-denominational and welcome volunteers from all backgrounds.
The list below is a sample of associations offering support and looking for volunteers.
The Christmas period can add stress to an already stressful situation. If you need to talk to someone or need extra support, please reach out to one of these helplines.
- Samaritans Freefone 116 123 Open 24/7
- Mind Infoline – 0300 123 3393
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) 0800 58 58 58
- The Trussell Trust; Emergency food and support for people in need
On behalf of TGIUK, we hope that, however you spend this Christmas period, that you find some joy and peace of mind and that you find the true spirit of Christmas in your new home country.