How refugees and their families contribute to British life

06/18/04

The positive contribution of refugees and their families to British life will be highlighted at an event organised by the ESRC Families and Social Capital Research Group on June 21 as part of Social Science Week.

The discussion entitled Refugees and their families: a national asset, which will be held at London South Bank University, will consist of presentations by Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and John Akker, from the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), followed by an open discussion with an invited audience of 70 academics, policymakers and representatives of voluntary groups.

John Akker, whose organisation has helped academic refugees from all over the world, including 16 who later became Nobel prize-winners, 71 who were elected Fellows of the Royal Society and 50 who became Fellows of the British Academy, will tell the meeting that in the modern context refugees and their families bring "incalculable social and economic gains" to British society. "Britain has a noble history of receiving refugees, who represent a tremendous resource," he says. "It would be foolish for the UK not to use the skills and talent of the refugees we assist they are outstanding people and they and their families will make a real contribution."

CARA, whose board helped 2000 academic refugees in the 1930s and 40s, including such notable academics as Karl Popper, now supports 50 grantees, mainly from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. Akker will describe the case histories of the former Dean of Kabul University who is now doing a PhD in engineering, and a researcher from Sudan who is working on malaria prevention at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The organisation is now actively helping women academic refugees by addressing problems such as child-care.

In her presentation, Maeve Sherlock will put the record straight on some of the common misconceptions about refugees to be found in the press. 'Refugees are ordinary people to whom extraordinary things have happened,' she explains. "Contrary to the way they are portrayed, they are often the professionals in their home countries, who are leaving to find safety, not to find work. At the meeting on June 21 she will emphasise that:

  • The UK is not the number one refugee magnet. In 2001 it ranked 10th in asylum applications within the EU and 32nd in the world, relative to its population and wealth;
  • According to a Home Office study, migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers are not an economic drain. Many of them are better qualified and educated. In 1999-2000 they made a net fiscal contribution of about 2.5 billion;
  • Only 2% of the world's refugees and asylum seekers are in the UK not 23% as thought by people surveyed by MORI;
  • The UK is not a 'soft touch'. Canada accepted 97% of Afghan asylum seekers, Britain 19%;
  • Far from being a 'land of milk and honey', for asylum seekers, Britain institutionalises poverty. According to a Oxfam and the Refugee Council survey, 85% experience hunger, 95% cannot afford to buy clothes and 80% cannot maintain good health;
  • According to a report by the Association of Chief Police Officers, there is no evidence for a higher rate of criminality among refugees and asylum seekers. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of crime.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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