Refugee Week

19 Jun 2019

Table of Contents

This week (17-21 June) is Refugee Week. An opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to the many refugees who, for whatever reason, have had to leave their home countries and attempt to start new lives in new places. Those that arrive here in the UK have often seen and experienced traumatic and terrible things, either at home or on their journey. They need care, medical treatment and a safe place to live. Some are families with children. Some are single adults who have come alone, or who have lost people along the way. Others are unaccompanied children.

Too often refugees are met with hostility, closed doors, barriers and suspicion. Most likely they are unable to speak English and cannot hope to navigate, without support, the complex social, cultural and legal systems they face.

At Osbornes Law we have many clients who are seeking asylum or refugee status, or who have at some point had to engage with our hostile and blunt immigration system. They come to us because they are age-disputed children, homeless, destitute or otherwise in need of local authority support. Often it is a combination of some or all these issues.

We support and celebrate these refugees this week, as well as the many charities, professionals and organisations who work with them. Contrary to the myths and propaganda so typical of reports in the tabloids, refugees are not a threat to our country – those that I have worked with have been bright, ambitious and people of enormous value. They want to be independent, gain an education, work and contribute to the country they wish to now call “home”.

My invitation to Parliament

Yesterday, I had the enormous pleasure of attending the Houses of Parliament to share my support for the work of Play for Progress, a brilliant charity that I’ve worked closely with over the last year. Dr Anna MacDonald and Alyson Frazier, the charity’s founders, are two very inspiring people. As a lawyer, sometimes I donʼt have all the answers my clients seek -refugee clients have perhaps the most difficult stories with the most complex needs. Collaboration with other professionals is essential to the legal work I do – whether that be with the Refugee Council, the Red Cross, immigration practitioners, or, indeed, Play for Progress.

Play for Progress “delivers and develops therapeutic and educational music and arts programmes, advocacy, and well-being support for traumatised and socially isolated unaccompanied minor refugees based in London.” I saw in the faces of the young refugees who attended just how much this charity does to support those they work with. Their impact is life-changing.

The Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill (No.2)

The Parliamentary event on 18 June was to promote the important work of Play for Progress and also to give support for the ‘Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill’, the aim of which is to make it easier for accepted refugees to bring their families (to include a wider definition of ‘family member than currently exists) here to the UK, and to streamline that process – to reunite them in a place of safety. The Bill can be found here.

It was not lost on me that, perhaps no more than a few feet away from our event, the Conservative party was in the second round of their selection process for a new leader – and prime minister – who most likely would see us leave the European Union, and look to close down our borders.

Yesterday I sat with 4 young refugees in the public gallery in the House of Commons, one of whom is a client of mine that I have come to know well. We listened to what I felt was a rather dry monologue on an obscure bit of legislation. I was surprised and inspired when I looked around to see that the young people sitting either side of me were eager, interested and respectful for our democratic processes. It was humbling.

On 20 June, it is Refugee Day where Parliament will be debating this important bill. It is hoped that it will be properly debated and allowed to proceed. I wish that we could have been in the gallery to witness this debate.

Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day on the 20 June. In the UK, Refugee Week is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK.

The aims of Refugee Week are:

  • To encourage a diverse range of events to be held throughout the UK, which facilitate positive encounters between refugees and the general public in order to encourage greater understanding and overcome hostility
  • To showcase the talent and expertise that refugees bring with them to the UK
  • To explore new and creative ways of addressing the relevant issues and reach beyond the refugee sector
  • To provide information which educates and raises awareness of the reality of refugee experiences

I feel these aims were truly exemplified well at the event yesterday. I was honoured to share it.

Thank you to Play for Progress and to Angus MacNeil MP for inviting me. Keep up the great work!


Alex McMahon


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