19 June 2012
To mark this year’s Refugee Week
the British Red Cross is urging people to celebrate the positive contribution refugees bring to Birmingham.
The Red Cross plays a key role in supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers and helping them settle in to UK life. This can include projects to help people find out about life in the place they are living, as well as volunteering and learning opportunities which may lead to employment.
Mbiriyashe Mungaraza, 44, is one such refugee supported by the Red Cross.
He turned to the charity for help reuniting him with his family, who he had not seen for nearly nine years after he fled Zimbabwe and the Mugabe regime.
“The Red Cross helped me so much,” said Mbiriyashe. “My family had their visas to come and live in the UK but how was I going to bring them here? It was the question I asked myself everyday.”
Mbiriyashe was one of the scores of people supported by the Red Cross’s travel assistance scheme, which reunites displaced families.
There are specific criteria people must meet before being offered the service. The UK relative must have refugee status or humanitarian protection, their relatives abroad must have visas to come to the UK and the person living in the UK should be on a low income.
If all these criteria are met, the Red Cross will cover the travel costs for overseas relatives to come to the UK.
Mbiriyashe qualified for the scheme and in October last year he was finally reunited with his wife Grace, 44, daughter Victoria, 16, and son Nicholas, 10. They had been separated for nearly nine years.
“I almost failed to recognise my son he had changed so much,” said Mbiriyashe, who now works as a driver for people with visual impairments. “Up until then the only contact I had had with my family had been letters and phone calls every two months. Being together again is something they never dreamt of.”
The family is now settling in to life in Bordesley Green, Birmingham. Grace is working as a care assistant in a nursing home and the children are both attending school.
“I am so grateful for everything the Red Cross has done for me I decided to return the favour by donating £2 a month to them,” added Mbiriyashe.
The Red Cross in Birmingham offers a number of services to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants living in the West Midlands.
Its orientation support includes giving individuals help accessing health, welfare and legal services. Trained staff and volunteers also provide information on local community services and signpost to other agencies assisting refugees in the area. Special employment skills workshops help refugees improve their employment chances and get a better understanding of the labour market.
The destitution service provides emergency support including supermarket vouchers, small food parcels and clothing vouchers to use in Red Cross shops.
Therapeutic care is also part of the holistic service offered to refugees and helps reduce stress while promoting a sense of wellbeing.
Joseph Nibizi, programme development manager at the Red Cross, said: “Our trained staff and volunteers have helped refugees and asylum seekers become better equipped to survive life in the UK. With our help they have begun the long process of rebuilding their lives and regaining their independence.”
Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events from 18 – 24 June, which celebrates the contribution refugees make to life in the UK and encourages better understanding between and within communities.
To find out more about the services contact the refugee services team on 0121 766 5444.