Meet the refugees and people seeking asylum who’ve seen it all – and now want change
They’ve fled persecution and violence, they’ve lost loved ones, they’ve experienced nights of dread in cells built for prisoners. But now, these refugees are speaking up via the VOICES network, a platform for them to challenge policies and stereotypes
Imagine leaving your home in search of a new life abroad, with no idea of what that life might look like. Imagine having to make the journey alone, not knowing when or if your family would ever be able to join you.
Leaving aside the dangers people seeking refuge abroad risk on their hopeful journey to a safer life, reaching the UK brings a new set of challenges.
The VOICES network is an independent organisation run by refugees to help make the transition into British life easier. Designed to give refugees and people seeking asylum a platform for speaking up about their own experiences, it sheds light on the issues they face ‒ from family separation to prejudice from others. The network also helps the British Red Cross to improve our own refugee services through the vital feedback they provide.
After all, who better to bring about change than those who have lived the experience themselves?
Experts by experience
VOICES ambassadors, based all over the UK from Glasgow to Swansea, form the project’s VOICES network, seeking to change ‘minds, policy, and practice’. Having all been forcibly displaced themselves, they are experts-by-experience who are trained in speaking about the issues that need to be resolved.
They also get involved in projects for the Red Cross’s Refugee Week campaign, and help to judge the Refugee Reporting award at the annual One World Media awards.
Isabella is an ambassador who arrived in the UK from Namibia in 2017. After a routine appointment at the Home Office the following year, she was placed into immigration detention. Her claim for asylum had been refused. “I was terrified,” she said. “I came here to be safe but instead I was locked up in detention but did not commit any crime.”
As a lesbian, Isabella faced restrictive laws as well as prejudice in her home country. By the time she was detained, she had already become an active member of her local LGBT+ community in Glasgow, where she lived. In detention, the fear of being deported and sent back to Namibia to face persecution left Isabella unable to eat or sleep. After two weeks, she was released.
With support from friends from the LGBT+ community group she was a member of, Isabella became a VOICES ambassador, raising awareness of her experiences of detention. (Ending indefinite detention is one of the Red Cross’s aims.)
A long and lonely journey
Another VOICES ambassador, Mada, has a similarly terrifying story to share. Her husband made the long and lonely trip to the UK by himself in 2012, too scared to take his family with him in case they didn’t survive the journey.
I AM A POWERFUL SPOKESPERSON FOR THOSE THAT CANNOT SPEAK UPMADA, VOICES AMBASSADOR
“When we said goodbye to him, I could never have imagined that we would not see his face again for three years,” said Mada.
They were finally reunited in 2015, after Mada’s husband accessed the Red Cross’ family reunion service, which helps to bring together families who have been torn apart.
Since 2011, the Red Cross and the International Organisation for Migration have reunited 10,000 people with family members in the UK. “Now we are together at last and are rebuilding our lives as new Scots,” said Mada, who now lives with her family in Glasgow.
“The guiding light in our story is the British Red Cross. They helped my husband navigate the complex family reunion application process and supported us with travel assistance.”
Providing a platform for change
Mada was also offered a place on a family reunion integration project shortly after arriving in the UK, and soon became a VOICES ambassador herself.
“I am a powerful spokesperson for those that cannot speak up,” said Mada. “With the support and training from the British Red Cross, I have spoken about family reunion in conferences in London and engaged with the media to share my story.”
The VOICES network has until now been a part of the wider EU-funded AVAIL project (‘Amplifying the Voices of Asylum seekers and refugees for Integration and Life skills’). From 2020, the Red Cross will use our own core funding to keep this vital network alive.
The VOICES network’s priority issues now are the right to work for people seeking asylum, family reunion, ending indefinite detention and improving access to education. It will continue to be a platform for those who have lived through the gruelling process themselves to shed light on their experiences.
“The British Red Cross helped us to put our family back together, but you did not stop there,” said Mada.
“When I began to rebuild my life, it gave me a voice. I am so grateful because a life lived without a voice is like a bird without wings.”
Every refugee matters to us
We work with refugees and people seeking asylum to help them feel safe, live with dignity and build a new life. If, like us, you believe that every refugee matters, get involved by donating below.Donate