As Dr Lisa Doyle, Executive Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council celebrates 13 years of advocating for refugees, we ask her about what has changed with time – and what the futures holds
What do you remember from your first day at the Refugee Council?
Not a lot – it was a while ago now! But I do remember being given a very warm welcome and being introduced to lots of really friendly people. I remember thinking they all had really interesting jobs and knew a lot about some really complex issues, many of which were very new to me at the time. We were in a different office back then – it was in Brixton– and the building was rickety and a bit of a maze with lots of corridors and many small internal offices. I would go to a meeting in a new room and wonder how I would find my way back to my desk.
How has your role changed over the years?
My background is academic research and my first job at the Refugee Council was managing a three-year research project exploring how secondary schools support refugee pupils and their families. It was a challenging but important piece of work and I soon began to feel at home in the organisation and understand a lot more about the experiences of refugees. After the project ended, I became Research Manager which was brilliant because it meant I got to work on our research work much more widely – including non-cash support for people seeking asylum, permission to work for people seeking asylum, access to post-16 education and the experiences of newly recognised refugees. Research remains a passion of mine and I still get involved even though my role has changed a lot since I was in that role.
A few years and promotions later my role is now Director of Advocacy and Engagement. I lead the directorate which delivers our policy, research, parliamentary, media, public campaigning and refugee community engagement work. I also sit on the Senior Management Team so have responsibilities for the overall management of the organisation too.
I think the best thing about my role has been the same thing from day one – working with very talented, passionate, tenacious and lovely colleagues, and seeing the difference that our work makes to people’s lives. I feel very privileged to say that I love my job and look forward to coming into the office every day.
What has been your professional highlight of the last 13 years?
Without doubt the Government introducing the scheme to resettle refugees from Syria. It was phenomenal. The Refugee Council led the campaign for this, and worked with a wide range of other organisations, individuals and supporters to secure the victory. After months of hard work to try to persuade a very resistant Government to introduce a resettlement programme, hearing the news that we had forced a u-turn and that this would become a reality is something I will never forget and will always be proud of.
The introduction of independent child trafficking advocates was another key success to celebrate, which followed years of campaigning by the Refugee Council and others, and key research commissioned by the Home Office that we conducted in partnership with The Children’s Society which showed alarming failures to support trafficked children.
Those are a couple of stand out and fairly high profile achievements, but there are many other examples on a smaller scale that most people won’t ever hear about but that nonetheless make a real difference to the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum. Sometimes changing a single paragraph or even a few words in a piece of guidance will significantly improve a person’s life and there are many of examples of these which my team have achieved. Every one of these illustrates the importance of our work and what we can achieve.
What can we expect to see from your team over the coming months/year?
Lots! We are a busy team with a lot of exciting plans.
We will be continuing our campaign to widen the scope of government rules around refugee family reunion – so refugees’ rights to be reunited with family members in the UK. Every day we see the harmful affect these rules have on refugees who are kept apart from family members living overseas. We believe that these rules are currently too restrictive, failing to recognise that refugee families – like many other families – come in all shapes and sizes. There is a Private Members Bill going through parliament on this issue and we are working closely with Angus MacNeil, the MP who brought it about. Alongside this we are trying to raise awareness in the media and amongst our supporters; carried out this research and are in ongoing discussions with the Home Office. Watch this space!
Another area focuses on the problems faced by people when they are first granted refugee status. Shockingly, due to a system that cuts off refugees’ accommodation and financial support just 28 days after they are granted status, many newly recognised refugees are forced to live hand to mouth, relying on friends, families and sometimes even strangers for the basics they need to survive. Many sleep rough and in hostels for long periods, left destitute when support from the Home Office drops away. We have longed campaigned on this issue and I have been involved in lots of research about it (see here, here and here). Though we have made some progress, the sad truth is that newly recognised refugees are still routinely becoming homeless and destitute. We will be continuing our campaigning on this issue to achieve the change needed to prevent this.
The team itself is changing too. Recently the Refugee Council’s work with Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) has moved into my directorate, and I’m really excited about a report we are publishing soon which highlights the fantastic work they do to support integration. We will also be developing plans on how to enable RCOs to engage in advocacy work. We have a campaigner joining us soon, so watch out for many more opportunities to join in with our campaigns in the coming year.
How can people help refugees?
I guess first thing first would be to find out more about refugees and people seeking asylum and the work we do to support them. We hold lots of information on our website, such as this really easy to read and digest myth buster.
Or better still, sign this petition and ask the Home Secretary to amend the harmful rules that see refugees separated from their family when they need each other most. It takes just minutes!