Behind the Scenes at the Guardian Charity Appeal - Refugee Council
December 17, 2023

Behind the Scenes at the Guardian Charity Appeal

The Guardian Charity Appeal has helped shine a light on some of the amazing work that’s going on around the country, in very difficult circumstances, and given us a chance to hear first-hand from the refugees, staff, and volunteers who are involved. During some cold, dark days this month, the public response gives us hope.

We’re so proud to have been chosen for the appeal. It’s been a really busy time, with plenty of frantic activity, and some very moving reminders of the difference we can make together.

A huge thanks to everyone who has helped and supported us – especially to all of the brave and generous people who have talked about their experiences, and are helping others through their powerful stories. Here are just a few of them, and some glimpses behind the scenes as the appeal was being put together.

Narges, Najma and Elaha, being photographed by Chris. Narges, Najma and Elaha, being photographed by Chris.

Young Afghan Footballers

Najma, Narges and Elaha spoke powerfully in the Observer about arriving in the UK, rebuilding their lives with support from our resettlement team, and playing football here. They can’t forget their friends and relatives still in Afghanistan. “I’m really worried about my parents, and I’m requesting the UK government to bring them here,” says Elaha.

“For the first year it was really difficult for everyone,” says Najma. “I’m proud of my friends, how they’ve overcome the challenges.”

A better way to treat newcomers.

Farzad, a volunteer who is now a member of our staff, spoke to the Guardian newsletter about his difficult journey, arriving in the UK, and how volunteering for Refugee Council helped him while waiting for his decision. “I wanted to do something – not just think about my story and my loss,” he says. “It is better for all of us not to treat newcomers as threats.”

Esther and her family outside their new home in Hull. Esther and her family outside their new home in Hull.

Refugee families over the decades.

Esther Baleh, now aged 21, arrived in the UK at the age of 10, with her family, from Syria via Lebanon. “We landed at Manchester airport and were met by a case worker from Refugee Council holding a ‘welcome’ sign. There was food and there were much needed smiles,” she told the Guardian.

She has volunteered for the Refugee Council and several other refugee organisations, and has recently graduated in fashion. “I also want to continue to tell my story, and those of other refugees caught up in current conflicts around the world.”

"I want to continue to tell my story."

It still makes me feel a little weepy.

George Szirtes, now in his 70s, speaks about the welcome his family received when they arrived from Hungary back in 1956. “From the blankets people gave us, to the people who drove us, the coordination from the refugee agencies that looked after us was remarkable; it still makes me feel a little weepy,” he says.

But he worries that refugees arriving today are not always being supported with the same spirit. “…I will not forget the words hostile environment. How do you set people up to produce hostility? My family was very lucky and it’s rarely the case now.”

George and his family arrived in the UK in 1956. George and his family arrived in the UK in 1956.

I love telling everyone my family are refugees…

“I love telling everyone my family are refugees, because not everyone can actually say that. My family has experienced hardship and we’ve come out of it even stronger,” says Leon Ung, aged 13.

“They lost their family, their money, their house. The only thing that kept them going was hope,” Leon says. He shares the astonishing story of how his family escaped the genocide in Cambodia, and ended up in a refugee camp in the New Forest run by the Refugee Council in the early 1980s.

"We've come out of it even stronger."

The campaign is an important reminder, at a time when this is badly needed, that there are so many people out there who want to support and welcome refugees arriving in the UK. Our experience shows us – every single day – how our communities are strengthened and enriched as a result, and how refugees help make us who we are today.

You can check out all of the stories on the Guardian website. Thank you all for your support – and there’s plenty of time still to donate!