65 years of protecting refugees
Today the Refugee Council is celebrating 65 years of saving lives.
On this day in 1951 a group of 26 nations signed the Refugee Convention and the British Refugee Council came into existence.
At that time, the horrors of the War were still fresh in everyone’s minds and The Refugee Convention was signed as a promise that those mistakes would never be made again.
65 years on, amidst a global displacement crisis of historic levels, we’re celebrating the importance of protecting refugees.
Britain has a proud history of protecting refugees. These are their stories.
George Szirtes, multi-award winning Hungarian poet and translator, fled to the UK in the 1956 aged 8. His mother had survived two concentration camps and was desperate to protect her children from persecution.
Bob Vertes left Hungary in 1957. Both of his parents were Holocaust survivors and greatly feared the rise in anti-Semitism. After a long and successful teaching career, Bob was a teacher trainer for over 25 years. He has also volunteered for The Refugee Council for 20 years, retraining refugee teachers.
Gillian Slovo is a novelist, playwright and memoirist. Born to Joe Slovo and Ruth First — both famous major figures in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa - she fled to the UK with her family in 1964.
Paul Lorber fled Czechoslovakia in 1968 following the Soviet invasion of the country. His parents, who had both survived concentration camps, took their family to safety in Britain, where Paul went on to become the Leader of London’s Brent Council.
Raju Bhatt was expelled from Uganda at aged 15 along with 80,000 other Ugandan Asians. Raju is a lawyer and co-founded a firm which represents families who have lost their loved ones through death in custody. He was also a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
Humberto and Gabriella fled Chile in 1973 after Pinochet’s military coup placed the country under brutal restrictions and terror; Humberto spent months in detention where he was tortured. Humberto worked for Swansea Metropolitan University for 30 years and Gabriella as a social worker for over 25 years. Both of their children work in the NHS.
Vu Khanh Thanh and his daughter Linh Vu came to Hackney in 1979, as 'boat people' fleeing Vietnam when Linh was just seven. He established the An Viet Foundation, providing support for Vietnamese refugees in London, before being elected local councillor in Dalston and being awarded an MBE. Linh is an architect and restaurateur.
Poet Shash Trevett fled civil war in Sri Lanka in 1987. As a well-known surgeon, her father had been repeatedly kidnapped both by the military and the Tamil Tigers, and forced to operate on their wounded. As a result, the lives of his wife and daughter were in serious danger from both sides. Shash has no doubt that safety in Britain saved her life.
Emina fled to the UK from Sarajevo in the 1990s after being medically evacuated with her baby sister, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. After completing a Masters at Oxford, she pursued a PhD in clinical psychology and now works with British army, navy, and air force veterans, assessing the support they receive when they have returned from service.
Dr. Nasimi fled the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2000. He now runs a large refugee organisation in the UK and has just opened Afghanistan’s first Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Twins Fabian Favourite and Fortunate Filda Frizell, left Zimbabwe in 2002 aged ten. Their mother was a prominent figure in education and their step-father a founding member of the party that opposed Mugabe’s regime. When Mugabe began a brutal crackdown on dissidents, they fled Zimbabwe in a desperate search for safety.
Aziz Anzabi, a University Professor at the University of Tehran, fled Iran after being harassed and imprisoned by the authorities after the 2009 election. He is now a London-based artist expressing the experiences of refugees through painting and sculpture.
Dr. Charles Dotou is a Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist, who has just retrained to work as an NHS doctor. As a human rights activist Charles had always experienced hostility, but it was his efforts to stop the spread of HIV and support the LGBT community that made his own situation life-threatening.
For Faheem Gul, being a gay man in Pakistan meant death threats, beatings and isolation. He has a Masters in Computer Science. After receiving refugee status and being released from detention he found work with the help of the Refugee Council.
Ayham was only a young man when Syria’s brutal conflict began. After his father was murdered, Ayham and has family fled the country in search of safety. Two years ago, they were resettled in the UK. Before returning to full time education, Ayham worked with the Refugee Council, helping other resettled Syrian refugees adjust to their new lives in Britain.