In September last year, as Russia moved in to Syria to support the Assad regime, the plight of refuges fleeing war and persecution weighed heavily on my mind. I began following volunteers on the ground in Greece and started to understand the situation through their accounts.
Initially I felt quite frustrated, as a Brighton-based freelance designer supporting a young family, how could I help? What could I do to make a difference?
Facebook became my library as I spent my evenings finding new groups to follow, reading about the work that they were doing to help refugees, and finding out how I could assist them.
It’s quite incredible how many vital volunteer initiatives and organisations have formed to assist refugees and migrants on their journeys and during their resettlement.
In Sussex alone many resourceful volunteers have come together to respond to varying needs across Europe, and provide local services and support.
There is a wonderful sense of community among the mix of charities, organisations and groups within this county, as people from all walks of life, united by their common desire to help people in search of safety and equality, work together to provide the best possible solutions to the ever- evolving situation.
Brighton Voices in Exile (BVIE)
BVIE, a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO), have been supporting refugees and asylum seekers since 2009, providing various services, including legal advice and help with housing, benefits, education and employment.
BVIE are contracted by Brighton Council to support the settlement of refugees through the official Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme, and their vital services offer a lifeline to those who are destitute, with no income due to their immigration status.
Speaking at the Share Your Story event on 9 March 2016, BVIE Director Mary-Jane Burkett stated that Government cuts are set to make things worse for people seeking refuge in Sussex.
She told us also that continued support is required from the local community to ensure that BVIE are able to continue providing these services. The food bank they run is always in need of items including oil, tinned fish and pulses such as chickpeas, and toiletries including shower gel and shampoo which can be delivered to their offices at 55 Upper North Street, Brighton BN1 3FH.
To find out more about items currently required for the food bank you can call BVIE on 01273 328598, alternatively you can find out about fundraising and volunteering by visiting their website.
The Hummingbird Project
As the situation changes at home and on the ground throughout Europe, initiatives find ways to adapt and work together.
The Hummingbird Project, a Brighton-based non-profit organisation, has grown tremendously in recent months. Having started as a well received art piece, it quickly became a collective of volunteers with a plethora of skills. These amazing people have provided medical help, shelter and hope to people living in terrible conditions in the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps.
The Hummingbird Safe Space is one of very few structures still standing in the south side of the ‘Calais Jungle’ camp, where they offer medical and emotional support. In Brighton, Hummingbird supports the work of BVIE, calling upon their incredibly pro-active troupe of volunteers to help make sure emergency accommodation meets the requirements of new tenants.
Many labourers have reached out to Hummingbird, to offer their skills and tools to build shelters for highly vulnerable refugees living in the camps of Northern France, and help raise people out of the mud, providing better living conditions.
As France's first ever internationally-recognised refugee camp opens near Dunkirk, The Hummingbird Builders are supporting another incredible local initiative as they build a school for the 200 refugee children living in Dunkirk.
For The Hummingbird Project to continue their work, providing refugees with medical aid and support in Calais, Dunkirk and Northern France they need to raise funds for a mobile clinic. To donate please visit www.hummingbirdproject.org.uk/portfolio-item/donate
The Brighton Shelter Build Project
Known for creating flat pack shelters that were taken to France to be erected quickly throughout the winter months, The Brighton Shelter Build Project are currently in the process of building a school and family centre that will include classrooms, a baby and toddler room and a family space.
With help from their supporters, they have managed to raise considerable funds, however further donations are needed to cover all material costs.
Sussex Refugee Solidarity (SRS)
As many of us reel at the news of camp demolitions and EU responses, volunteers and organisations stand firm, responding rapidly to the ever-changing crisis, providing aid and support wherever it is needed.
SRS have organised the collection and shipment of aid to locations throughout Europe, bringing together the local community and proving information and support to people keen to help, enabling them to gather many desperately needed items.
On 24 March 2016 SRS bring a music quiz and auction hosted by Alison Moyet to The Synergy Centre, to raise money for both the Brighton based Calais School Bus Project, which takes mobile education programmes to refugees camped out in Calais, France, and further support and shipments for refugees arriving in Greece and Southern Europe.
To grab a ticket to the event head to www.jumblebee.co.uk/srsquiz2016, where you will also find out more about the auction items available to bid on.
Aside from the incredible direct work being done, local initiatives and organisations work hard to raise awareness.
That includes attending talks, rallies, and providing information via social media that gives an insight in to what is really happening, exposing issues not commonly covered by the media.
Between them, these incredibly dedicated, resourceful people bridge huge gaps.
More refugee projects on...Refugee Projects!
To find out more about these and other initiatives happening near you and within Sussex visit refugeeprojects.com and search ‘Brighton’ or ‘Sussex’.