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Changemakers 2022: Refugees and asylum seekers

These are the Changemakers that dedicate time to protecting refugees and asylum seekers.

Each year The Big Issue celebrates its Changemakers, the people and campaigns that are doing all they can to make positive change in society. We want to thank them for everything they do and direct others to see their invaluable work.

There are roughly 20.7 million refugees worldwide, people who are escaping conflicts and natural disasters in search of a better life. With thousands attempting to across the Channel, we know just how important it is to help those seeking refuge feel safe and welcome.

These are the Changemakers that dedicate time to protecting refugees and asylum seekers.

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NEMI Teas 

NEMI Teas makes tea with a difference. Not only does it aim to ensure its whole output is plastic free, from teabags, to packaging, but the team make a point of hiring and supporting refugees in the UK with employment opportunities. Fresh from a win at the recent Social Enterprise Awards 2021, where the organisation was given the prize for the best Environmental Social Enterprise, founder Pranav Chopra gives us the lowdown. 

How do you make a positive difference in the world? 

We provide employment to refugees to give them local work experience and job readiness skills to enter the UK workforce and help them integrate into broader society. At the same time, our products have been designed to have the most minimal impact on the planet. The tea we source is Organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance-certified. Our pyramid tea bags are also 100 per cent plastic free and biodegradable.

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What inspired you to form your company and how did it start? 

NEMI began at a refugee supper club. We heard first-hand about what it was like to be a refugee in the UK. Despite their right to work, they were struggling to find jobs due to a lack of local experience. In response, we set up an organisation that solely employs refugees. We give them job readiness skills to enter the UK workforce and help them integrate into society. 

What is the biggest issue everyone should know about at the moment? 

Of the 65 million refugees worldwide who have been displaced due to conflict or persecution, the UK has accepted approximately 133,000 (UNHCR). Nearly one-fifth of the refugees living here are unemployed, and nearly 20 per cent arrive alone without any friends or family.  

What is one thing anyone can do to make a positive difference? 

Consumers hold a lot of power with their purchasing decisions. So every time you buy something, ask if it is made from sustainable materials, is it being produced ethically, and is it creating a positive social impact? That way, more brands will have to follow suit and it will become the norm for brands to be sustainable, ethical and make a positive difference. 

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Khalida Popal 

When Kabul was taken by the Taliban, Khalida Popal campaigned for the Afghan women’s football team and their families to be evacuated to the UK. Former player Popal was born in Afghanistan and left in 2011 after receiving death threats. The 34-year-old, who is director of the Afghan team, lives in Denmark where she campaigns for women’s rights and equality in sport. The team landed in the UK on November 18, 2021.

That day Popal tweeted: “Now, time to get as much support as possible to help them in their resettlement process. 130 people made it safe. Thanks to everyone.”

Popal is also founder and director of Girl Power, an organisation aiming to “use sport and education as tools to empower, connect and unify women and girls from all cultures and social backgrounds”. 

Rainbow Migration 

This group rebranded as Rainbow Migration in May 2021 after 28 years as the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. It supports LGBTQ+ people through the asylum and immigration system and lobbies the government, urging it to “focus on creating a kind and compassionate asylum system, rather than on causing further distress to people who are only looking for a place to live in safety and dignity”.

Rainbow Migration wrote an open letter to the government in August over the safety of LGBTQ+ Afghans when the Taliban took power. In November, when at least 27 people drowned in the English channel, the charity co-signed a letter calling for the government to resettle at least 10,000 refugees each year and reinstate the Dubs Agreement.  

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Detention action 

This year has seen a resurgence in hostile environment immigration policies as the Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way through Parliament. Detention Action work with people in detention centres, due to be deported, by supporting them and connecting them with legal representation. 

On the most recent flight to Jamaica, the organisation worked to help detainees due to be deported. Just four of an original 50 people ended up being deported on the flight. 

The Borders Bill would also allow the government to process asylum seekers trying to enter the UK in a third country – as Australia has done by sending immigrants to Papua New Guinea. 

Detention Action are leading the fight against this, pointing not only to the expense of the Australian system, but to its fundamental inhumanity. 

Glasgow No Evictions Network 

People with experiences of the asylum system and their allies in Glasgow are part of a grassroots campaign called No Evictions Network. In May 2021, protesters from the group surrounded a Border Force van on Kenmure Street, Glasgow to try and prevent immigration officers from removing two Muslim men from the neighbourhood.

The campaign supports people in asylum accommodation against evictions and supports them with phone top-ups, internet access and legal support. The pandemic has been a challenging time for the organisation as most communication has had to happen virtually. 

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