Fringe Box



Letter: Behind the Refugees Headlines, There are Real People Rebuilding Their Lives

Published on: 13 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 13 Mar, 2023

From Evie Booton

Big Leaf Foundation communications and campaigns coordinator

Discussions about refugees and displaced people seem to be everywhere, driven by controversial Government schemes, an increase in far-right protests and the welcoming of over 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by war.

Young Leaders at the Big Leaf Foundation workshop discussed the differences between democracies and dictatorships, comparing their home countries with the UK.

It is easy to forget that behind the headlines are real people trying to rebuild their lives and overcome extreme adversity. Big Leaf Foundation is a Surrey-based charity trying to help them do so.

We support displaced young people across the county through programmes focused on health and wellbeing, knowledge, safety and community.

At one of our newest projects, Young Leaders, we were joined by prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Guildford, Zöe Franklin, who led a session on democracy.

Zoe Franklin

Zöe’s session on democracy for displaced young people was brilliant, leaving everyone involved feeling positive and empowered. It has inspired these young people to become activists and perhaps even politicians themselves.

Zöe said “I really wanted to help the young leaders to see how politics can work for them.

“Too often, it can feel distant and irrelevant, but actually, politics has a big impact on every area of our lives.”

She discussed the role of MPs and councillors in helping their residents and passing bills through the House of Commons and Lords. Surrey University School of Law students led the session, guiding the Young Leaders as they created mini-manifestos and held a mock election, debating issues such as removing barriers to education and making public transport affordable.

Many of the young people have fled countries where political debate and protest is illegal, and a number of the Young Leaders shared their own negative experiences of politics and activism.

Zöe said: “The stories shared by the young people reminded me that, while no democracy is perfect and the UK is facing some challenges currently, we are so fortunate to live in a democracy where freedom of speech and expression is a right.”

Meeting politicians in the UK is profoundly impactful on displaced young people. Zöe first attended one of our events last summer, and many young people we support were surprised to hear that there are politicians speaking out against the Rwanda scheme.

Zöe’s involvement in our projects has been invaluable in building confidence and knowledge in the UK political system and reassuring the young people we support that there are politicians fighting for their rights.

Zöe said: “I firmly believe that the most effective societies are those that have a diverse range of people involved in the democratic process. I hope that everyone involved is left with a sense that politics and democracy are important to their daily lives but also something that they can get involved in.

“I believe that having these young people sharing their stories as activists will help to bring positive change for the future.”

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