UK Proud to Protect Young Refugees, Says Red Cross Report

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New research published today shows two thirds of people living in Britain are proud the UK provides a safe haven for refugee children fleeing persecution, but there remains widespread confusion about the issue of asylum, with many people grossly exaggerating the numbers of asylum seekers residing in the UK.

Photo of Charles Fon

Young people - including children who may have arrived in Britain alone and without their family - can be particularly vulnerable. Some have experienced violence and trauma and need extra support. The Red Cross helps them access essential services and find their way around.

New research published today shows two thirds of people living in Britain are proud the UK provides a safe haven for refugee children fleeing persecution, but there remains widespread confusion about the issue of asylum, with many people grossly exaggerating the numbers of asylum seekers residing in the UK.

The research revealed 18 per cent of respondents believed the UK hosts more than half of the world's asylum seekers - in fact the figure is less than 3 per cent of the 9.9 million refugees in the world (about 302,000 people), according to UNHCR statistics.

The ICM poll was commissioned by the British Red Cross to explore people's perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers in the run-up to Refugee Week 2008, which this year takes places from the 16-22 June.

In 2006, 3,245 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children aged 17 or under claimed asylum in the UK, with the majority of them coming from Afghanistan (30%), Iran (10%), Eritrea (10%) and Somalia (8%). Reasons included the death of their parents, detention and torture, forced recruitment as child soldiers, persecution due to ethnic group, or the political activities of their family.

The Red Cross supports refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children to adjust to life in this country, make friends and access essential services such as health care and education. The Red Cross can even put young people back in touch with lost family members through its international tracing and message service.

Charles (17), originally from Cameroon, sought refuge in the UK just over a year ago. He said: "My mum and dad were both killed because of their involvement in politics. I went to live with my uncle, but our lawyer told me it was no longer safe to stay". Alone in Manchester, he found out about a Red Cross peer education project, which helped him make friends and provided training in peer befriending and first aid. Charles now teaches first aid to other young people and is studying law at City College Manchester.

To mark Refugee Week 2008, the British Red Cross is launching a UK-wide social networking campaign supported by actor Dougray Scott. The campaign will give young refugees and asylum seekers like Charles a platform to tell their story through video diaries, which will be showcased through sites such as Facebook, Bebo and YouTube, as well as the British Red Cross Refugee Week website.

Dougray explains: "Young people - including children who may have arrived in Britain alone and without their family - can be particularly vulnerable. Some have experienced violence and trauma and need extra support. The Red Cross helps them access essential services and find their way around."

British Red Cross staff and volunteers throughout the UK will be taking part in Refugee Week by holding events and activities, from comedy nights to workshops in schools.

Nick-Scott Flynn, head of British Red Cross refugee services, said: "The Red Cross Movement protects people fleeing conflict throughout the world and that includes those who arrive in the UK. Refugees make an enormous contribution to the UK, socially, culturally and economically, and Refugee Week is a chance to celebrate that fact."

Notes to editors

The research results show many people significantly overestimate the number of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Only 11% of those surveyed got the correct figure of 3%, whilst 18% of people asked thought the UK was home to over 50% of the world's population of asylum seekers. Despite this, two thirds of people in the UK (66%) say they are proud that the UK provides a safe haven for young refugees fleeing persecution.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 2,068 adults aged 18+ by telephone between 21st -25th May 2008. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at the ICM website.

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events to celebrate the positive contribution refugees make to the UK and encourage a better understanding between communities. This year, it takes place between 16 - 22 June.

The Red Cross believes that young refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children should be treated as children first and migrants second, and therefore deserve the same respect, consideration and rights as all other young people.

The video diaries are by young refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children aged 16-24 from Somalia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Ivory Coast and Cameroon and can be viewed at the British Red Cross Refugee Week website

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.

Case studies and photos are available, and interviews can be arranged on request.

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