Some of the world's most vulnerable refugees, who are now building new lives in the UK, today met immigration minister Damian Green and spoke to him about their experiences, ahead of Refugee Week.
At the Sheffield project, Mr Green heard more about the lives of the more than 3,300 people safely settled across the country through the Gateway Protection Programme, since it began in 2002.
The programme is run by the UK Border Agency in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It brings up to 750 particularly vulnerable refugees to the UK every year from refugee camps and urban areas around the world.
Proud tradition of protection
Damian Green said: ‘The UK has a proud tradition of helping those who need our protection and of giving genuine refugees the support they need to start a new life in the UK.
‘I’m delighted today to have met some of the refugees who have benefited from this scheme and to hear about the significant contribution they have made to life in the UK.’
In their first year in the UK, the refugees receive the support they need to integrate into British life, including housing, healthcare and education provided through partner agencies such as the Refugee Council and local authorities including Sheffield City Council.
Mr Green met refugees including Esther Freeman, a Liberian who had been living in a refugee camp in Guinea for 20 years until, in 2004, she came to Sheffield as part of the first intake of Gateway refugees.
She said: ‘I would never have lived peacefully without the Gateway Protection Programme.
‘I couldn’t be more grateful to the UK government and the Refugee Council for their support. The Gateway programme has changed my family’s life.’
This year is a milestone in the global effort to support refugees, as 2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and states’ legal obligations.
Refugee Week, which this year runs from June 20 to June 26, is a UK-wide programme of events celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK.