Real Giving: Here's How You Could Help Refugees This Christmas
We spoke to leader of Stand for Humanity Yasmin Autwal to get the low-down on what's actually happening in Calais now, and how we can help refugees this Xmas.
We're all about giving at Christmas, but why does giving always have to come with tags and bags? This Xmas season, learn about some of the ways you could spend your money in a way that could REALLY make a difference to someone out there who needs it most. In other words, let's talk real giving - it gives you all the feels.
Here's Munroe Bergdorf, asking why we're all so scared of talking about racism...
We caught up with the leader of the Stand for Humanity movement, Yasmin Autwal, to talk about the refugee sitch in Calais right now, and overcoming the fear that we can't make a difference, when we can actually do a lot.
What work do you do for ‘Stand For Humanity’, and why is it important?
Stand for Humanity is a movement that came off the back of 2016; a year where it felt as though so many things came to a head - politically, globally even personally, it was a year that was too big to ignore. I've been involved in the refugee crisis for the past 2 years and it felt like volunteering wasn't enough anymore; there needed to be other action taken and more done to shake people out of this apathetic state (in the western world especially) that we’re living in.
Everywhere we turn there is something disastrous that requires our help and attention, whether it's 65.5 million people displaced due to war, critical levels of plastic in our oceans or police brutality... and yet our level of action is reduced to a 'like' on social media.
All of us are here to be doing more; we aren't in times where we can just sit back and chill. That's why I started the movement; to help wake people up and spring them into action, as I know that there are FAR more of us that care about the current state of the world, than those that don't.
I've taken talks, poems and workshops around the country about the various things I've been involved in throughout the crisis and why it's important that all of us remember the power that lies in us as individuals to make change. Afterwards I hand out pledge cards; for people to make a single pledge for the sake of humanity which they then upload to social media to show commitment and inspire others to do the same.
‘Love has no borders’. What does this mean to you?
Love transcends everything, so of course it transcends man-made lines drawn on a map! Love is what we are, it's in each and every one of us, it's the reason any of us even exist. Borders don't represent that, they represent the opposite. When you look at the earth from space - do you see borders? Or do you see a beautiful green and blue marble floating in space as a single unit - the way we're supposed to be seen?
There isn't a single person on this planet who has been able to control where they were born, what passport they were given or even which family they were born into. It blows my mind that people need reminding of this. So when other countries are in trouble, our mentality should surely be to bring each other to safety, to help and support one another. Not to close our borders, build walls and physically harm those that are seeking safety!
No doubt those that disagree with that statement would say there would be chaos without borders... Yet we are witnessing the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes WITH them.
You've been to the Calais Jungle since it's been torn down. What's it like now?
It's been tough going to Calais post-demolition - 10,000 people lived in the Jungle up until last October. My best friend and I were amongst the first to head back out there last year just after it was torn down and it was one of the hardest trips we've done. It was a thriving community of refugees, supported only by volunteers and grassroots movements, with no help from any big NGO, charity or government funding. Without the governments declaring it an official refugee camp, the big charities can't come in to help. So it's simply been humans helping humans.
Refugees are still there - thousands of them - but they're now living in even worse conditions, without shelter, sleeping on frozen ground because the French and UK government are refusing to help them and worse still, trying to deter US from helping too.
We had planned to do a two-day creative workshop for the kids in the woods last time we were there, but during the night their makeshift homes had been destroyed by the French riot police and their sleeping bags and blankets sprayed with pepper spray, rendering everything unusuable.
There are many misconceptions that have been fuelled by mainstream media, that are no different to propaganda used against Jews during WW2. People are fleeing from their homes for safety. They know the language in the UK - if you had to leave your country and live somewhere else, wouldn't you choose a place with a language you could speak? Most of the people trying to get here also have family or friends in the UK - again, wouldn't you go to wherever your loved ones were? It seems bizzare that this still has to be pointed out.
It's also a common misconception that the UK is the number one choice for refugees - it's actually 6th/7th in the pecking order across Europe. The support in other countries is far more supportive than what the UK offers, so it's not actually that popular. Only 0.24% of the UK population is made up by refugees. That's not even a quarter of a percentage. When you think about these stats vs the headlines it really makes you wonder why on earth we allow certain media outlets any airtime.
What's the asylum process in the UK?
This is probably one of the saddest parts to explain but if a refugee wants to come to the UK, there's no safe way for them to do so. Perhaps the cruelest thing about our government is that they'll let people claim asylum in the UK so long as they risk their lives to get here, as that's the only way you can make it. If more people knew about this I believe they would be shocked to know this is how our 'open-minded' country operates; when children are trying to reunite with their families, we don't open our borders, we watch them die trying to get here.
If a refugees manage to not get kidnapped, abused, sold or freeze to death and somehow arrive safely in the UK, they are then taken for questioning and are able to claim asylum once they get here. It's pretty lengthy and can often take a good 8 months for their claim to be processed so whilst they wait they are given temporary accommodation until they find out from the home office whether their claim has been successful. Once finding out, regardless of whether their claim has been accepted or rejected, their accommodation is withdrawn and they are given 28 days only, to find a place to live and a job to sustain themselves.
The idea that the UK provides benefits or even basic support for refugees is a myth. It's actually one of the more scarier places in Europe to claim asylum.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from helping others in need?
A lot of us feel we only have so much to give - I myself thought that. But after seeing, feeling and living the amount that I have over the last two years I've come to understand that actually when it comes to giving love, we're absolutely limitless. And I genuinely feel it's one of the biggest life lessons we can learn, especially living in a society that constantly promotes individualism over everything. It's like creativity, it doesn't run out. The more you love, the more love you have to give.
Have any of your close relationships been challenged by your campaigning?
To be honest, those close to me have only been supportive of what I do and have actually joined me on my missions! If anything I would say it's not so much relationships that have been challenged, but personal beliefs within themselves that have been challenged. And I actually feel that's the best thing that could happen, as I've had breakthroughs with people that would never otherwise have changed their outlook on some of the issues I've shed light on. There's only one side to be on when it comes to humanity and that's something that has caused some people to look hard at themselves and reconsider their position on certain things.
What will inspire our generation to look up from their phones and take action?
Well so far I've been sharing wherever I can to show ways that we can inspire one another - and that inspiration is everywhere. Of course I have countless stories from Calais but equally the movement itself is about getting us to all overcome APATHY; as that's what the wider issue is. We see all these things going on but we carry on with our lives anyway, and I understand why! There is so much going on and so many ways that we're now bombarded with information, that we just end up feeling overwhelmed... so instead we do nothing instead of something.
But if we consider that we are on a floating rock spinning on our axis at 1000mph, we are actually miracles - all of us - for even being here! So why would we doubt that we've been placed here at this exact time, with all this privilege, for a reason? I've just recently done a TEDx talk on this and what the movement is about; it will be available online at the end of January so keep an eye out for it!
What can we ALL do to help?
In regard to refugees there are so many ways to help. You can donate money, clothes, food, sleeping bags, etc., or volunteer in France, Greece, or in the UK to help new arrivals. You can also put on fundraisers for, or donate to, grass roots organisations (Refugee Community Kitchen, Help Refugees & Utopia 56 to name a few). Even having conversations about what's really happening helps others - this Facebook group is a great place to start.
Stand for Humanity itself aims to get EVERYONE helping in a really simple way. Outside politics, governments and skewed media, the wider issue behind all of humanity's problems is APATHY. If we as human beings start being more proactive, coming together and generally showing that we care, then we set the standard of what we expect from our world leaders, by example.
Stand for Humanity asks one very simple request of everyone and that is to make a pledge for someone or something they care about that is totally outside of them and their circle. It could be for absolutely anything, the only criteria is that the pledge is being made solely for the sake of humanity. Whether it's taking time to talk to homeless people, volunteering at a soup kitchen, befriending elderly neighbours or setting up your own initiative, it will be something that makes each of us come OUTSIDE of ourselves and reconnect.
Once this happens perspective changes, not only towards the person we are helping but in fact towards ourselves and our own ability to make a change. We start to see how easy it is when we ACT from love; and apathy cannot live in that. It's absolutely crucial that we start making time for each other in the current times that we are in, as humanity is truly the only thing that can save humans.
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