“There have been refugees coming to this country for as long as records have been kept: Huguenots, Jews, French Catholics, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Ugandan Asians… If you can’t find any in your family you’re probably not looking hard enough.”
This month, Bloggers Unite is raising awareness of the plight of refugees with special emphasis on reuniting those who have lost contact with their families.
Like most people who had the good fortune to be born in a rich, western democracy I have no idea how it feels to be a refugee. My life has not been torn apart by war or famine. No one has ever persecuted me for my beliefs, ethnicity or gender. I have never lain awake at night wondering (literally) where on earth my children where.
Two branches of my family were refugees though. They came to England to escape religious and racial persecution. The Clesters were Anabaptists who arrived from Holland in the 16th century. A century later, the Jewish Toders made the journey, also from Holland. Both families set up home in Nottinghamshire, initially making a living from farming.
The England they arrived in was not an overtly tolerant and liberal one. Religious conflict was rife, but does not appear to have been as widespread as that found elsewhere. In rural areas particularly, people do seem to have adopted a ‘live and let live’ attitude. Both the Todors and the Clesters became part of their local communities, and married into local families. From the information I have gleaned about them, I think it is safe to say their lives improved dramatically, not least because they had been able to come here as almost complete families. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many modern refugees.
Sadly, conflict causes chaos which leads to people becoming separated and lost. Parents will often find a way to remove their child from danger – as seen during the famous Kindertransport in World War 2 – only for that child to end up thousands of miles away and, effectively, lost forever. For most people, losing contact with family is terrible in the best of circumstances. For it to happen at a time when you most need the support of the people who love you must be heartbreaking, and terribly frightening. To find yourself alone in a strange country, surrounded by people who can’t understand anything you say, whilst worried sick about the fate of your loved ones truly is the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately, there is a service which helps to reunite scattered families.
Refugees Reunited works in much the same way as the social networks most of us use everyday, giving people the tools to reconnect with family and friends they have lost contact with, but with one difference: It’s designed for use by refugees. The site is free to use, available in a number of languages and, most importantly, anonymous, therefore giving any displaced person a safe way of reconnecting with their loved ones, and, no doubt, providing much-needed peace of mind. It’s a wonderful example of the power of the internet which, underneath all the bells and whistles, is about bringing people together.
“Refugees United is an innovative tool to assist refugees around the world in finding family members. In a pioneering way the innovators of Refugees United have used modern technology to alleviate the terrible pain that separation from and uncertainty about family members bring. Our toolbox has been expanded with a very important new instrument”
Morten Kjærum, Director of Fundamental Rights Agency
- British Red Cross Refugee Service
- United Nations Refugee Agency
- The Road to Refugee
- What is a Refugee?
- Life as a Refugee in Modern Britain – I think the Toders and the Clesters would be shocked and disappointed if they knew others were not receiving the warm(ish) welcome they received.