This Refugee Week not only will we be celebrating the amazing contribution of refugees to our communities, we will also be voting in a referendum on our future in the European Union. Immigration has been one of the key issues dominating the debate, thrown into focus by the large number of refugees arriving in Europe over the past year.


Yet, while migrants have become a target for fear and hatred in some parts of the media, there has also been an outpouring of empathy, support and activity for those seeking sanctuary, under the banner of ‘Welcome’ – the theme of this year’s Refugee Week.


In our work, we have benefitted hugely from the hard work and support of individuals and community groups who are all sending a core message: refugees are welcome here. Over the past 9 months, we have seen big increases in the number of people applying to volunteer with CARAS; we have also received numerous requests from community groups to run a range of exciting projects with the people with whom we work.


One particularly fruitful partnership has been with Transition Town Tooting (TTT), a collective which aims to promote sustainability at a local level and develop community interconnectedness through initiatives which are “inclusive, imaginative, practical and fun”.  Members of TTT have embodied an enthusiastic welcome, partnering with young people at our Saturday club to build and grow a small garden around the community site CARAS calls home, as well as running shorter workshops and activities at the after school club, the women’s drop-in and our family activity days.  Local partnerships such as this one, provide a unique opportunity for members of our community – new and old – to come together, share experiences and learn from one another.


Locally, other groups have also extended a welcome to the people we work with and the wider refugee population. Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees – a network of people, organisations and faith groups taking action to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to the borough – was launched earlier this year. AFC Wimbledon fans displayed “Refugees Welcome” banners at a home game back in September, with funds collected from fans donated to CARAS. And, a class of Year 8s at Ursuline High School in Wimbledon won £1,000 for CARAS, when they decided to highlight the difficulties faced by unaccompanied young people with a creative and informative display as part of a school competition.


While pre-referendum anti-immigration rhetoric is likely to be unavoidable this Refugee Week, it is important to remind ourselves that many, many people in our communities are standing up and saying, in words and deeds, refugees are welcome here. If you’re not already one of them, then, welcome to you too, come and join us.