Living our Promise: responding to the refugee crisis

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How to respond to the ongoing refugee crisis: resources, practical advice and support available for members of Scouting.

With the clearing of ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, and the numerous reports of those struggling to escape conflict and start new lives in the UK, it is sometimes difficult to know the most practical way we can help. Tim Kidd, UK Chief Commissioner, and Jack Maxton, International Commissioner, share some practical advice and detail the support available.

Putting ourselves in their shoes

Many of us have seen and heard the news that the UK is starting to welcome more refugees. In some cases, we are taking in whole families; in other cases, the refugees are unaccompanied children, including those with links to relatives already living in this country.

Regardless of our views of the world political situation which has brought this about, the immediate plight of these young people is deeply troubling.Consider for a moment how we would feel if one of our own children was frightened and alone in a warzone, sent to a strange country, unable to speak the language or even inform their family that they are safe. This powerful video by Save the Children imagines just such a scenario.

Proud to help other people

Scouting has a long history of supporting young people in need from other countries, particularly in the period leading up to, and during, the Second World War. Many of those who came to the UK in fear for their lives have never forgotten the genuine warmth of the welcome they received from Scouting.

What this means to us as Scouts

Scouting is a worldwide Movement, and it may well be that some young refugees already have experience of the Movement in their home country. These young people often just need friendly and reassuring contact with others of their own age. This is not something they necessarily get through the official system, which focusses on formal processes.

However, this vital, peer-to-peer contact is well within our scope as Scouts, and we believe it is our duty to offer this where we can. Our founder, Robert Baden-Powell, famously said: ‘A Scout is a friend to all.’

We believe that we have a responsibility to offer simple assistance to refugees, where this is within our capabilities, and we should not wait to be asked.


What we can offer

Scouting is not a specialist body and we should not try to do the job of specialist UK Agencies. However, we can offer: 

  • A safe and friendly environment in which young people can learn about their new community
  • The company of young people of their own age, where they can enjoy the fun and friendship of Scouting
  • Enjoyable activities, through which young people learn by doing
  • Reassurance to parents that our local communities do care about their situation.

As a reminder of how powerful Scouting can be at such times, take a look at We are Scouts, an inspiring film following two Syrian Scouts who re-joined the Movement when they arrived as refugees in Australia.

Practical advice

The Scout Association will produce more resources in the future, but in the meantime, here are 10 key points for action. Some will depend on your position in the Movement, but remember: all of us can do something.

1. Make clear, wherever possible, to local authorities, religious organisations and specialist agencies dealing with the integration of refugees, that Scouting is well placed to help all young people, within its capabilities. Don’t wait to be asked.

2. Ask your young people to look out for young refugees. Remind them that as Members of Scouting, we can extend our friendship to them. Friendship is the most precious thing you can offer a newcomer.

3. Consider what simple preparations your Group might make to welcome young refugees. Think about how you can overcome language barriers and help make things easier (for example, having spare uniform and spare Group scarves ‘in stock’ for parents concerned about the cost of joining).

4. If you can, signpost parents to specialist local organisations that can help with things like money, housing and health…

5. ..but don’t be tempted to do the job of the specialists for them – simply referring them on will help.

6. Make clear to parents (of both current Scouts and refugee children) that Scouting is non-political and non-sectarian. Please also remind them that we take safeguarding very seriously.

7. Don’t treat refugee families differently. Scouting is able to help integrate young people into normal life in the UK: welcome them as you would any other new Member and offer them fun and friendship.

8. Don’t enquire too much into refugee’s background, but instead be positive about the future. Scouting develops young people through learning by doing, and though these young people may have been through a lot, they are still young and deserve all the same opportunities to learn and have fun.

9. Don’t become involved in sectarian, political or financial dealings on behalf of refugees or their families.

10. Report anything of concern to your Scouting line manager. Remember, the Yellow Card applies to all equally. 


Support and resources

Here’s a list of some of the support available, both within and beyond Scouting.

  • How to make a difference for Refugees - Practical ideas from WOSM suggesting ways Scouting can help refugees arriving in their local community, based on real examples in other European countries.
  • Refugee support - More examples of where Scouting has made all the difference to the everyday lives of young refugees.

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