Blog | Scouting and the refugee crisis

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You can encourage empathy and understanding in your section with a new resource designed to help leaders and young people explore the refugee crisis.

Words: Helen Pearce
Pictures: Brian Doherty, Alan Noake and WOSM

We’re currently facing the world’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two. In May 2017, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that over five million Syrians are registered as refugees. Of those, over four million are fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and more than a million have made the treacherous journey to Europe since 2011. In search of safety and a new life, they’ve been forced to flee their homes, friends and family.

In 2015, David Cameron, then Prime Minister, announced that the UK would welcome 20,000 refugees by 2020 and encouraged people to think about what they could do tohelp welcome these refugees to the UK. As the largest co-educational youth movement in the UK, the Scouts has an important role to play in supporting young people to understand these global issues and ensuring that we remain an open and inclusive Movement.

This is not a new topic for the Movement. In fact, UK Scouting has a long history of supporting and including displaced people going all the way back to the earliest days of the Movement. In August 1914, thousands of Belgians came to Britain to seek refuge from the First World War. Scouts were instrumental in supporting other civilian organisations with this influx of people. For example, Scouts in Folkestone, one of the main arrival points, acted as guides for those arriving in the UK, leading them to centres where they could access support.

Scouting also supported the Kindertransport scheme from 1938 to 1940, welcoming displaced children to the UK. Many of the children had very little understanding of what was happening to them, having left their homes suddenly and alone. Settling into their new lives was incredibly difficult. Scouting was there to help; some children were welcomed into existing Scout Groups, and in areas where a large number of Kindertransport children lived, new Groups were created for them. Then, following political unrest in Hungary in the late 1950s, Gilwell Park became a temporary refuge for Hungarian political refugees who were forced to flee their homes. 

A pledge to help in Europe

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With the current refugee crisis becoming an increasing concern across Europe, at the Joint European Guide and Scout Conference in 2016, Scouts and Guides from across Europe agreed that they needed to do something about it. They committed to playing an active role in the current migrant and refugee situation in Europe by continuing to encourage partnerships with humanitarian organisations that can support them in taking action and in producing educational materials for Guides and Scouts. They also committed to call on European institutions to take action to support human rights in response to the refugee situation in Europe, and to identify opportunities for joint work relating to human rights and the refugee crisis.

Kent County Explorer Scouts

Around the same time, with the EU referendum looming, local authorities in Kent began to discuss the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, and refugee camps being set up in Dover. David Wraight, Assistant County Commissioner (International) in Kent and Explorer Leader at 38th and 40th Strood Explorer Scout Unit, and fellow Explorer Leader and Specialist Advisor for Diversity and Inclusion Tony Malone began to think about how they as Scouts could support the refugees if camps were set up in Dover after the referendum. ‘We were aware that French Scouts had been doing work in refugee camps so we started looking at what we might do in Kent.’ 

They felt strongly that they wanted to explore these issues with young people in Scouting and help refugees be part of the wider community. ‘If our Scout Values are to mean anything, we have a duty to our young people to provide an opportunity to consider issues like the refugee crisis, and to talk to our local refugee communities about what help we can provide. We already look at other issues, such as conservation, both in global terms and local action, and work with a range of other charities to raise our young people’s awareness, enabling them to take positive action. We need to remain alert to new crises and opportunities to assist,’ says David. Tony goes on to say, ‘We began to wonder if Kent Scouts could set up a refugee group within a camp that was integrated with local surrounding Groups. That hasn’t happened yet but that’s where our heads are at.’

Support from Headquarters

Meanwhile, Georgie Mavrakis, Senior International Officer at The Scout Association Headquarters, had been approached by the Eric Frank Trust. Eric Frank was a refugee from Austria who fled during World War Two and arrived in the UK on his own aged 17. Eric was welcomed into Scouting and to show his gratitude for all of the help he received from the Movement, he set up the Eric Frank Trust, which supports young people’s social and leadership skills through Scouting and similar organisations. The Trust wanted to donate funding to a project that encouraged young people to explore refugee issues using a peer leadership model. They were keen for young people to be at the heart of welcoming refugees to the UK.

In 2016, lots of Scout Groups contacted Headquarters wanting to know how they could help, including David and Tony. ‘Many Groups in the UK were collecting food or tents and sending them to Calais or Lesvos but many of them weren’t sure how to explore the topic in any depth with young people. It was clear that, nationally, there was a desire to support this issue, either through direct action or through learning and understanding,’ says Georgie.

According to David, ‘Many leaders are keen to look at issues like the refugee crisis with their young people but perhaps lack the background knowledge.’

In light of this call for support, the Eric Frank Trust’s interest and funding, and the European Conference agreement, Georgie began to look at how to create a resource that would enable Groups to understand the issue and thus be in a better position to be able to take practical action. She contacted Oxfam, the organisers of Refugee Week, The British Red Cross, Refugee Action and Cafod about collaborating on a resource for Scouting that would be delivered by young people to their peers.

A Youth Shaped, peer-to-peer resource

Once a draft had been created, with David and Tony’s support, Georgie ran a workshop with some of the Explorers from 38th and 40th Strood Explorer Scout Unit. They discussed how the resources might be improved or adjusted and how they could be delivered throughout Kent County. The plan was for the Explorers to deliver the resource to their peers and to younger sections in Scouting. The response from this initial consultation was really positive. Tony pointed out, ‘One of the great things about our Explorers is they hate injustice. They’re really passionate about making a difference.’

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One of the benefits of the peer-to-peer delivery model is that Explorers who are working towards their Platinum and Diamond Chief Scout’s Awards and their Queen’s Scout Award can meet some of the criteria by getting involved. ‘We’re using an element of the programme that already exists to address this important issue,’ says Georgie. David agrees that this model is a great way to encourage young people to think about important issues while developing skills: ‘This type of resource, delivered in this way, is a useful tool for Explorer Scouts and Explorer Scout Young Leaders, supporting them in developing programmes for their section. I have already seen that giving young people the opportunity to deliver these resources really challenges them to consider the topic and the action they want to take. It provides an excellent leadership opportunity while developing the young person’s presentation skills and confidence.’

Shaun, Explorer Scout (38th and 40th Strood ESU) and one of the young people who received training to deliver the activities at Kent International Jamboree back in July, said: ‘Leading these activities for other young people has really helped me gain personal confidence around talking in front of people that I don’t know. I couldn’t have done this before but because the refugee crisis is so important, I felt that I wanted to tell people about it. I am more confident about talking and expressing my feelings to my peers now – Explorers and Scouts – both in my Group and at school.’

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The resource covers different activities that focus on understanding the issue, planning action and taking action. It’s designed around the community impact framework to support young people to take part in badge-linked activities that explore the topic of refugees, help young people understand how they can take action and help those delivering the activities become confident to approach global issues with young people.

Find out more

To download the Refugee Response resource pack, visit scouts.org.uk/refugeeresponse. 

 

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