Reflections on International Migrants Day

A child walks over a wooden bridge in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar


The definition of ‘freedom’ is the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants’; in other words, freedom of choice, freedom of speech, or freedom of movement. Relatively speaking, most of us in the UK are fortunate to have access to freedom, and more often than not, take it for granted. It is not possible to imagine how our lives would look if this freedom was to be taken away from us. Only then, can we even begin to fathom what the lives of migrants, refugees, or internally displaced persons (IDPs) might be like. Every year, countless people flee their countries of origin for safety due to conflict, social, cultural, religious, economic or political reasons – and in the process of doing so, lose their identities and status in society. It is only then that we can even begin to realise how a lack of freedom can affect our lives in so many ways.

Having previously worked in post-conflict countries like Iraq and South Sudan with organisations that cleared explosive hazards in and around populated areas in small towns and villages, I have seen some of these immense challenges first-hand. It was unfathomable how anyone would want to return ‘home’. People’s houses, farmland, schools, cultural sites, and community buildings had either been partially or completely destroyed -sometimes still contaminated with explosive hazards, and often with no functioning infrastructure such as electricity or access to water. Just unimaginable…

Over the past year, All We Can has continued to work with communities forced to migrate from their homes – specifically with refugees in Jordan and Bangladesh.

Covid-19 has placed refugee communities in even more precarious living conditions than usual, as cramped and crowded situations provide fertile ground for the virus to spread. All We Can has supported a number of initiatives in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar – including supporting the establishment of temporary isolation centres for those with virus symptoms, spreading health and hygiene messages, and distributing sanitation kits. These interventions, along with many others, continue to have a real impact – as the camps report a much lower rate of infection than was initially expected.

Two women stand either side of a large table, cutting material for use as face masks
A face mask sewing project in Za’atari refugee camp, supported by All We Can. Image © Lutheran World Federation

Coronavirus has also forced rapid change in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Here, All We Can supports Syrian refugees who were forced to flee their homes due to the outbreak and continued civil war in Syria.  In ‘normal’ times, All We Can supports children in the camp through face-to-face social and therapeutic activities, as well as providing skills-based training to adults in two community centres. However, in March, this work pivoted to embrace the virtual world – as all trainings, education, and social support were delivered online. This has been received very positively and enabled our partner to reach more beneficiaries than before – the only downside is that many refugee families lacked more than one phone per household, and the ones that they do have don’t always have advanced enough technology to be able to receive this support in full.

In addition, the camps have remained tightly controlled with little freedom of movement – leading to deteriorating mental health and increased stress within refugee communities, as well as a concerning rise in domestic abuse. Within these difficult circumstances, All We Can has supported a programme teaching refugee women to sew facemasks. This initiative provides an income for their families, as well as vital facemasks for the most vulnerable residents in the camps. You can find out more about the work All We Can is supporting in Za’atari in this interview with Islam, a staff member for Lutheran World Federation – All We Can’s humanitarian aid partner in the region.

All We Can remains committed to standing with refugee communities – not just on International Migrants Day, but every day. If you’d like to donate to this vital work, you can do so here. You may also like to read this photo essay, exploring previous work All We Can has supported in Cox’s Bazar.

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