Marlow Refugee Action turns 4!

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With so many challenges being faced by refugees in the UK and overseas, it can feel strange to want to celebrate.

But, today, we have cause to as Marlow Refugee Action has just turned 4! On this happy occasion, founders Vanessa and Tom said…


“When the two of us first talked about doing this, we never thought we would achieve anything like this much. It just goes to show what is possible when a group of like-minded people come together in support of a shared passion.

An enormous thank you to our fellow trustees, all our volunteers, donors, and supporters and all the people who have touched our hearts and inspired us along the way”


On this anniversary, Marlow Refugee Action wanted to share with you the difference your generosity has made, and how every donation really adds up to make a meaningful difference to the lives of refugees in the UK and beyond.

Together we’ve bought school supplies for Lebanon, flip flops for Chios, winter boots for Calais, laptops, underpants, torches,  tents and tablets.

You’ve collected coats and clothes, sleeping bags, SNUG packs and shoeboxes; run races, supported tombolas, held concerts and plant sales, inspired school kids & eaten many many Syrian suppers! 

From the bottom of our hearts we want to thank everyone who made the last 4 years possible and hope you will join us as we move forward into 2021 and beyond.


Inspired to get involved? Join us for the next step of the journey!

We need passionate advocates, speakers, organisers, fundraisers, and trustees as well as teachers, hosts and volunteers to come alongside asylum seekers and refugees in the surrounding area.

Get in touch to find out more…

Second Tree Scouts

What with all of the turmoil currently facing the world, it’s easy to forget that there remains room for positive news in our lives!

MRA recently caught up with James Perry, a volunteer from Marlow, who rejoined Second Tree, an organisation in Northern Greece, in July as their Scout Programme Coordinator.

He shared with us a brief overview of exactly how Second Tree are helping turn around the lives of some of the youngest refugees, by providing them a safe space to heal and grow…


The scouts programme has helped more than 300 refugees stuck in two refugee camps in northern Greece. 

The programme is available to all children aged 8-16, an age group that’s conscious of what displaced them and often lack support systems to help process their trauma. This can lead to anti-social behaviour and a lack of confidence, which also inhibits learning and positive self-development from taking place.

Our English classes, workshops and excursions have created a safe space where, despite their circumstances, young people of all genders and ethnicities can build their identity. 

Some children are given the responsibility of being scout leaders, acting as role models to their peers and assisting their teachers in supporting and delivering activities. The programme builds four core values in children: kindness, focus, responsibility and teamwork.

Concepts such as racial and gender equality are at the forefront of our programme which has resulted in over half of our participants being girls!

Migrants and the Media

As you will all have seen over the past few days, several media outlets have turned their lenses toward migrants crossing the channel in order to reach the UK; with this change in focus, the rhetoric of “invasion” has returned to the forefront of British conversation.

At Marlow Refugee Action, we have been appalled to see news crews pull alongside boats full of migrants, only to commentate as if it were some kind of spectacle rather than reach out and provide life-saving support. Such a response toward innocent people, seeking a better life for themselves and their families, is abhorrent.

Unpacking motivation and educating ourselves on the issues at hand is the only way to begin to understand why there has been an increase in channel crossings in recent weeks; this piece will hopefully shed some light…

The UK does not provide safe and legal routes to access asylum in the UK. Instead, we invest in fences and walls around the port of Calais and as part of the French-British Le-Touquet agreement, we also fund the CRS police in Northern France. The recent aggressive tactics has led more migrants to, once again, seek a new home as they are forced out of the refugee camps.

This shift, combined with tougher restrictions on transit brought on by the current global pandemic, has pushed people to utilise more dangerous methods and crossing routes with many forced to make their attempt at reaching the UK aboard ill-equipped rubber dinghies as opposed to hidden in convoys.

The number of people doing this has risen sharply in 2020, with over 4000 people risking their lives to make the voyage.

This has caused a great deal of public outcry, both positive and negative, so it’s vital to understand how many people actually want to enter the UK and why they wish to come in the first place.

A survey carried out in Calais in 2016 found that 40% of those interviewed wanted to come to the UK because they had friends or family here, 23% because they already spoke good English, and 14% because they thought Britain’s asylum system would give them better protection than that in France.

Contrary to an often flippant attitude, refugees cannot claim housing benefit in the UK and asylum seekers are given an allowance of just £5.39 per day. These people are not in the UK to abuse the welfare state, most are fleeing conflict. 

The majority of refugees in Calais that are seeking to reach the UK come from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrean, Iraq, Iran and Syria, places which are amongst the most dangerous in the world.

As a nation, our lives are historically enmeshed with the people of these countries, and we should neither be surprised when a small number of them arrive on our shores, nor treat their presence as illegitimate.

Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim. 

The UK is home to approx. 1% of the 29.6 million refugees, forcibly displaced across the world. By contrast, both Sweden, Hungary, Germany and France have embraced more refugees, both per capita and total applications, whilst developing regions the world over host around 84%.

As economic crises, political conflicts and climate change put more and more pressure on people living in vulnerable areas of the world, we must be there to provide these innocent families a safe haven in which they can thrive and prosper.


For more information, the following websites are helpful sources of facts around the subject: 

The Truth About Refugees

The Truth About Asylum

Here’s two suggestions of what to do in response: 

From Calais to Chios

Following his hard work in Calais, Marlow born volunteer Dom Ford has undertaken a new project, this time on the other side of Europe.

Based in Greece, OADW is a new project designed for the distribution of clothing with Dom coordinating the receipt of donations to the warehouse that supplies the OADW. After a month overseas, he has sent MRA the following update…

I’ve now spent a few weeks here on the Greek island of Chios, working for Offene Arme, as the new warehouse coordinator.

Given the covid situation, the more direct route wasn’t open so I had to fly to Budapest, wait 12 hours, get another flight to Athens, get tested immediately upon arrival, stay in a hotel room until the test was returned, receive the results, take a third and final flight to Chios, and finally quarantine for a further 5 days.

Eventually, after all that, I was able to start work.




It’s been an incredibly stressful time for NGOs all over the world. Most volunteers have gone home, so organisations are woefully understaffed, whilst necessary covid-19 precautions add to the workload of those remaining. 

Those of the OA team that have stayed here decided to start a new project, and move away from emergency response as needs and priorities evolved.

This project is referred to as the OA Distribution Warehouse, and acts as a kind of free shop. Beneficiaries can visit and take up to a set number of clothes for free, depending on their age and gender.

This way of distributing clothes gives people more freedom to choose what they actually want to wear, rather than adopting a get what you’re given approach.

Although the project only recently started, and the entire team has worked tirelessly to get it moving, we are hopeful everyone in the nearby Vial camp will be able to visit before September.

Donations are normally brought over in large containers – yesterday 2 Swiss men had driven for 3 days to get here!! However, although there have been a few donations that have made it to us, there is a massive shortage of clothes fit for summer, mainly due to covid-19.

Still, I’m excited to see how this project will turn out, and how the organisation will adapt to best serve the beneficiaries. As restrictions are relaxed, hopefully volunteers will start to return!!

Fizzy arrives in Calais!

#RelayForRefugees helps provide a van for volunteers on the ground in Calais!

This past week, we received some great news from the Collective Aid team in Calais…

Through our fundraising endeavours, a new van has been part funded by MRA enabling the volunteers to continue on helping refugees along the Northern France coast.

Here’s what they said…

Look how excited we are about this van! We have named her Fizzy as she was delivered with a bottle of bubbly!🍾 A huge thank you to @marlowrefugee & @chooselove for jointly funding a new distribution vehicle for our work in Calais. Our vans are some of the most valuable resources we have – they are absolutely essential for all the work we do.

We are so grateful for all of the support we receive from incredible organisations like Help Refugees & Marlow Refugee Action, not forgetting all of our individual supporters like YOU!

Big love, ❤️

Team Collective Aid

It’s great to see the accumulation of everyone’s hard work through Refugee Week 2020, so well done and thank you again for all who got involved.

Refugee Week 2020 – Update

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As Refugee Week 2020 draws to a close, everyone at Marlow Refugee Action would like to say a massive THANK YOU to all who got involved!

With the dust now settling on Refugee Week 2020, we can look back on a week of mass involvement and campaigning by all which will enable us to continue helping people displaced by conflict and war.

Through your efforts we collectively raised public awareness of the plight of Refugees across the globe as well as a phenomenal amount through your generous donations; the proceeds of which will go directly to those most in need in the UK, Calais and Samos.

Across Relay 4 Refugees, Solidarity Sleepout and our Syrian Supper Night In, you helped us exceed all of our targets and raise a total of £1985!

Breaking the fundraising down across our the campaigns, the figures are as follows:

Relay 4 Refugees – £770
Solidarity Sleepout  – £385
Syrian Supper Night In –  £539
Plant Stall – £291

For those who missed out on the live demonstration, provided by the wonderful Imad for the Syrian Supper Night In, don’t worry, there’s still a chance to try these original recipes yourself!

A recording of the stream can be found via this link and the recipe for Tahiniat Beitenjan has kindly been made downloadable here as a PDF so you can continue the cooking at home.

Keep an eye across our various channels for more videos and updates on the impact of your donations and to see what’s next for Marlow Refugee Action.

Once again, thank you all for your contributions and participation, together we’ve made a real impact on the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.

Imad’s Syrian Supper Night In

Friday 19th June sees us continue our Refugee Week events in the form of a live Syrian Supper Night In courtesy of Imad.

As part of Marlow Refugee Action’s Refugee Week 2020 campaigns, this Friday sees the return of the much loved Imad’s Syrian Kitchen with a socially distanced twist.

If you’ve been missing our wonderful feasts as much as we have, we’d love for you to join us live on our Facebook page at 18:30 for a live demonstration and cook along to satisfy your restaurant cravings in the comfort and safety of your own home.

Please find the list of the delightful ingredients you’ll need for our two delicious recipes below…

All we ask for in exchange is for you to donate the cost of a meal out to our Marlow Refugee Action page to help us continue to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers whose situation has become even more challenging as a result of Covid-19.

See you tomorrow!

A New Frontier

Yet another story of a Marlow resident making a difference on the front line has come to our attention, James Perry shares his story from Northern Greece

After graduating from university I found myself at a loose-end but was keen to travel abroad and teach a skill to those that needed it the most.

That’s how I ending up gaining an education certification and started teaching English to refugees that had to flee their homes in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turning my sights overseas, I went to Greece and started working for a grassroots NGO called Second Tree. Second Tree works in two camps and one urban area reaching over 2,500 refugees through their three programmes:

1) language learning – teaching both English and Greek classes to adults
2) youth education & well-being – through a scout-themed education program for children and teenagers
3)  integration of refugees into local life – through community building activities. 

Second Tree created a scouts themed education program because older children and teenagers are often an overlooked group. Younger children, even newborns, often have many services available for them; but the older children are the ones that realise they are refugees, the ones that had a life back home in Syria or Iraq, before their home stopped existing under the bombs…

I remember on my first scout excursion (we have an excursion every weekend for the children that come to school during the week), we went to the local forest and as we sat down for our mid-walk snack, I realised that Habibia, one of the scouts, had some scars, which were clearly the result of self harming. 

We all remember the emotional strain of what it’s like to be a teenager, but we can only imagine what this feels like with the extra baggage of fleeing your country from war and leaving your friends, family and home behind, some of whom have died in the meantime.

My first thought was to try to move the discussion away from it, and try to make her smile so that she could forget about her everyday struggles back in camp. 

I was very surprised when Lucas, one of the longest serving volunteers, asked Habiba in front of the other scouts ‘Why do you do that?’. She explained she was suffering and said that she self harmed to relieve the pain in her heart.

It may not have been easy to hear, but I realised in that moment how much trust Habiba placed in the other scouts and the volunteers, and how valuable it is that they created a space where it is comfortable to open up. It shocked me how human this interaction was and I quickly learnt to treat refugees as people rather than victims.

This non-patronising mindset fostered at Second Tree is one of the reasons why despite only planning to be in Greece for 2 months, I’ve been back twice, and I’ll go back once again as soon as the Coronavirus emergency is over.

“Despite only planning to be in Greece for 2 months, I’ve been back twice, and I’ll go back once again”

On the same excursion, an Iranian boy called Iman hit a Syrian girl named Saida making her cry. Again, we all sat down at the end and Lucas asked him ‘How does it feel to make Saida cry?’ and with a big grin on his face Iman told everyone that it made him happy to see girls cry.

Many times the children that join our youth program come from countries where gender stereotypes are really strong, and at Second Tree we try to challenge these conception with workshops on gender equality, and in general with being open to discuss things with the children, who will eventually grow up in a different society from the one they were born into.

The success is astonishing. 52% of the children participating in the scouts programme are girls, which is quite remarkable for a program that focuses on encouraging self expression, strengthening leadership skills and challenging traditional views of gender roles.

This is evident also in the evolution of the very same children: I’ve known Iman for more than a year now, and he now gets very embarrassed when I remind him of that story with Saida! Recently I had a conversation with Habiba and I asked her if she thinks Iman still treats her differently because she’s a girl. She replied ‘I’m the same as a boy so of course he treats me the same and also he trusts me’.

Latest from Samos

Marlow Refugee Action caught up with volunteer Jasmine Doust for the latest on the situation at Samos Legal Centre…

Like the rest of the world, the threat of COVID-19 has left it’s mark on Samos, exacerbating the already hectic situation.

Yet the work continues for the Samos Volunteers and we are actively engaging with relevant agencies to ensure those at the highest risk are catered for in this crisis.

The UN is being cooperative in prioritising the elderly and seriously ill for accommodation or transfer and discussions are continuing in relation to evaluating the possibility of carrying on requests for interim measures at the European Court of Human Rights when relevant.

Communication is regular with the Dublin Unit in Athens and NGOs abroad regarding family reunification procedures, mostly concerning unaccompanied children and the team continues informing beneficiaries on the current asylum procedure situation in Greece through whatsapp broadcasts (producing our own info tools and translations).

Whatsapp has also been vital in sharing information informing beneficiaries on the current measures against covid-19 in Greece and communicating with other NGOs as a monitoring actor for the legal situation in Samos.

Sadly though, in line with all we’ve heard from Avocats sans Frontières. the reality is that all asylum applications are suspended at least until the beginning of April and new arrivals are held in detention, without receiving legal aid.

All interviews with the relevant authorities have been cancelled whilst access to the camp has also been restricted. This in part is down to the fact that the population of both the camp and the rest of the island includes many elderly and vulnerable people who would be highly susceptible should the COVID-19 epidemic take hold.

ASF have also taken the difficult decision to repatriate volunteers and will not deploy anybody, even from mainland Greece, in the upcoming weeks.

AND YET! Despite all the usual chaos being made even harder by the threat of the virus taking hold, there is some light and positive news.

We got a request for interim measures accepted by the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of a pregnant woman (9 months) who has to be transferred to a decent accommodation and granted appropriate healthcare and Austria have accepted a family reunification for an elderly couple from Afghanistan.

The husband is in Samos and obviously would be at high risk in case of outbreak but he applied with our counsellors in late January to be reunified with his wife who’s already a refugee in Austria and we’ve had a success.

Coronavirus & Calais

Dom Ford sent the following update to Marlow Refugee Action from Calais, detailing exactly how the global pandemic has impacted their everyday

On Sunday the 15th of April I heard a rumour that one of the migrants in the Dunkirk camp had Coronavirus.

The close quarter living conditions, the lack of any suitable washing facilities, and the poor nutrition coupled with inadequate shelter means that if one person in the camp caught the virus, it would be a mater of days before everyone had it, with deadly consequences. All the organisations panicked, and scrambled to find the truth.

Fortunately, the rumour turned out to be just that, however we HAD learnt our lesson and all the organisations sat down the next day to decide how best to respond.

The response, although it differed between organisations, was broadly the same; scale back operations, promote social distancing in the camps, and limit contact with each other, migrants, and frequently touched surfaces.

Lifts to the hospital, deliveries of firewood, provision of clothes and shoes, education and play sessions with the children, even the salad that accompanied the Refugee Community Kitchen’s daily meals all ceased.

Collective Aid now only went out of the warehouse to provide tents, sleeping bags, and one hour of phone charging (half our normal time). With organisations and borders seemingly shutting everywhere, volunteers all over Calais started to head back to the UK, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy, even Australia.

Those who remained, me included, started to fill out and carry around forms in our passports to avoid a 140 euro fine. Currently, for each day we now need to have one to go to the shops, one to go to work, a different one to be at work, another one to head back from work, and a final one to do exercise.

As hard as it has been for us, it has been harder for the people we support. The daily evictions have continued, only now the police wear face masks and disposable gloves whilst taking tents and blankets.

Refugee Community Kitchen ceased operations completely yesterday, leaving 1500 people without a hot meal. The men in the camps have stopped shaking hands, and have started to tap elbows with each other. Some of the children have started an elaborate foot dance as a greeting. There is now absolutely nothing for these people to do during the day, and it’s simply a matter of time before the virus is spread to them, despite all of our efforts to prevent it.

Whilst providing phone charge at one site I tried to explain to a man how we couldn’t give him new shoes, as it would increase the chance of him catching Corona. He spoke to me in perfect English, asking if we still give out tents and sleeping bags. Yes, I said. He then pointed at the generator and looked at me. “You still come here”. Yes, I said, again. “You can give me a tent but not shoes”. Yes, I said for a third time, feeling sheepish and stupid, knowing what he was going to say next. “So I can still catch Corona from you?”