Afghanistan Response

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our community in Marlow in wanting to offer clothes and other items, money, time and skills in response to the arrival of several thousand refugees from Afghanistan in the UK. 

As the refugees were quarantined in a number of hotels around the country to which only a few organisations had access, we have signposted your kind offers to organisations like Care4Calais www.care4calais.org/thedropoffmap/. We also gave a £200 donation to the Wycombe Youth for Christ who were able, through a paramedic working at a hotel where refugees were quarantining, to provide essentials for babies and children. We have met with WYC subsequently and will see how we can continue to support these efforts.

MRA is in regular contact with Wycombe Refugee Partnership who are supporting a family from Afghanistan as they move to High Wycombe. WRP send out requests for specific items, or specific help, as they identify them and we will ensure that these are promoted through our social media as well. You can follow WRP to get the latest updates here: www.facebook.com/groups/1069995593044656

We also attended the All Saint’s Church Fun Day in September and had a Donation Station for mobile phones – we were delighted to receive so many and are happy to receive more. These will go to refugees via Care4Calais. Please visit www.phones4them.org.uk to donate a phone.

You are no doubt aware that Buckinghamshire Council were one of the local authorities who agreed to support Afghan refugees. We have signed up with them to offer support. However, the Council have specific criteria for organisations they will engage with to support refugees coming to Buckinghamshire, which we do not meet. We will continue to explore ways of offering support however and will update you as soon as these become available. 

Virtual Book Reading event with MARION MOLTENO

On Wednesday 6th October at 6pm we are excited and privileged to welcome author MARION MOLTENO to an online ZOOM event. Marion will be talking about her books and the refugee lives that formed and inspired her writing.

The event will chaired by local author HARRI ANGELL and is a free event, open to anyone interested in learning more about Marion’s publications and the people and places that have informed them. Details about joining the meeting will be available from Marlow Refugee Action’s Facebook page nearer the time, or by contacting marlowrefugeeaction@gmail.com.

Marion Molteno is an award-winning novelist. She has had several books published including A Shield of Coolest Air, which is specifically about refugees and the problems they encounter, and Uncertain Light, which gives an insight into war conditions that cause people to flee, and is set among people who work in humanitarian organisations responding to them.

Her latest book, Journeys Without a Map, will be available from end of September 2021. Through this memoir, Marion takes the reader on a journey of discovery, tracing the origins of her fictional worlds. With refugees from war in Somalia or exiles from apartheid South Africa, working with newly arrived immigrants in London or with Save the Children in the mountains of Tajikistan – everywhere Marion engages with people she meets and is inspired by them.

For the book reading event on 6 October, participants are invited to read one of the books referred to above. A complete list of Marion’s books is available from her website: www.marionmolteno.co.uk. Although we would love you to have read one of Marion’s books, it is not essential to have done so to attend the event.

The event will be chaired by Harri Angell, author of “Pilates for Runners” and “Pilates for Living”, both published by Bloomsbury. Harri lives and works in Marlow. In addition to running a business teaching Pilates and yoga, and to writing, Harri runs a local book group in Marlow.

There is no charge to attend the event, but if you would like to make a donation to Marlow Refugee Action, you can do so here: donate

Spinfield students changing lives through Bags for life!

Year 6 students at Spinfield School have been putting their creative and entrepreneurial skills to the test producing and selling eco bags for life made from unwanted bed linen as part of their British Council International School Award.

Not only are the students converting household waste into useful items, but they have chosen to fundraise through the sale of these bags in aid of Marlow Refugee Action, a local charity who supports projects working with refugees and asylum seekers both locally and across the world. The students made 32 bags, raising £211. In addition, children in Spinfield’s link school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan also made some eco shoppers as part of this collaborative Social Enterprise Project . These shoppers were sent to Spinfield by post and then raffled, raising a further £94. The total raised is £305.

Chair of Marlow Refugee Action, Tania Baldwin-Pask was delighted to receive the support of these entrepreneurial students.

“We are so grateful to the pupils of Spinfield School for supporting Marlow Refugee Action and the projects we partner with. These funds will be used to support fellow school students living in refugee camps on the island of Chios through our partner, Action for Education.

“This funding will be used to buy educational materials for the students, allowing them to progress with their studies in just the same way as students here in Marlow. They need books, worksheets and stationary; and this donation will cover these costs for around one school term.

“We were particularly impressed that the students of Spinfield connected an environmental project to our work with refugees. As climate change continues to affect us all, more people all over the world will become displaced, and so this initiative not only shows outstanding ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills, but also a very mature understanding of the interconnected nature of people and planet.”

One of the students in the class said of the project “Our class created a Social Enterprise project as part of our work towards the British Council’s International School Award. We wanted to produce a sustainable product to support a worthy charity: Marlow Refugee Action. We are children helping other children. Our Eco-Shoppers are sustainable, fun to make and use, and most importantly they help support the welfare and education of less fortunate refugee children.” Head teacher Jayne Spreadbury could not be more proud of her students; “At Spinfield we believe that being a Global Citizen is an important life skill.  We have been delighted with the children’s response to the fundraiser for Marlow Refugee Action and it shows the spirit of the Spinfield children helping other children.”

Update from Dom Ford at Distribute Aid

“Back in November I left Offene Arme on Chios, and started a new job working for Distribute Aid, in Belgrade, Serbia. Distribute Aid is a charity that’s specifically focussed on the supply of aid to the frontline groups, helping to move containers of aid across the continent, completely at cost, thereby freeing up money to be spent on helping those that need it.

The main thing I’ve learnt from working at DA is just the monumental effort across Europe – UK and Germany are the 2 biggest senders of aid, and containers are constantly being shipped to Calais or to Greece. We’ve also been running a few other interesting shipments for example we’re currently moving 10,000 reusable masks from LA to Calais.

In my short time of working here, I’ve been able to work not just on running shipments, but also on some projects to really help improve the wider community. This includes figuring out how to move aid into the EU, post-Brexit, developing a needs assessment, and a new guide on sorting donations that we hope will be implemented across the continent.

Having worked in each of the regions across Europe, and seen the results of the European-wide policy, I’m now just not surprised any more. I know how dehumanising, humiliating, and illegal the policy is – whether it’s the evictions in Calais, the pushbacks in Greece, or the beatings by police officers in Croatia and Romania. I don’t really respect European governments any more, and the only thing that’s keeping my going is the small, grassroots organisations, whose combined efforts really help to make a difference. Imagine how many donations can fit into a shipping container – and it all relies on one person donating their jacket.”

We have just heard that since Dom sent us this update, he has successfully navigated all the post-Brexit tangles and red-tape and enabled a huge truck-full of aid to make it from the UK to Calais where it is so desperately needed – great news, and well done Dom!

If you’d like to hear more from Dom, he also sent us a video update available here https://youtu.be/b0nstrce0SQ

Proposed UK Reforms to Immigration Policy

You may have heard Home Secretary Patel announcing yesterday (24 March) the public consultation on the government’s New Plan for Immigration.   The wide-reaching reforms are to be debated in parliament in summer and are allegedly aimed at smashing the criminal gangs which bring those seeking asylum to the UK. Most notable among the reforms is the proposal to differentiate between those arriving through “safe routes” and those who arrive in other ways – regardless of the merits of the individual’s claim. 
Unfortunately so much of the language and the information that is given in these debates – whether through government statements or parts of the media – is misleading and incorrect. Given the potentially devastating impact of these proposed reforms, and the fact that there is a public consultation under way, we believe it is important that people are properly informed about the facts and figures about the asylum system. More information and relevant links will be provided in our next newsletter. 
Although the language surrounding asylum tends to refer to the system being “in crisis”, last year, some 30,000 people sought asylum in the UK.  In comparison to previous years, this number is relatively low – and it also low when compared to other countries, including countries in the EU – eg Germany received 120,000 applications for asylum during the same period.
Over 8,000 of those crossed the English Channel to reach the UK. The largest number of people seeking asylum in the UK came from Iran.
Home Secretary Patel claims that the UK asylum system is broken. Certainly numbers awaiting decisions on their applications have grown significantly.  In 2010, nearly 12,000 asylum seekers were waiting to hear if they could stay in the UK. Just before the pandemic hit last year, that number had reached almost 44,000. But this is because cases are taking longer to resolve. Non-governmental organisations and legal firms who support people seeking asylum maintain that this is due to mismanagement of the process over many years and poor quality of decision-making which results in people then seeking a review of the decisions made.
The UK government is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention – indeed, it was one of its key architects in 1951. Nowhere in the Convention does it state that asylum can be granted on the basis of how one has travelled to a country. Although the government is proposing official routes, it gives no detail about these. Nor does it recognise that, for people who are desperate and fleeing persecution, they will travel in whatever way possible to reach safety. Rather it seeks to make conditions considerably less favourable for those who use routes which are not “official”, even if they have a solid claim. Further, the government will try to send them back to other “safe” countries they have travelled through, even though there is nothing in the Refugee Convention which obliges a person seeking asylum to seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach. Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU and has therefore left the EU system governing transfers of people being removed, the UK cannot force other EU countries like France or Greece to receive people without permission.
Lastly while the Plan includes important commitments towards, eg family reunification, no numbers are provided.
We encourage our supporters to have their say in the public consultation, open until 6 May 2021. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration. You can also find the New Plan at this link.

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: 

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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!!

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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.

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’.

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