Can we still offer hope away from home when numbers of refugees are rising?  

The situation for people forced to flee their homes is desperate and change is needed on a big scale. It can be hard to know how to help and Refugee Week offers a moment in the year to highlight the different ways we can show our support


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©UK for UNHCR/Will Ireland/Pinpep

A message from our CEO, Emma Cherniavksy 

This year, the message for Refugee Week was to focus on simple acts of kindness. And here, at UK for UNHCR, we did just that. We started with the idea that having a cup of tea and a chat can be a good moment to have a new conversation. We set up Cuppa Hope cafes and invited the public to join us for Tea & Talks with refugee storytellers Alexandra, Hessam, Mouhyedin, Tania, Teem, Yana and William. They shared their experiences of being forced to flee their home – and their favourite teas.  

We didn’t know who would walk through the doors at each event – there were two each in Edinburgh, Bradford and London. And it was an inspirational mix of community and business leaders, donors, artists, refugees and former refugees, friends and family – and people who were simply curious.  

“My friend was fed-up with my negative ideas about refugees.” 

One person had been persuaded to come along by a friend. She told us, “My friend asked me to come. She’s fed up with my negative ideas about refugees and wanted me to hear what people really go through.” At the end of the session, she told one of the team that she had learned a lot and had changed her views about refugees. It’s a heartening story and reaffirms my belief in the power of offering refugees a platform to share their experiences.  

Another guest makes cushions and sells them to raise money for UK for UNHCR. There was a DAFI scholar studying in Edinburgh, and someone who had travelled for 2 hours to join the session. It was her birthday the next day, and she had lots of plans with friends, but coming to the Cuppa Hope cafe was her treat to herself.

And it was a treat…for all of us. As the speakers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, East Africa, Syria and Ukraine shared their stories, they also shared their favourite tea with us. From lemon, ginger and mint to cinnamon and saffron, the teas were delicious – you can discover and download the recipes here. 

73% of us believe that people should have the right to seek asylum  

There were many other key moments during Refugee Week, including the publication of two significant new reports. UNHCR’s Global Trends 2023 report showed the number of forcibly displaced people had risen by 8.8 million in a year to 117 million by the end of 2023. A number that speaks of the heartbreak of being forced to flee your home and separated from family and community, and of lives changed forever.  

In more hopeful news, the new survey by IPSOS published with UNHCR on World Refugee Day reflects a shared humanity, with 73 per cent of people across 52 countries agreeing that people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including their own. In countries with a long tradition of hosting refugees, such as Uganda and Kenya, people showed a higher degree of optimism about refugee integration and its positive impact.  

Conflicts driving forced displacement for 12th year in a row 

2023 was the 12th year in a row that the number of displaced people has increased, with violence often the reason they have fled their home. The devastating conflict in Sudan has left 10.8 million people uprooted, according to the Global Trends report, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar, millions have been internally displaced by vicious fighting. Our colleagues at UNRWA estimate that by the end of 2023 up to 1.7 million people had been displaced in the Gaza strip by the on-going violence. Syria remains the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 13.8 million forcibly displaced people in and outside the country. 

Where do people seek refuge?  

Many people have been internally displaced, often multiple times, within their own country, and the vast majority of refugees – people who have crossed an international border to find safety – are hosted in countries neighbouring their own. In an unequal approach to a global problem, some 75 per cent of refugees reside in low- and middle-income countries that together produce less than 20 per cent of the world’s income. It’s a fact that helps to get some perspective on an issue that is too often clouded by disinformation. 

People want to help  

During 2023, nearly 1.1 million refugees returned home, which is welcome news. But it’s not enough. The pace of global displacement is growing much faster than available resources, and many of UNHCR’s operations are far from fully funded. In Sudan, UNHCR’s operation is only 15% funded for 2024. In Ukraine, which for the first two years of the war was a high priority for governments and private funders, UNHCR’s programme is only 18% funded and we are already halfway through the year. For me, this is why Refugee Week is such an important moment in the year. It’s when we work with our supporters, business leaders, other refugee organisations, the media and social media – and together we turn up the volume about the refugee cause.

It was brilliantly clear last week that so many people care and offer support to refugees in whatever way they can. From the strangers who sat together sharing a cup of tea and sharing their solidarity with our storytellers, to my meetings with business leaders who offered their expertise and financial support to UK for UNHCR. From fundraisers who rode from London to Brighton in sweltering sunshine to the digital influencers who shared our messages with their audiences across the UK and beyond…everyone did their bit. For me and my team, these acts of kindness and generosity will fuel our continued efforts, day in and day out, to mobilise support and help refugees build a better future. 

Click here to follow Emma on LinkedIn.


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