Our #rethinkingrefugee campaign started two years ago, in August 2015. We take a look at how the campaign has evolved and what we have achieved so far in our mission to change perceptions of refugees. 
Our #rethinkingrefugee campaign was born in 2015 from a need to change the dialogue about refugees. We were astounded to see the mainstream media using words such as ‘swarms’ and ‘floods’ to describe immigration. This language is highly hostile and some of the main headlines referring to refugees used terms such as ‘illegal’ and ‘criminal’. At this time, we also saw a large proportion of media coverage counteracting these negative viewpoints on refugees. This was great to see, however, these articles had a solely humanitarian focus which portrayed refugees as helpless and incapable, whereas the truth is very different to this undermining viewpoint. 
 
The definition of a refugee is ‘a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster’. The key word here being ‘forced’; refugees leave their home countries in search of sanctuary, and alongside this they involuntarily leave their families, careers and livelihoods. The nature of portraying refugees as unskilled and helpless individuals is false, as refugees bring with them a valuable set of experiences, passions and skills that are an asset to any community. 
 
Therefore, the starting aim of our campaign focused on encouraging people to challenge the ‘them’ and ‘us’ dichotomy present in much of the mainstream press, and to celebrate the valuable contributions that people from across the world make to our communities. 
 
The first stages of the #rethinkingrefugee campaign saw Ashley Community Housing upping our presence on social media in order to get this message across to a higher number of people. We also started to share success stories of the tenants and learners Ashley Community Housing worked with. These went out in our monthly newsletter and this is something we still pride ourselves on doing. This enables audiences to view the human and individual qualities of refugees, and to look past any previous negative assumptions about them. 
 
A year later, in July 2016, our campaign then evolved into changing the perception of landlords to enable us to access more accommodation for our tenants. In Bristol, the high demand for property leads to high prices and we can’t always pay market rate; instead, we rely on landlords with a more ethical outlook to gain accommodation for our clients. 
 
We used the #rethinkingrefugee campaign to address this issue, with an event in Bristol and media coverage gaining us more properties from private landlords and Bristol City Council, including an award-winning local author. This was a fantastic achievement for Ashley Community Housing as it meant we could help more people, and it was also encouraging to see several landlords changing their perceptions on refugees. Again, this is something we are still working on today. The first stage of our Innovation Model for refugee resettlement is accommodation. This is always a priority for the people that we work with. The first main need for any homeless refugee is to have a stable home to live in, and the rest follows on from this. 
The campaign has now evolved to fit within the skills agenda being pushed by Central Government and the new Combined Authorities in the West of England. The new aim is to change the perception of refugees amongst local authorities, employers and education providers. After all, refugees are people with skills and ambitions. Although by definition they are seeking refuge from life-threatening situations, they are not looking for our pity; they are looking for jobs to enable them to support their families, and are assets to employers and local communities. 
 
We have started to see some achievements from this, such as partnerships with employers looking to diversify their organisations and hire refugees. We have encouraged employers to rethink hiring refugees and to take them on at varying levels within their organisations. This can be from work experience vacancies through to full-time paid roles. We are also going to be offering apprenticeship training for employers as a step forward for our #rethinkingrefugee campaign, so keep involved with Ashley Community Housing on our journey to encourage others to rethink refugees. 
 
The latest development for #rethinkingrefugee has seen it move away from being just a campaign, in fact, it has now become the overall dialogue of our company, giving us a sharp focus on how we can move forward in a way that benefits the people we help in the most accommodating way. This has led to Ashley Community Housing holding discussions nationally and internationally with fellow organisations who recognise that our senior staff are distinguished Lived Experience leaders. These companies also have the same intentions as ACH; to change the narrative of refugees. Exciting times ahead! 
 
Thank you to all of those who have been a part of our #rethinkingrefugee campaign so far, from those who have engaged with us on social media to those who have offered shelter and employment to our tenants. We have had a fantastic 2 years and could not be more thrilled to be continuing this movement that will open up many more opportunities for not only refugees, but society as a whole. 
 
To continue the conversation use #rethinkingrefugee on social media, or for more information regarding how your organisation can get involved contact rethinkingrefugee@ashleyhousing.com. 
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