The theme of Refugee Week 2021 which took place earlier this month was ‘We Cannot Walk alone’ a phrase lifted from Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech delivered on the 1963 March on Washington at the height of the civil rights movement. Dr. King spoke of the need for an understanding of the interconnectedness of the world saying that “they have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom..we cannot walk alone”.

Dr. King’s call for unity, justice and solidarity has echoed through the following decades, picked up by activists, communities and social movements seeking to build a better world. The last months of the pandemic have undoubtedly seen a real sense of community with people coming together to support each other through the crisis. However, just a scan of some of our most popular media outlets would show that solidarity, for many, does not extend beyond our borders. Talk of a ‘migrant crisis’ is common in the media and new immigration laws seek to make it harder for people to claim asylum in the UK.

The UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) estimates that globally 82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict and human rights violations. Staggeringly that means 1 in every 95 people have been forced to leave their home for these reasons.[1] If you look at some of the headlines it may seem that the UK hosts a significant number of refugees and asylum seekers but in reality, at the end of 2019 there were just 133,094 refugees in the country with 61,968 pending asylum cases.[2] Compare this to Turkey which hosts 3.7 million refugees.

The UK has a legal duty to support people claiming asylum but people arriving here seeking safety are faced with a complex, bureaucratic system and what has been described as a ‘culture of disbelief’ amongst decision makers. The focus of politicians and the media has been on stopping people getting here but what is not talked about is the reality of our asylum system.

When in the UK asylum seekers (individuals looking to get refugee status) do not have the right to work and are given just £5.66 to live on a day.[3] Even those who are given refugee status are faced with huge challenges. The right to remain brings not only joy but also an eviction notice, with new refugees having just 28 days to find somewhere to live, the result being that many find themselves homeless.[4] As well as finding a place to stay, refugees also need to find work – something that is not easy to do at the best of times never mind when you are struggling to adapt to life in a new country with the challenges of language, culture and identity that entails. Refugees arriving in the UK have above average levels of education and many of them are accomplished professionals. Nonetheless, unemployment in the refugee community sits at nearly 20%.

Anwar came to Britain in 2012 after fleeing Sudan, his home country. He was forced to flee due to political persecution – his beliefs made him a target for government violence. In the UK, he endured the gruelling asylum process for years. Finally, he was given refugee status and by extension, the right to work. Despite his impressive resume and eagerness, he could not find work with employers telling him that he did not have the local work experience needed to get a job.

While looking for work, Anwar went to a refugee supper club in London. There, he met Pranav, who was a management consultant at the time. Over the course of the meal, they bonded over their favourite foods and films. When Anwar told Pranav his story, the idea for NEMI Teas was born.

NEMI Teas is a social enterprise that only hires refugees, no questions asked. They are a specialist tea company with a social mission to get refugees into jobs, helping build up local work experience and job readiness skills to help refugees enter the UK workforce and integrate into broader society.

Anwar was actually one of NEMI’s first hires and helped build the business from the ground up. After working with NEMI for several months, Pranav’s recommendation helped him get a full-time role in London.

In pre-pandemic times, NEMI’s hires would host external events and help with product fulfilment in its warehouses. However when Covid hit, both of these avenues closed, and the social enterprise found itself needing to pivot its business model.

Last year NEMI developed a new strategy, working in collaboration with The Well Bean Co, they set up a café in London’s Royal Docks specifically for NEMI hires. At the café, refugees start a three-month placement as a barista to build up their work experience and increase their skills. They also receive training from the Gentlemen Baristas, a local coffee roastery as well as from the Hotel School. This allowed them to continue supporting refugees through the worst months of the pandemic.

One of the refugees to join NEMI during this period was Ladan, a brilliant woman from Iran who was looking to find her feet in a new country. Ladan had enrolled herself onto a hospitality training course run by the Hotel School and was looking for a way to put her new skills to use. Her mentor recommended that she look into working with NEMI and she is now on their payroll working at the Royal Docks café.

As Ladan puts it:

“working there has helped me gain confidence in traits such as speaking English and experience the world of work in London. It has been truly an incredible experience. Thank you Team NEMI”.

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At the time of writing Ladan is still working at the Royal Docks café and once she finishes NEMI will work with her to help her find work with one of their existing clients. Through her time at NEMI Ladan can say she’s worked locally and now has a reliable referee.

For a small social enterprise, NEMI’s impact has been considerable supporting 18 refugees into employment and further education.

Not only is NEMI dedicated to breaking down the barriers faced by refugees when it comes to accessing employment but it is also committed to doing it all it can for both people and planet. For NEMI sustainability is a non-negotiable with all their products being both organic and plastic free with their teabags being 100% biodegradable. All their products are also Fairtrade certified to ensure better working conditions, wages and stable prices for their crop.

In the face of hostile media rhetoric and a punitive immigration system, social enterprises like NEMI are helping refugees and asylum seekers feel welcomed, find work and a community they can be a part of. With every purchase you make from them you are supporting more refugees find work and building that solidarity which shows that “we cannot walk alone.”

Learn more about NEMI Teas and  get your tea at www.nemiteas.com


[1] https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html

[2] https://www.unhcr.org/uk/asylum-in-the-uk.html#:~:text=How%20many%20refugees%20are%20there,are%20hosted%20by%20developing%20countries.

[3] https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/

[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/refugees-homeless-private-landlords-housing-report-b932450.html