Choose Love, the store that sells products for refugees, is back for 2018

The charity pop up store that took London by storm last year is back with more ways to help displaced people this Christmas. The Help Refugees ‘Choose Love’ store will open simultaneously in London and New York offering a totally unique take on the traditional shopping experience.

Choose Love invites visitors to ‘shop your heart out, leave with nothing, and feel the love’. From new items like solar lamps and women’s services to emergency blankets and school bags, every purchase goes towards a similar item for a refugee, distributed by Help Refugees and their partners across Europe and the Middle East. In addition, this year the store will also be offering sleeping bags and support for homeless groups both in the UK and the US.

Each store invites visitors to interact with the items and discover why they’re needed. Split into three sections, each area explores a different stage of a refugee’s journey, from “Survival” (emergency blankets, warm clothing and food) to “Shelter” (tents, sleeping bags and hygiene packs) all the way to the “Future” (educational materials, a dictionary and keys to a home).

New for this year will be the addition of ‘bundles’ of items, which are offered to help people with specific needs, such as the mother and baby bundle, and a collection of services for vulnerable women.

This year, we’re adding ‘bundles’ of items so that shoppers can equip families like this with essential items

There will also be new products on show to support people; like family reunion, which will pay for a lawyer for a refugee separated from their family and a solar lamp, which will allow customers to buy energy and power for people in refugee camps.

Last year, the London store and its online equivalent raised £750,000, helping provide refugees with:

  • 800,000 nutritious meals
  • 3,556 nights of accommodation
  • 25,000 essential winter items for adults, which included 5,000 blankets and 11,000 items of clothing
  • 100,000 essentials for babies and children including 77,000 packs of nappies

Josie Naughton CEO of Help Refugees says, “Last Christmas, the shop became a beacon of compassion in the heart of central London. Choose Love helped people from all walks of life feel empathy for refugees – and do something practical to help.”

“This year, as displaced people attempt to survive another freezing winter in tents and makeshift shelters, we’ll be inviting people to Choose Love once again and support refugees and homeless populations across the globe.”

The store has been carefully designed to create an uplifting yet meaningful retail experience – a striking space where people can learn about refugees while doing something practical to help. In London, Choose Love now covers two floors with the ground floor elegantly showcasing the items and merchandise, and the 1st floor acting as a space to host events, workshops and talks.

Help Refugees volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and take donations in both London and New York. For those not able to get to the store, offers a seamless online shopping experience. Browse the items, read the stories of the people you will help and pop them in your cart.

All images, stories and items in store come straight from the frontline of the refugee crisis, where the charity works. The concept and design of the store was created by creative collective Glimpse, whose mission is to use creativity for good.

The items on sale will include emergency blankets, children’s shoes, warm gloves, mobile phone credit and more. Costs will range from £4.99 to £499: an option to ‘buy the store’.


Opening: 23 November 2018 Closing: 24 December
Address: 30-32 Fouberts Place, Carnaby, London, W1F 7PS
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10 – 6 pm, Sunday 12 – 6 pm


Opening: 27 November 2018
Address: 456 W Broadway, New York, NY 10012, USA

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Refugee Youth Service are recruiting

Our partners Refugee Youth Service are recruiting. They’re are looking for a new Social Worker and a new Pashto/Dari Cultural Mediator to join their outreach team in northern France.

Please see the following links for job descriptions and contact with your cover letter and CV to apply. Please share with anyone you think might be interested.

Refugee Youth Service provides safe spaces for displaced unaccompanied children and young people on the move. These spaces offer services such as food and showers, and facilitate access to services including protection, asylum, accommodation and education. Within their spaces, a varied programme of activities take place, centred around wellbeing, social development and informal education, fostering a feeling of belonging, self-worth and a sense of community. Refugee Youth Service is a restricted fund under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund registered charity number 1099682

Find out more about Refugee Youth Service.




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The experiences of a Michelin star chef volunteering on Lesvos

Merlin Labron-Johnson is a chef and restauranteur. At only 24, he received a coveted Michelin star. But recently he swapped London for the Greek island of Lesvos, cooking for 900 refugees each day at the One Happy Family Community Centre. Here he shares his experiences of his time on the island – the highs and lows of life as a volunteer helping refugees living in one of the most overcrowded and under-resourced camps in Europe.

Merlin chef cooking in One Happy Family Community Centre on Greek island of Lesvos Arriving in Lesvos on a Sunday night in October was not quite what I expected. The taxi took me past beautiful beaches, grand old aristocratic buildings and rivera style hotels. Outside the cafes, local people were congregating and basking in the warm air of their extended summer. There were no tourists. The air was thick with the smell of souvlaki and cigarettes.

I was under instructions to meet with a man called Mahmud upon my arrival. Mahmud is a man-about-town, cafe owner and in charge of catering for refugees at the One Happy Family Community Centre. He is also a refugee himself, having fled war-torn Syria two years ago. Back home, he worked as a doctor. He wanted to touch base before I embarked on my kitchen takeover, to brief me on the situation in Lesvos and what to expect during my time here.

I met him at 10.30pm in a local bar and over a double espresso he proceeded to give me the full lowdown. He started by describing the nearby refugee camp of Moria, the most overcrowded in Europe. It was originally built for 2000, but is currently four times capacity with around 8,000 refugees living in the most unthinkable conditions. Food is a huge problem. Sanitation is a huge problem. The very basic needs for survival are often not being met.

“The atmosphere was no different from my kitchen in London”

With the current system, refugees will wait at least two years before even being granted an interview where they can begin to discuss their next steps – their future. The state is intentionally letting people live in the most inhumane conditions in order to send a message to future asylum seekers. But it is failing to deter them. Every night hundreds of refugees are making their way across from Turkey and those that survive the journey are sent to Moria.

The conversation turned to the centre where I’d be cooking. It’s run by a mixture of grassroots volunteers and refugees. The day centre is on a different part of the island to Moria and is a safe haven away from the day-to-day trauma of living in camps. Refugees can attend classes, talk to social workers, play sports and eat a free meal. The kitchen, I’m warned, is rather ill equipped to cater for the masses that turn up each day for lunch. There are just two large pots. No oven. No fridge. The trick is to cook everything in the same pot and then serve it in one move. One component dishes only. Because when you have 900 desperately hungry people in a line, you really want the queue to move swiftly. We placed my order for the next day: Fresh tomatoes, onions, tinned mushrooms and bulgur wheat. I retired to my bnb to get some sleep and process this information.

“Each day in the kitchen was a joy, There was something profoundly beautiful about these people of different origins, race, gender and religion coming together”

Merlin chef cooking in One Happy Family Community Centre on Greek island of Lesvos

The following morning I was introduced to the kitchen team: Mohammed from Burma, Fifi from Zimbabwe and Zarah from Iran. First onion peeling, chopping, tomato chopping. The mood was light and everyone was focused on what they had to do. Two German volunteers jumped in to help. We were the United Nations of onion peeling. The atmosphere was no different from my kitchen in London, Everybody know what needed to be done. I was welcomed like an old friend and met so many people that I forgot everyone’s name.

Each day in the kitchen was a joy, There was something profoundly beautiful about these people of different origins, race, gender and religion coming together for the greater good which in this case, was a bowl of warm, nourishing food. Everybody was equal and everybody was treated fairly. Mahmud would watch over, offering advice and smoking his shisha pipe. Arabic music was blaring from an old guitar amp via youtube on someone’s broken iPhone.

“what if I burnt the pot, didn’t make enough or accidentally added too much salt? 

I’d have been responsible for 900 people going without food”

Over the course of the week I made bulgur wheat pilau, potato, chickpea and tinned green bean curry with coconut flavoured rice, chicken, rice n peas and the piece de resistance: A dhal made from red lentils, rice and frozen spinach.

At times it was challenging, coordinating the timings, working with no hot water, blunt knives, language barriers, getting the quantities right. I was absolutely terrified of messing up, what if I burnt the pot, didn’t make enough or accidentally added too much salt? I’d have been responsible for 900 people going without food and I don’t think I could’ve coped with that.

I don’t think it could’ve costed more than 30p a head but these bowls of food were sacred, a shimmering light in the darkness. Food that was bringing communities together and giving people hope and dignity. It’s hard to look at food the same way after this experience, enriched by the juxtaposition of cooking in a million pound kitchen in Mayfair and being here, stirring these big warped casseroles with a giant oar that had been rescued from a beach.

Merlin chef cooking in One Happy Family Community Centre on Greek island of Lesvos

The sense of community, equality and camaraderie belies the fear, poverty and suffering of life in camps like Moria. This is best illustrated in a quote courtesy of Taim from Syria: “In Moria everyone is fighting. The reasons are the bad conditions of the camp. We have to share the toilet and the bathroom with a lot of people. There is not enough food. In the night it is very cold, in the morning it is very hot. I love Greece, but I hate Moria. The reason I came to One Happy Family, is because I needed a place where I feel normal again.”

To gain more perspective, I decided to visit some of the other projects that are being supported by Help Refugees. I went to the Attika Warehouse where they store, sort and distribute donations. Like I’d seen in the Calais Jungle, camp residents were being provided with ‘care packs’. These were sets of donated clothing that would be distributed outside the camp – providing not just something clean to wear, but also warmth and a bit of a dignity.

How could this be happening in Europe, in 2018?

And why do we, in England, know so little about it?

On the other side of the Island I met the Refugee Rescue team. They’re a group of volunteers with a boat who keep watch over the sea during the night, and when they see or hear of refugees in trouble, they scramble to rescue them. Its hard to imagine the fate of thousands of desperate refugees, were it not for the work of refugee rescue. Nobody back home has heard of them or the incredible, dangerous and selfless work that they are doing to save human lives every day.

I met volunteers from a group called Watershed. They’re working to help improve sanitary facilities inside the camps. Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are enormous challenges in Lesvos camps. These guys are the unsung heroes, working tirelessly to try and make improvements.

I also visited the ‘lifejacket graveyard’. A dumping ground for the thousands of lifejackets from refugees who’d braved the journey from Turkey. In a remote part of the island was this orange and white mountain of misery, a reminder of all those that risked their lives on this journey and a reminder of all those that didn’t make it. How could this be happening in Europe, in 2018? And why do we, in England, know so little about it?

“Tears of joy and tears of sadness. A moment I will never forget.”

On my last day in the camp we ran out of food. The two large pots were full to the brim and there was no way of being able to prepare more in advance. Those that were at the end of the queue were told they’d have to wait while we whipped up a soup. They’d been queuing for hours and wouldn’t have eaten since the same time yesterday.

As we fed the final guests a greek musician arrived to play his guitar. A large crowd gathered around him as he sang ‘Peace be upon you’. He was joined by a Syrian refugee pop star who had the most wonderful voice. As he sang songs which I can only presume were familiar to his audience, many of the crowd began to cry. Tears of joy and tears of sadness. A moment I will never forget.

Merlin chef cooking in One Happy Family Community Centre on Greek island of Lesvos

We’re proud to support a wide range of grassroots groups providing essential aid and services on Lesvos. Please support this vital work by donating today.

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What’s happening in Yemen?

Five million Yemeni children – and 8.4 million Yemenis in total – are facing famine as the country endures what the UN has described as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times.

Food items and medicine are 500% more expensive in some areas than they were before the civil war, and 18 million of the country’s 29 million citizens lack access to regular, nutritious meals. In some remote parts of the country families have resorted to eating leaves to survive, after distribution of aid to their areas was prevented by local authorities.


Why is there a war in Yemen?

Fighting broke out in 2014 between Houthi rebels and Yemen’s internationally-backed government. The Houthis took control of the country’s capital, Sana’a, and the government fled the country. In response, in 2015 a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign aiming to restore power to the government. The war has continued ever since, with international involvement on both sides. The country is currently controlled by four groups: Houthis (rebels), Ansar al-Sharia (Al-Qaeda), Islamic State and the Saudi coalition.

Due to the unstable nature of the environment it is very difficult to accurately record the number of people who have been killed and injured during the conflict. As of January 2017 the number of recorded civilian deaths stood at 10,000, with the number of wounded at 40,000. Now, almost 18 months later, those numbers are likely to be significantly higher.

As well as severely limiting access to food and food production, the fighting in Yemen has led to the destruction of crucial health and sanitation infrastructure, increasing the population’s vulnerability to disease – a rapidly-spreading cholera epidemic has so far affected more than a million people, including at least 600,000 children.


Millions of people have been displaced.

The UN estimates that over 3 million people have been displaced internally and over 280,00 have fled to claim asylum in other countries, such as Djibouti and Somalia.

In Djibouti, Markazi refugee camp is housing thousands of people who have escaped across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Djibouti is currently home to 27,000 displaced people, 4,000 of whom are Yemeni.

There is also a very active migration route in the opposite direction: thousands of people from Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea are regularly attempting to cross Yemen, via the Gulf of Aden, to reach more stable Gulf states or Europe. More than 100,000 people are expected to have attempted this route by the end of the year, with many of them dying on the way. Others are caught up in dangerous, violent smuggling operations or held in appalling conditions in makeshift detention camps on the edge of Yemen. The ongoing conflict means no security measures are in place to put a stop to this.


What’s going to happen next?

The US, UK and France supply most of the weaponry being used by the coalition through arms trade with the states involved, yet despite the high number of casualties they have not stopped supplies. It is expected that violence in the country will continue until some kind of agreement, backed by all members of the UN Security Council, is reached.

Last week the US called for talks to be arranged in Sweden by the UN, between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, as well as a 30-day ceasefire within the country. The rest of the Security Council has not yet backed this move. Until a ceasefire agreement is reached and peace is negotiated in the country people will continue to be displaced, ending up in appalling conditions in camps and on the streets across the Middle East and Europe.

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