top of page

Resistance in Babylon: Nurturing Hope and Creativity Amidst the Storm of the UK’s Immigration Challenges

Updated: Apr 2

Ali Ghaderi is a young refugee from Iran. He arrived in the UK five years ago through a family reunification scheme which was available at the time. Ali is proud of being a refugee; as a result, he invests effort into supporting other refugees and asylum-seekers who may have similar experiences to himself.

Following his arrival in the UK, Ali took part in countless campaigns for the rights of refugees, often speaking on behalf of his community, and has worked with a number of organisations in the field of refugee and asylum-seekers rights and advocacy. This inspired Ali to found his own organisation, Babylon Migrants Project (Babylon), in October 2022, to support young refugees like himself. The organisation runs arts-based workshops for young refugees and asylum-seekers across London and the UK, with the slogan, ‘Community through Creativity’.

In the year since it was founded, Babylon has gone from strength to strength, running twenty independent workshops, and over sixty workshops for external organisations such as the British Red Cross, Safe Passage, and Springboard Youth Academy. Through this, Babylon has reached 600 young people. However, despite the project’s success, and Ali’s personal success as director and founder of his own organisation, Ali’s position in the UK is uncertain. Due to the increasingly hostile nature of the UK’s immigration policy Ali feels insecure, and is concerned for those who participate in his organisation.

Nevertheless, Ali does not give up hope.

Babylon Migrants Project

Ali describes his reasons for opening Babylon as deeply personal, stating:

when I arrived in the UK as a teenager, life was hard. I had no friends, and being in a new country with a new language and culture can be very sad and painful. I do not want other young people who arrive in this country to feel the same way I did. I want them to feel welcome and accepted and be a big brother to them.

Unsurprisingly, young refugees and asylum-seekers are some of the most vulnerable populations in the UK and are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the British population.[1][2] Following the ethos of ‘Community through Creativity’, Babylon addresses this issue by offering creative workshops, which provide young members from the migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking communities with a safe and welcoming space to socialise and forge connections. Creative outlets and activities are essential for the development of young refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in the UK, who face a huge amount of hardship, such as insecurity around their asylum claim, learning English, and integrating a new culture and society in the UK. The mental health benefits afforded by the opportunity to participate in creative activities are manifold, including:

  • providing young refugees and asylum seekers with a safe space in which to heal and potentially discover and give voice to a new sense of self;[3]

  • reducing feelings of stress by offering an outlet for communicating and negotiating the difficulties of their new lives, thus reducing risks of further mental health issues, distress, and trauma;[4] and

  • enabling young refugees and asylum seekers to create supportive peer networks and community ties, since creative interventions typically happen in group settings and inherently entail elements of sociality and social synchronicity, reducing loneliness and social isolation.[5][6]

The provision of creative spaces for expression and exploration are recommended to policymakers, due to their proven benefits of enabling participants to express experiences and emotions, create social connections, promote agency and empowerment, and improve mental health.[7][8][9]

Creative activities also carry some specific benefits for refugee and asylum-seeking young people. For example, it is a highly effective medium to improve English speaking skills and build confidence in communication. This further develops the participants’ ability to team build social connections outside of Babylon and to exercise their agency in a way that can support their transitions through integration in the UK and adulthood.[10]

Babylon offers creative workshops every two weeks to around fifteen young refugee and asylum-seeking young people. To ensure that the workshops are accessible to young people with limited funds, all of the workshops are free, including a communal meal at the end of the session, and Babylon reimburses participants for the cost of their travel to the sessions. One of the ways in which we aid our participants’ social development and support their mental health is by enabling participants to express their feelings and voices through the medium of fun. As Ali states, ‘silliness is something very important to me’. Many of the young people we work with at Babylon are in their late teens, experiencing a transition into adulthood that is made more complex and challenging due to their experiences. As a result, it is crucial to provide opportunities for participants to have fun and to be present in the moment.

The positive impact of the workshops on the participants is palpable; the atmosphere is always overwhelmingly positive, the sense of community is prominent, and laughs and smiles colour the space. There is a sense of comfort that only an organisation which truly understands the meaning of community can achieve. One participant stated:

I am really glad that I have joined the Babylon Project because, before I joined, I was really struggling with my anxiety and depression. I also felt lonely and was not able to express myself and share my thoughts with others. When I joined Babylon, all of this changed because they helped me overcome the difficulties and struggle of being lonely—stress, I would say! I believe Babylon is a very creative project because they run different types of activities that help you develop and network. Since I joined Babylon, I would say that I have improved a lot, especially my communication skills and confidence.

Alongside its primary goal of supporting young refugees and asylum-seekers, Babylon also seeks to challenge negative stereotypes about refugees and asylum seekers by building bridges between participants and the British public. Whilst it is important to help people understand that refugees are not scary or threatening, it is also vital that refugees are not simply portrayed as helpless victims, with no agency. Both in scholarship and in practice, refugee and asylum-seeking young people tend to be portrayed as inherently vulnerable, traumatised, and helpless.[11] It is undeniable that, when working with refugee and asylum-seeking groups, it is crucial to take a trauma-informed approach. Many of the participants are simultaneously dealing with the traumas of their past whilst struggling to navigate their present and future, often having to battle the UK asylum system alongside this. However, it is important to remember that these young people are not defined by the struggles they face. They are refugees and asylum-seekers, of course, but they are also young people; as young people, they will be experiencing the joys and challenges that come with most transitions from adolescence into early adulthood. They will also be actively making choices for their present and future, including their career path, navigating relationships, and planning for their future. An excessive focus on the vulnerability of refugee and asylum-seeking young people often limits the acknowledgement of the multiplicity of identities that they inhabit. Whilst Ali had many positive experiences with organisations and NGOs in the UK, some left him with a sense of discomfort. He states:

I started to join organisations and charities, and that boosted my energy and my mental health. I did not get good treatment from some organisations. I felt like they just wanted my story as a refugee, for their own profit, and did not really think about me as a human first. It made me feel uncomfortable. I do not want any of my participants to feel the same way.

At Babylon, we work towards creating a safe space for our participants in which they can not only be comfortable, but also feel valued as multifaceted individuals. We celebrate our participants’ complexity and uniqueness, focusing on their strengths, passions, rather than on their pasts, or the challenges they face. If any of our participants wish to disclose information about their past or speak about challenges they are facing, we hold a safe space for them to do so. However, we never ask our participants to share their personal stories.

As Ali often reminds people: ‘Yes, I am a refugee. But I am a human being first’.

The Rwanda policy

Describing the sessions run by Babylon paints a beautiful picture of community, laughter and integration for young refugees and asylum-seekers. Unfortunately, this does not reflect their lived reality.

For years, the UK’s immigration system has been becoming increasingly aggressive; the government discourse focuses on preventing traffickers from exploiting vulnerable people who are seeking safety and on taking back control over migration flows in the UK. In April 2022, Boris Johnson announced the ‘UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership’ (the Rwanda policy), with the ultimate goal of ‘fixing’ the UK’s immigration system.[12][13] According to the UK Home Office, the plan was designed to disincentive asylum-seekers from embarking on dangerous journeys to England, particularly in small boats crossing the English Channel.[14]

The plan was to offshore the asylum process to Rwanda by sending asylum- seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed. Should their claim be found valid, they would receive refugee status in Rwanda. If not, they could be sent home, or to a third-country if they have the right of residence in that country. Under the deal, the UK pledged a £120 million investment into Rwanda’s economic development and promised that the majority of people being sent over would be single men who would be able to contribute to the Rwandan economy.[15]

This plan was flawed from the start. In 2017, Israel cut a similar deal with Rwanda and deported around 4000 refugees there, predominantly from Sudan and Eritrea.[16] However, most of them found that they were unable to properly settle in Rwanda, reporting that they had no future in a country that was still rebuilding itself, spending their days with ‘nothing to do’.[17] Most of the refugees left Rwanda promptly, and Israel stopped the scheme.[18] Many asylum-seekers choose to travel to the UK because of linguistic, cultural, and family ties, and therefore would have no interest in settling in Rwanda. This clear evidence of the lack of functionality of the Rwanda scheme has been ignored by the UK government thus far. Despite the UK government’s supposed goal of protecting the economy and preventing traffickers from exploiting vulnerable people, the plan is ‘inhumane, expensive, and counterproductive’, potentially creating a more lucrative business for traffickers, who would have a new market in assisting people to escape Rwanda.[19]

The problem with the scheme lies not only within the difficulty of its implementation, but also because it is an affront to the human rights of refugees. This ‘responsibility-shifting’ approach violates the principle of non-refoulement, one of the foundational premises of international refugee protection.[20] Further to this, UNHCR criticised the plan because Rwanda’s asylum system does not meet the sufficient guarantees necessary to ensure the safety of the asylum-seekers arriving there, including the denial of asylum-seekers’ right to choose where they settle.[21]

Ali has been extremely active in fighting this policy. In January 2023, Ali drove his message directly to Westminster on an open-top bus, alongside Together with Refugees. Following this, Ali, alongside Together with Refugees, spoke with 15 MPs, to discuss the cruelness and inhumaneness of the scheme.[22] Ali comments that solidarity from MPs was really important, and that he felt listened to and supported during his day in Parliament. As of November 2023, the Supreme Court in the UK has ruled the Rwanda policy unlawful, and thus unimplementable in its current form. This has not, however, dissuaded Rishi Sunak, who has stated that the government would continue to work towards sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda, and is prepared to change UK laws to achieve this goal if necessary.[23]

The Illegal Migration Act

A year later however, another grotesque affront to the UK’s immigration system was proposed. In March 2023, Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Act (the Act), which passed through Parliament at lightning speed. The Act essentially eliminates access to the asylum-seeking system for anyone who arrives in the UK ‘irregularly’ (ie, without using formal resettlement routes.[24][25] The Act came into force on 20 July 2023.

This new law makes it impossible to arrive in the UK before claiming and receiving asylum, regardless of individual circumstances, putting asylum-seekers at heightened risk of detention and destitution. The Act seriously threatens asylum-seeking children in particular for the following reasons:

  • firstly, they will also lose their ability to claim asylum and settle in the UK. Whilst they will be safeguarded while they are minors, the moment they turn 18 they will face expulsion and have no recourse to public help;[26] and

  • secondly, the Act makes Age Assessment mandatory through ‘scientific’ methods such as radiation. Any person who refuses to comply will be treated as an adult, thus facing immediate detention and removal.[27]

It is still unclear exactly how this policy will work in practice, as the UK does not have arrangements with third countries in place to facilitate deportation, but it is likely that many vulnerable young people will face homelessness, trafficking, and destitution as a result.

Life in the UK

After being vocal about this issue on his twitter, Ali was attacked with anti-immigration sentiments. The comments ranged from people accusing Ali of wanting ‘illegal immigrants’ to ‘invade’ the UK, to personal attacks telling him he deserves to be deported. Ali states that bearing the brunt of anti-immigration sentiments in the UK made him feel ‘heart-broken’. Aside from the racist comments he received, Ali also faces the challenge of still not feeling settled in the UK, despite being here for five years. As a result of his complicated journey to the UK he faces many physical and mental health struggles which he is unable to get proper support for. His financial situation is also strained and he faces the stress of trying to secure a steady flow of income, after juggling the need to learn English and build his network and CV before he was able to find himself a suitable job. Ali also fears losing his accommodation, particularly in the face of a cost of living crisis coupled with the reluctance of property owners to rent to refugees. Having been close to homelessness several times in the last few years, Ali has not yet found a place he truly feels at home. The current anti-immigration policies that the UK government is pushing make Ali feel all the more insecure about his own safety and the safety of the Babylon participants.

He states:

I felt welcomed when I arrived in London, especially by the British public, but that is not the case any more. I do not have a feeling of security. The government is releasing news and laws about refugees and asylum-seekers so often; I am scared that one day that it will affect me as well. We do our best, and we do as much as we can, but we cannot support everyone. Most of the Babylon staff team are volunteers, so I cannot expect too much. I’m so proud of my amazing team, but I wish I would be able to pay them, because I know they would be able to give so much more.

It is still unclear what the future holds for our participants. Although the Act is not being implemented currently (due to the lack of agreements with third countries for removal) this does not mean that the government will not find a way to implement it anyway. At Babylon, we are worried that the Home Office will simply cancel asylum claims and leave people undocumented on the streets of Britain, potentially making many of our participants unsafe. We are concerned that we will slowly be dealing with an increasing number of undocumented, homeless, young people, who have no access to public recourse, and are therefore at a heightened risk of trafficking, grooming and abuse. If this were to happen, it is still unclear to us how we will move forward. Will it be useful for us to be delivering creative workshops for young people living on the streets?

However, despite all the hardships, Ali keeps a positive attitude. He firmly believes that public attitude and discourse can be changed. Ali consistently advocates for challenging those who have negative attitudes towards refugees. He believes that ‘instead of ignoring those people, and calling them racist or whatever, we should try and make them our allies’. Ali finds motivation in the challenge, stating that, ‘although people’s negative views hurt me, they also give me motivation to fight better and with more knowledge. I think if we want to win this fight, we need more allies, we need to bring people together, both those who support us and those who see us as enemies’.

Challenging the stereotypes

Refugees have made a huge social, economic, and social contribution to the UK for the last 460 years.[28] Some notable examples include Sir Mo Farah, Freddie Mercury, and even Albert Einstein.[29] Refugees contribute to the fabric of UK society in a way that is extremely worthwhile, through their unique gifts, talents, courage, and resilience.[30]

Ali’s goal is to focus on the positive contributions migrants and refugees make in the UK, and Babylon is part of his strategy to do so. Over the next few months, Babylon will launch several programs aiming to fight negative stereotypes of refugees and asylum seekers. We are currently working on two plays, one professional and the other participatory, to show-case the many creative talents of our participants, as well as challenge the negative narratives that they face. We will also be creating a series of workshops around the asylum-system and the lived reality of young refugees and asylum-seekers, to be delivered to schools across the UK. Through this program, we hope to encourage and foster a sense of compassion and solidarity in the minds of young students in the UK, so they may better understand the lived experiences of refugees, and perhaps even become allies to the refugee cause.

Ali calls for a renewed sense of solidarity towards refugees and asylum-seekers. He feels that the government’s current stance on immigration is not only inhumane, but is also a huge loss to the UK. Migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are a huge part of the rich social fabric of the UK. They bring with them culture, food, skills, and ideas that the UK can only benefit from. Ali hopes that this can be recognised, and that more safe, legal routes can be created, so that people who need to escape their homes to build a new one do not only settle in the UK, but also continue to contribute to making it a multicultural, open, prosperous, and welcoming place. Ali’s journey towards a secure life in the UK has been, and continues to be, a struggle. Living in a country which does not seem to want to include you in its fabric would be a struggle for even the most brazen of us. However, despite all the personal, social, and political challenges that he faces, Ali continues to fight, and to remain hopeful.

The tides of change may be coming. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda policy is unlawful, indicating that there are still countless people in Britain who value the safety and the right to protection of refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in the UK. Although the battle is not yet won, we hope that this ruling will start to pave the way back towards a more compassionate asylum system. Ali dreams of a Britain where all people are accepted, their contributions are acknowledged, and safe routes for those in need are created. One where British people, migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees all live alongside each other, contributing to the country’s cultural heritage and celebrated as a truly United Kingdom for all. If, despite all he faces, Ali can remain positive, then is it not our responsibility to make sure we too keep fighting for the rights, security, and (ultimately) the happiness of young people like himself?


Lerato Islam and Ali Ghaderi

Lerato Islam is Programmes and Strategy Lead at Babylon Migrants Project. She is an Applied Theatre Practitioner, specializing in providing psychosocial and linguistic support through Drama, who principally works with cohorts of teenage refugee and asylum seekers.

Ali Ghaderi is the Founder and Director of Babylon Migrants Project, an organisation run by and for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, engaged in creative workshops such as theatre, film making, art, storytelling and community. He is also an actor, activist, and facilitator.


[1] The Childhood Trust, ‘A Place Called Home—Refugee Children in London’ (Youtube, 17 April 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[2] Refugee Council, ‘Identity Crisis: How the age dispute process puts refugee children at risk’ (Refugee Council, September 2022) <,be%20children%2C%20following%20our%20intervention> accessed 11 December 2023.

[3] Zahra Akthar and Andrew Lovell, ‘Art therapy with refugee children: A qualitative study explored through the lens of art therapists and their experiences’ (2018) 24(3) International Journal of Art Therapy 139, 139-148.

[4] A Dubs, K Hay, and C Jones, ‘Mental health and child refugees’ (2022) 34(6) International Review of Psychiatry 596, 596-603.

[5] ibid.

[6] Kathryn Marsh, ‘Creating bridges: music, play and well-being in the lives of refugee and immigrant children and young people’ (2016) 19(1) Music Education Research 60, 60-73.

[7] The Baring Foundation, ‘Creatively Minded and Refugees’ (The Baring Foundation, 20 June 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[8] Elizabeth Yarrow, ‘A Refugee and then...Participatory Assessment of the Reception and Early Integration of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in the UK’ (The UN Refugee Agency, June 2019) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[9] Akthar and Lovell (n 3).

[10] Geraldene Codina and Judith Szenasi ‘Educational provision for newly arrived unaccompanied sanctuary seekers aged 15–16’ (2022) International Journal of Inclusive Education 1, 1–18.

[11] Donna Gaywood, Tony Bertram, and Chris Pascal ‘Involving refugee children in research: emerging ethical and positioning issues’ (2020) 28(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 149, 149-162.

[12] William Booth, ‘Britain to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda to cut illegal sea crossings’ The Washington Post (Washington DC, 14 April 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[13] Ikaba Koyi, ‘Analysis: Rwanda-UK asylum deal may cause regional refugee crisis’ Al Jazeera (14 June 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[14] BBC News, ‘What was the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?’ (BBC News, 11 December 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[16] Christiano d’Orsi, ‘Outsourcing asylum seekers: the case of Rwanda and the UK’. The Conversation (14 April 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[17] Cristina Krippahl, ‘Rwanda vows to resettle UK asylum-seekers despite criticism’ (InfoMigrants, 15 June 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[18] D’Orsi (n 16)

[19] Tim Farron, ‘UK’s Rwanda asylum plans are shallow, expensive, and counterproductive’ (, 13 June 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[20] Sonia Morano-Foadi and Micaela Malena, ‘Rethinking access to asylum: Border-shifting, burdenshifting, and externalisation of international protection in the light of the UK-Rwanda arrangement’ in Kahina Le Louvier and Karen Latricia Hough (eds), UK Borderscapes: Sites of Enforcement and Resistance (Routledge 2024) 66–80.

[21] Michael Collyer and Uttara Shahani, ‘Offshoring Refugees: Colonial Echoes of the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership’ (2023) 12(8) Social Sciences, MDPI 1, 1-17.

[22] Together with Refugees, ‘Refugee activist Ali Ghaderi on his day at Parliament’ (Together with Refugees, 2023) accessed 11 December 2023.

[23] Dominic Casciani and Sean Seddon, ‘Supreme Court rules Rwanda asylum policy unlawful’ (BBC News, 15 November 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[24] Home Office, ‘Illegal Migration Bill: overarching factsheet’ (, 20 July 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[25] UN News, ‘UK Bill ‘significantly erodes’ human rights and refugee protections, UN agencies warn’ (UN News, 18 July 2023) <,trafficking%20or%20modern%2Dday%20slavery> accessed 11 December 2023.

[26] Patrick Butler, ‘UK’s migration bill could put thousands of children ‘into arms of criminals’’ Guardian (London, 24 March 2023) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[27 Home Office (n 24)

[28] D’Orsi (n 16)

[29] Siva Thangarajah, ‘Famous UK refugees from footballers to pop stars’ (imix, 4 June 2021) <> accessed 11 December 2023.

[30] Summer Goodkind, ‘Lily Cole: Government’s Rwanda asylum plan ‘like something in a dystopian film’’ Independent (London, 20 April 2022) <> accessed 11 December 2023.


bottom of page