Got an old bike? How your second-hand wheels can provide better life for refugees

Hopping on the tube or bus is a luxury most of us take for granted, but for many people they are not in a position to afford a ticket.

Yet thanks to an incredible initiative, second-hand bicycles are coming to the rescue.

The Bike Project revamps abandoned bikes for refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK, with the freedom to move around helping them access food banks, legal advice, healthcare, and education, as well as connecting them to their communities.

If lucky enough to receive official status, a bike can also help refugees find employment.

The bikes have offered security during COVID-19, providing a free method of travel as many refugees and asylum-seekers are among the worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic as they are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, experience homelessness or poor-quality housing, and have difficulties in accessing healthcare.

To mark World Refugee Day yesterday, the project is also calling on fellow cyclists to ride ‘Refugee Routes’.

These routes will challenge riders to cycle the same distance that many refugees travel to find safety, all while raising money to give more bikes to those in need.

There are four routes to choose from, with every £100 raised able to provide one refugee with a bike, safety gear and safety and maintenance training.

The routes available are; Calais, France to Dover, England at 51 miles; the Coast of Turkey to Athena, Greece at 160miles; Zarzis, Tunisia to Pozzallo, Italy at 301 miles; and Damascus, Syria to Izmir, Turkey at a casual 918 miles.

All of these routes would be carried out on UK soil, it is just the equivalent distance between the countries that people will be honouring – not the travelling abroad itself.

Participants can choose to do a route in their own time-frame over the summer, and are welcome to take on the challenge individually or as a team.

Speaking about the campaign, actor David Morrissey – who has been a patron of The Bike Project since 2018 – said: “I’m supporting the Refugee Routes cycling challenge to show solidarity with all the refugees who make these dangerous journeys to find safety.

“During lockdown, I’ve experienced the freedom a bike gives you to travel around safely, and this summer it’s even more important we support the vulnerable in our society.

“For some refugees, a bike can be a crucial lifeline. So please do check out Refugee Routes, and take up a challenge to help more refugees.”

The Bike Project also runs Pedal Power, a female-only training programme, to teach refugee women how to cycle, often for the first time in their lives.

One person who was saved by the campaign is Fatemah Addayon – an NHS worker at a London hospital who fled Iran to travel to the UK alone in 2009, leaving everything behind.

She told us: “When I arrived in the UK, I was alone, no family, friends or money. The Bike Project helped me by giving me a bike and I joined their women’s training programme.

“Owning my own bicycle opened up everything for me and made a huge difference to my mental health. It helped me bond with new people and get back to work..”

She added: “To this day, I still commute to work with the very same bike.”

For more info on this amazing campaign, visit Refugee Routes.