English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]

asylum seekers

Calais three years on

By Zubair Gharghasht

Photo by Chiara Lauvergnac

For refugees, hoping to find a home in Britain, life – of a sort – goes on, just across the Channel…

Sangatte, on the northern coast of France overlooking the English Channel, is best known as the location of a refugee camp, closed in 2002 following concerns it was a base for illegal immigration into Britain. The camp was run by the Red Cross to shelter 900 people, but it housed some 2,000 refugees. Shortly after its closure, makeshift camps – known as The Jungle – sprang up in the woods around the Calais ferry ports, but these camps also closed seven years later in 2009. 

Zubair Gharghasht reports on the current plight of refugees who wait in Calais, dreaming of coming to the UK.

“On my arrival, I noticed how much Calais had changed since I last came in 2009. There were more fences but a lot less migrants – many had spread out to Dunkirk and Dieppe, while others returned to Paris.

“But some things hadn’t changed: life continues to be hard. The chasing by police has decreased, but living conditions seem more difficult; there is less disease but more injuries – I could not find out why, but it seemed a combination of things, from police violence to random accidents.

“Food distribution is centralized and fenced off: you could lock it and arrest everybody inside. But the activists broke the lock off one of the big gates, so migrants could come and go.

“There are water points and some shelters from the rain. Charities distribute food, three times per day. But the cooked food is still ‘slob’.

“I was invited into one shelter, covered with colourful blankets and tarpaulins, and, following Afghan tradition, offered food and a warm welcome. For a while the migrants forgot about their own struggles, they just wanted to know what it was like in the UK.

“Not all of them were Sans Papier (without papers), some had papers, but nowhere to live. Some just needed the company of their own people. They explained the chances of crossing were still the same. People still seem to cross, but some had been in Calais for more than six months, and the arrival of winter worried them.

“The migrants feel humiliated, treated like criminals and completely let down by the West. Still, most had faith for a better future.

“An activist who has been living with the migrants explained that the numbers are increasing again. While I was there, no one wanted to leave their shelters to try to cross the border in the rain.

What future for the children of irregular migrants

by Nando Sigona

More than 120,000 children living in the UK are at risk of isolation and serious crime as a result of their status as ‘irregular migrants’, researchers have found.

The children, 65,000 of whom were born in the UK, often struggle to access basic healthcare and education because their families fear they will be reported to the UK Border Agency. Many families also suffer at the hands of serious criminals, yet avoid turning to the police because of their immigration status.

In a study titled “No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, Oxford University researchers revealed that the UK Border Agency had increased its demands on public service providers and social services to report suspected irregular migrants creating a culture of fear among children and families.

This conflicts with both British and International laws requiring that children are given access to education and healthcare irrespective of their immigration status, and that public authorities put the interests of the child first.

The report comes in the wake of a landmark decision by the Obama’s Administration to pass an executive order that effectively suspends deportation proceedings against young undocumented migrants under 30 years old who arrived in the US before their 16th birthdays.

The passing of the executive order is in part thanks to the DREAM movement—named for the perpetually stalled bill (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Bill) that would create a roadmap to citizenship for young undocumented migrants. The DREAMers campaigned steadily for the change, even occupying Obama’s campaign offices. But while 800,000 thousands of young people in the US finally have peace of mind, the UK children of irregular migrants know no such security.

The Major of London has recently withdrew his support for ‘Strangers into citizens’, a campaign for an earned amnesty for irregular migrants, despite support from a coalition of NGOs, Churches and local authorities .

And while the campaign stalls, tens of thousands of children who call the UK home continue to live without the basic services and protections that all children deserve.

“No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, by Dr. Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes, published by COMPAS, is available at: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/files/Publications/Reports/NO_WAY_OUT_NO_WAY_IN_FINAL.pdf

Pauline Nandoo: Reaching out to asylum seekers

By: Helena Argyle

Dishing out lunch at the Southwark Day Centre's Copleston Centre

An interview with Pauline Nandoo (MBE), coordinator of the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers (SDCAS) in London

Helena Argyle (HA): The SDCAS offers a wide range of training courses designed to help refugees and asylum seekers equip themselves with skills necessary to integrate into British society. Can you give a specific example of the positive effects of these facilities?

Pauline Nandoo (PN): One of the courses we provide is a parenting class funded by the Big Lottery, which helps families learn practical communications skills for everyday life so they can bring up confident, happy and cooperative children. As families often experience turbulent and chaotic situations during the asylum process, positive parenting is important. After taking the course, some parents trained to become course facilitators or took up further training in childcare.

HA: It can be argued that there is a sense of animosity in some camps of British society towards refugees and asylum seekers. How do you think that the SDCAS is able to give refugees and asylum seekers a voice for their own communities and as well as the skills to easily integrate into Britain without a sense of alienation?

PN: SDCAS empowers asylum seekers and refugees, encouraging them to become active participants of society. The support services provided are aimed at ensuring that the rights of asylum seekers and refugees are upheld. SDCAS acts as a mediator for refugees and asylum seekers in order to reduce barriers in accessing vital mainstream services, things that are not easy for those who experience high rates of isolation, unemployment, destitution and complex immigration problems. Together with over 50 local volunteers including students, pensioners, faith leaders and retired professionals, we try to foster good community relations and cohesion, reduce alienation, local tensions and public hysteria.

HA: The government has introduced large funding cuts to organisations and has also put a cap on the number of people entering the country. How has this affected the SDCAS’s three centres, and has this had a visible effect on the refugee communities you are involved with?

PN: Despite a fall in the official number of asylum seekers entering the UK, we are not surprised by the increase in our client base each year. Recent reports on destitution and mental health (by British Red Cross, Oxfam and MIND) show that there is a continuing need for services like ours. For the last three years our core costs have been met with the help of the Main Grants Programme of Southwark Council, and while we are hopeful that we will receive some core funding over the next year, because of drastic cuts in government funding we are still unsure of this. There is also increasing competition for funding from charities and trusts, so despite submitting a number of applications we have not yet received guaranteed funding for the coming years.

HA: The SDCAS focus on providing legal advice, medical advice and counselling. In your experience, how accessible is advice such as this outside of the centres and how much importance does it have?

Advice and information services are limited and this is a problem especially in terms of specialist immigration advice. SDCAS relies on a few agencies that provide free, accessible, good quality and appropriate legal advice in the areas of immigration, housing, welfare benefits, debt management and public health. These are essential services for asylum seekers and refugees who are often unaware of their rights and entitlements; this can often lead to a crisis occurring and poor mental health. SDCAS provides General Help Level 1 advice and works closely with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Southwark Law Centre, Migrant Resource Centre, South London & Maudsley NHS Trust and the PCT’s Health Inclusion Team.

HA: The SDCAS also provides language courses. How do you feel a grasp of the English language helps refugee and asylum seekers with their new life in Britain?

The English classes we provide are aimed at beginners. Without basic language skills, people struggle to read important documents and interpreters are not always made available for appointments. Also, people need some language skills to pass the pre-entry tests required to enrol in English classes provided by colleges. Many women attend our classes and benefit from using the playgroup for young children not in school. Knowledge of the language helps decrease isolation and leads to more opportunities in terms of employment and education.

HA: You deal with a vast range of cultures and traditions. In your opinion, how does the mingling of so many cultures affect London life for new migrants, and what kind of social activities does SDCAS organise with these different communities?

The centres are vibrant and stimulating places in which various communities come together from places like Algeria, Iran, Congo, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and Kosovo, which is what makes life in London for these people so interesting. The centres provide a forum in which to form friendships, where mutual support can flourish, where people can experience being useful together and roots into the wider community can grow. The centres partake in various activities around London including trips to museums – we work with the Hornimans Museum to celebrate refugee week, and services users have exhibited artwork at Docklands Museum. We also organise great day trips to the coast in the summer, lively parties, theatre trips and picnics where service users plant and grow fruit and vegetables. We hope this continues in years to come.

HA: What do you see in the future for SDCAS? What are your hopes for the coming year, and what new programmes do you plan to introduce?

SDCAS has set up a Friends Scheme, which is due to be launched this year. There is already a lot of enthusiasm about getting involved in our fundraising events, such as our concerts with great performances from local musicians. Identifying a source of funding for would help us enormously to meet our needs and we hope the scheme will showcase our services and raise our profile so that we attract more support and resources, enabling us to reach more asylum seekers and refugees.