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]


A Ukrainian Easter in London

By Christina Senechyn

Photo by Amanda Schutz

The spirit of Ukrainian Easter remains strong and essential within the Ukrainian community in the UK. This is the major religious holiday in Ukraine. In the UK, the Ukrainian community still follows the tradition of going to church in the morning and coming home to spend time with family over the traditional supper at the table.

Ukrainian families abroad keep a piece of their traditions in their everyday lives. Easter, in particular, is an important Orthodox holiday in Ukraine. Traditionally, it is important to fast before Easter, a time to cleanse your soul (giving up eggs, meat, and dancing, among other things). A week before Easter, you have Palm Sunday or as the Ukrainians call it, “Pussy Willow” Sunday.

The preparation for Easter is done over the last week of the Lent. The house is cleaned, the traditional food is ready to go in a basket to take to the church in the morning and the family is ready to spend a weekend together after a long week.

The Easter basket should include the following: sausage (a small ring), a root of horseradish, sweet cheese, butter, salt, hard boiled and peeled eggs, dyed eggs, pysanky (traditional Easter eggs), and last but not least Paska, a sweet bread with a candle beside it to be lit when the priest begins the blessing ceremony.

The Easter traditions within the Ukrainian community in the UK have remained stronger within the elder population. Many young Ukrainians also very much respect the Ukrainian culture and traditions away from their home country, although not as passionately as their parents.

“I respect my culture and traditions, I remember them and enjoy celebrating them, although for me it has faded slightly throughout the years, feeling that the time is moving so fast in the city that I simply forget it as years go by”, says British-Ukrainian Katherine. 

Katherine adds that if it wasn’t for her parents she may have slipped away from her Ukrainian culture when coming to live in London. Her parents have kept up with the Ukrainian traditions in London yet not as much as they would have back in their homeland.

16,000 miles from London to Mongolia

By: Pietro Acquistapace

photo by Sara Cavatorta

I was born in Valmorea, a little village west of Lake Como in the north of Italy, 35 years ago. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Italy, but nothing can compare to the beauty of Mongolia. I became interested in Mongolia when I was 16 years old and my interest in this country grew while I was studying history at college. I was bewitched by its vast grasslands, its dashed border between China and Russia, its nomadic people, the traditional Mongolian dwelling known as a ger, the famous Gobi desert, horse-racing over long stretches of open country… I always wished one day I could visit this amazing country.

In 2010 I finally visited Mongolia for the first time. I went on a package tour and it was a magnificent experience. The beauty of the vast Mongolian landscape, mostly undeveloped, is smashing. With fewer than 3 million people on 603,909 square miles and more than one third of these living in the capital, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on earth. You are so alone that you can even hear the sound of silence. The blue of the Mongolian sky is unparalleled anywhere else on earth. The skies are so beautiful that there is even a God in Shamanism, the old religion of Mongolia, called Tenger (the eternal blue sky). When I came back to Italy, I became a member of Soyombo, an Italian association interested in Mongolian culture.

One day, I read on the Internet that a British charity was organising a road trip from London to the ancient Mongol capital of Ulaanbaatar. The choice was clear in my mind: I had to go! Our road trip to Mongolia started in June 2011. It was a 16,000-mile road trip in a Fiat Panda. The trip was full of hurdles, a little crazy and hard to describe, but it was an unforgettable experience. We passed through Iran, the ex-Soviet countries of Central Asia, and Russia before arriving in Mongolia. We drove across mountain ranges, desserts, and inhospitable lands. In some countries, such as Tajikistan, roads were totally lacking and the car broke down several times. It’s incredible that we were able to arrive in the Mongolian capital.

I was also impressed to see that the history of Mongolia is still dominated by the mythical figure of Genghis Khan (Chingis Khaan for the Mongols), the Mongol conqueror who built the largest land empire in history. In the 13th century his empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the heart of Europe. Genghis Khan’s presence is everywhere. His statue is in front of the Parliament and the airport of Ulaan Bataar has his name as do a brand of beer, cigarettes, vodka and plenty of restaurants. The best way to encounter problems in Mongolia is to speak about him without respect.

But the amazing beauty of other countries fascinated me too. Iran, for example, is a splendid country with charming people. Most Iranians spoke English. They were incredibly generous and eager to communicate with foreigners. I was also shocked by the absolute poverty that I saw in some Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Kirghizstan and the absurd opulence of Asghabat city.

I am very happy to have had this unique experience. My desire to learn about different cultures made me move to London three months ago and I now work as a night receptionist in a hotel in London. I am glad not to have experienced the touristy side of Mongolia, but rather a country with contradictions and challenges linked to a nomadic existence. We often speak about countries with a different culture from ours with a false open mind, considering reality only from our point of view.

In London there is a small but growing Mongolian community. Every July in Islington’s Highbury Fields the Naadam, a traditional Mongolian festival, takes place. There are also Mongolian communities in Brighton, Liverpool, Milton Keynes and Nottingham.

What more can I say? One article is not enough to describe Mongolia, so get up and go!