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]


Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

The Red Bus by Renata Domagalska

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 languages came. No one asked her if she wanted that war, if she wanted the diseases or if she had enough to eat.

She is peaceful now. She feels relieved, this city will protect her, and her child will be able to grow and learn the language of the people helping her, a language so similar to the language of the men who came to her town.

No one is listening. No one responds, no one asks her how she is coping. She feels the city’s eyes looking at her with mistrust. She thinks: why do they look at me like that? Why are they sending me away?

She talks loudly so people can hear her. She tells them “I can work; I can pay for your help I am a strong woman. I crossed the oceans and several continents.”

I see other people wanting to communicate, wanting to tell their story but the city is becoming a city full of fear, closing doors and windows, not wanting to see, to hear or to talk, not even to their neighbours. I see the woman and her child in the street, begging and sleeping rough. Wishing to tell her story, but no one is listening.

But if I really really listen I can hear a child talking to the woman’s child, becoming friends, listening to each other in the park, and in this park a rose strong and bright is growing. Hold on, other children are talking, other children are listening. They talk about peace, about the games they used to play in their country realising they are the same but have different names, and they laugh at the sound of their voices and their accents. They will build a different world and they will grow listening and appreciative of each other.

When I whispered this to the woman’s ear she smiled and the star of hope sparkled in her eyes.

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.

Barefoot British asylum seeker

By: Farai Munyebvu


Homeless asylum seekers in Bristol struggle to survive without access to basic rights and services. Photo by Simon Chapman.


“It’s no longer a matter of hope or future anymore but survival,” says Rachael Bee, a trustee of Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN), a charity that tries to accommodate tens if not hundreds of desperate homeless failed asylum seekers across the Bristol area on a daily basis.

“If it was a housing issue alone, that would have been better,” adds Rachael. But other issues abound. Sorting out service users’ food, health, legal support, individual mental stresses, even the reintegration of those few lucky ones into the mainstream – all is left to a few charitable organisations which are in dire financial crisis after suffering severe government cuts coupled by a double-dip recession.

The drop-in centre, run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), has seen soaring numbers of users on the three days they open per week. Service users flock to get something to fill their stomachs, even a hot cup of tea.

“It’s sad to see such smiling faces on empty stomachs,” says Caroline Beaty, who heads up BRR.

Karim, from Morocco, whose case was thrown out by the UK Home Office in January 2011 has been using the service ever since. As soon as Karim became a “failed asylum seeker,” any aid he was receiving from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) or the Legal Aid Commission was instantly withdrawn. At the time of writing, he may well have lost all his documentation since he has nowhere to put it, let alone a place to sleep.

According to available BRR figures, the average attendance per session from April 2010 to September 2011 ranges from 50 to 90 with highest recorded attendees in April 2010 as well as July and September of 2011. Thursdays are busiest of the three-day sessions per week with a total of 125 members visiting on the 22 September 2011 alone with overall 1011 visitors in the 13 days it was opened the same month.

The current government’s immigration policies aren’t helping either. “They [destitute asylum seekers] are denied basic rights and services which most us take for granted, and this is not an accident: this is government policy and we should be ashamed of it,” wrote Mark Haddon in The New Londoners.

In 2010, the Red Cross urgently called for a more humane asylum system to alleviate the humanitarian situation. Many of the current social and economic ills are being attributed to innocent destitute asylum seekers. The general public are often persuaded by this notion as they face unprecedented and ruthless cuts to their meagre social benefits. However, immigration has had little or no impact on unemployment in Britain, with at most “a generally modest impact on the less skilled,” says Alan Travis, Home Office editor at the Guardian. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to show that there is no link between migrant inflows and overall levels of those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Lee Jasper, a senior political advisor to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone echoed similar sentiments by saying that those at the lower end of the social pyramid are being used as scapegoats.

The results of such scapegoating are witnessed by charities such as BHN, BRR and British Red Cross on a daily basis, high levels of deprivation, involuntary incarceration and mental genocide. According to British Red Cross report Not Gone, But Forgotten, most respondents depended on churches, mosques, charities, friends and family for food with 87% surviving on only 1 meal a day, and some going whole days without food.