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]


Venezuelan political opposition abroad

By: Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo

Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela since 1999. Photo by Bernardo Londoy

It was a cold and rainy Sunday even by London standards, but that didn’t stop 290 Venezuelan expatriates in the UK from coming together on February 12th in a central London hotel to take part in one of the most important political events in Venezuela: the first ever opposition’s primaries held abroad.

The primary saw Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of the state of Miranda, picked to challenge President Hugo Chávez in the presidential election planned for next October.

Chávez, the left-wing president, has governed Venezuela since 1999. His successive electoral victories have caused long-term disarray for the opposition. But the political opposition is now campaigning on a unity platform, trying to mobilise Venezuelan communities abroad before the next presidential elections. Efforts have extended to the UK where there are 1,174 registered Venezuelan voters, the fifth largest concentration of voters abroad and the second largest in Europe, according to the official electoral registry.

“We had a turnout of 24.7 per cent, which is outstanding for a primary election. The participation and enthusiasm of Venezuelan voters in the UK far exceeded our expectations,” said Domingo Lapadula, president of the London Committee of the Primary Elections Abroad Commission, established by the opposition’s umbrella organisation Unified Democratic Panel (MUD).

The high participation rates were the result of long hours of community work that used traditional media and also social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, explained Lapadula.

“We contacted as many people as we possibly could. The Venenin [Spanish acronym for Venezuelans in England] Facebook group, now with more than 1,800 members, has been very useful for this task. It started out as a way of organising social gatherings, but it has become the first point of contact for Venezuelans arriving to the UK,” he explained.

Voters said they are motivated by a desire for political transformation in Venezuela.

“For me, there is a central reason for participating: I want a change in my country,” said Francisco Perez, a Venezuelan living in the UK for 10 years. Irene Caldentey, another voter, cited her “aspiration for democratic participation” as her motivation for voting.

Once the primary election has been carried out, there is now a bigger challenge, explained Lapadula.

“Many Venezuelans have arrived into the UK during the last six years, and most of them are not registered to vote here. In addition, there are sizable Venezuelan communities in places such as Manchester, Reading, Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Belfast, yet the only voting centre available is in London,” said Lapadula. “We have to work closely with the Venezuelan consular authorities in order to guarantee no one is left without the opportunity to participate”.