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]

immigration

ignorant ian

By Rhiannon Hughes

 

 

 

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.

A golden opportunity

By Gary Buswell

Among the many positives of the Olympics this summer was the noticeable change of tone around reporting of migrants in the mainstream press. With a diverse array of British medallists inspiring a more open national pride throughout the country, familiar tabloid headlines of new arrivals here to “milk the system” were nowhere to be seen.

Mo Farah’s exploits even inspired stories about the benefits of immigration, leaving some of us thinking a legacy of the games might be more balanced and fact-based reporting on such issues.

Sadly not. Less than a month after the close of the Paralympics both The Sun and The Daily Express were up to their old tricks, publishing a typically sensationalist story about Bulgarian migrants.

The stories made unfounded accusations about a homeless Bulgarian family. But the worst thing about the reports was the depiction of an innocent Italian man distributing food to them as a “benefits scrounger”. Salvatore Quero was shocked to see himself on the front page of The Express, presented as a member of the family, under the headline Migrants make mugs of us all.

The article caused Mr Quero difficulties with authorities. “When I walked into the Jobcentre the following day, I was confronted by staff about my real nationality”, he said. “I was shown the article and told I was a liar”.

Ironically The Sun and The Express were among the biggest cheerleaders of Somali refugee Farah’s Olympic success and both spent the summer glorifying the games, which featured a significant number of British medallists, volunteers and paid staff from migrant backgrounds, as a resounding British success.

The Migrants Resource Centre, where Mr Quero is a client, have filed a complaint on his behalf with the Press Complaints Commission and have asked both papers for an apology. Ros Lucas, the MRC’s executive director, said: “After such positive images and articles in the press about migrants at the Olympics and Team GB, it has not taken long for the gutter press to resort to inflammatory, inaccurate reporting on migrant issues.”

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

New student visa rules disadvantage migrants

By Tania Farias

 

Anita Morales, a 38-year-old Colombian single mother whose real name has been changed to protect her identity, arrived in London on March 2010 to study English as a second language. At the beginning, her Tier 4 student visa allowed her to work 20 hours per week. Then, she renewed it and her new Tier 4 student visa allowed her to work just 10 hours, and from last summer, she is not allowed to work due to changes introduced in the student visa system in July 2011.

With the changes, students such as Morales, who are not sponsored by a higher education institution or a publicly funded further education college, don’t have permission to work while studying in the UK. “At the moment I have a visa, but I am not allowed to work anymore,” said Morales, “The situation is very stressful because London is a very expensive city. I am hoping to find new opportunities here, but I do not know how much time I could be here. I just want to finish my studies and live like a respectable person”.

The government said the changes, which affect non-EU students coming to the UK, were vital to tackle abuses of the system and meet the government’s target of reducing annual net immigration.

“There were certainly some abuses to the system but these measures are not proportional to the situation,” said Juan Camilo Cock, London Project Manager at the Migrants’ Right Network. “You could be hampering economic growth. Even the universities argue that many of their international students come first to the UK to do courses in order to reach a good English level and then enter university. The other issue is that students were filling gaps in the labour market up to a point. There are certain jobs that do not have very good professional futures, but they might be alright to do for one year or two years if you are studying at the same time”.

Many international students in the UK are non–European. In 2010, 181,000 students (77% of arrivals) came to the UK from outside Europe, according to the Identity and Passport Services (IPS).

According to Juan Camilo Cock, the Colombian community in London could be one of the Latin American communities most affected. A recent report conducted by Queen Mary University showed that significant numbers of Colombian students had recently arrived in London.

“Many universities in Colombia ask their students to either take language courses while they are studying or pass a language test, so many people were travelling abroad before graduating to learn English. It was an opportunity to develop their professional skills, to gain an experience, a valuable experience abroad and to comply with certain requirements in universities,” said Cock.

This is the case of Natalia Agudelo, a 23-year-old Colombian student who came to the UK for 9 months, because she wanted to improve her English. She came to London with a student visa, which allowed her to work 10 hours per week. However her minimal weekly wage was hardly enough to cover some of her expenses.

“I went to London because I wanted to improve my English, to know new people, new cultures and places, and gain some experiences, but unfortunately, I could not apply for some jobs. In my country I have a degree as a Business Manager, but in Europe it is not valid, so I had to look for unskilled jobs like cleaner, waitress, nanny, baby sitter and so on.”

Douglas Pereira, a 27-year-old Brazilian student who lived in London for six months, said, “When I went to the UK last year, I got a student visa with the right to work 10 hours per week, which I think is very little to live in London, so I had to come from Brazil with a very good cash reserve”.

On average, student migrants have shorter stays in the UK than those who migrate for family or work, according to the Non-European Students Migrations to the UK study by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

The real effects of the changes in the visa system remain to be seen, but Cock thinks that a lot of people who need to fund part of their stay by working may be either be discouraged to come to the UK or will choose to go to other English-speaking countries that are either cheaper or that allow them to work.

Hiding in plain sight

By: Boucabar Diallo

Photo by Bastian Sander

Many immigrants are living a double life since Prime Minister David Cameron urged the public in late 2011 to report suspected illegal immigrants in order to claim back UK borders.

Saint Dumbuya, a 32-year-old immigrant from Ivory Coast who came to the UK in 2005, said he has never received any help from the government. After claiming for asylum he explains that he was fast tracked and found himself in a detention camp for nine years.

Even after getting out of the camps, Dumbuya has found it tough to make a living and sometimes has ended up being exploited working under the table. Cameron’s speech has only make things worse.

“I am getting paranoid because I cannot trust my friends nor my colleagues, that’s why I don’t want either of the parties to meet for fear it could backlash on me,” he says. “I live a life of lies because I have been forced into it by my friends, neighbours, my colleagues and by the system. I wonder sometimes if this is going to be over,” he adds.

Pati (real name withheld) has been living in London for 14 years. She came to London with a student visa and then got a two-year work permit. When it expired, she kept on working and paying her taxes.

“They even registered me to vote but I am an illegal immigrant,” she says. However, after Cameron’s speech she had to change her routine.

“Getting to work has become a heavy business for me now, I always look around to see if I am traveling with the same people, I need to be alert everywhere, even at the supermarket.”

Over the years Pati got married and has a child but keeping the child is a problem because her husband is illegal as well and they are not allowed to claim for benefits. They take turns in looking after the child.

“Women with children who find themselves in a situation of irregularities are the most vulnerable and there is practically nothing to protect them,” says Anna Dixie, from the Refugee Migration Network in Sutton.

Rasa, a woman from Somalia in her early thirties who lives in north London, explains that from she come to the UK in 2002 to help her brother who was dying from terminal cancer.

“I came with a two-year visa and after my brother passed away I started working,” she said. “I wanted to keep his son from a previous marriage but I was not allowed”. When her visa expired she went through a lot of problems and contracted HIV.

“That was the lowest point in my life,” she says. Nevertheless, Rasa continued to fight and work in order to help her two children back home. She feels very disappointed with Cameron’s speech.

“I’m used to hiding. I don’t dare invite anyone in my flat,” she says. “I recently found leaflets in my mailbox urging me to report my neighbours, it is like living in a police state.”