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]


Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse

Photo provided by Jesuit Refugee Service

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 writing workshops at JRS over the last year, with clearly positive results. In 2012 participants had their poems and prose published in “Big Writing for a Small World”. They also presented at the Joy of Speaking event in London in 2013.

Louise Zanré, Director of JRS UK articulates why Jesuit Refugee Service has enjoyed hosting creative writing workshops, “It is very important for us to work in partnership, in particularly with English PEN, so that the refugees that we support have access to activities and opportunities that they might not have, including space for self development and growth, and also to feel normal. We are grateful that English PEN want to work with us in this way.”

Philip Cowell, Head of Programmes at English PEN, explains, “We saw the participants in these workshops flourish through their creative writing, under the guidance of poet Malika Booker. We know it can be so unsettling travelling to the UK. Our workshops don’t heal that, but they do give participants a chance to explore their new lives through free expression. More than anything, though, we aim for a safe, fun and uplifting setting for people to feel relaxed and confident – and JRS and Malika certainly helped our participants with that.”

‘Naz’, took part in the third round of creative writing workshops offering by English PEN at JRS’s Wapping centre. He wrote two contrasting pieces, one with a memory from back home and one expressing his sense of being in the UK. He shares his writing experience.

Tell me about how you got involved with creative writing workshops with English PEN.

When I came, I was very excited and motivated. The trainer told us how do to this, it is just about being creative, so I wrote my first poem on that day. She gave us poems to read from other writers and she gave us time to think about writing ourselves. Even though I had never written a poem in my life that is how I did mine. She was really good to push us how to write something.

What was the experience like for you?

After the training, I can see anything is possible, I can train to do anything in life! Even though English is not my language, I felt this is something that I can do.

How is it writing in a different language to your mother tongue?

To write a poem it is all about being creative first, so when you have creativity you can use any language to express what you want to say. That is what inspired me to write. Even though I have many difficulties since living in this country with speaking and writing English, when it is creative writing I can express myself.

What did you learn about writing?

To express my feelings about my situation through words, rather letting them stay inside me and causing depression. By writing it is like I am taking it out and putting on paper through words it is better than just not saying anything.

What inspires you in your writing?

The way the trainer was, she was the one who inspired me. There was a woman who came here to speak to the group who had been an asylum seeker in the same situation. She had been a medical doctor and gave each one of us a copy of the book she herself had written. She gave us a boost that we can do it as she is now a full time writer. That kind of thing also motivated me.

Is there anything else you want to say about the poems you write?

The poem I wrote is about expressing the life of a refused asylum seeker in this country. The second poem you see is about remembering when I was young and my mother and so on. I don’t know what else I can say, read the poems!



by Naz

I remember when my mother was waking me up

In the morning for bath.

The water was so cold,

She kept saying she ain’t got money

To heat the water

Every drop of the water on my body

Causing drops of tears, I remember.

In the morning bathing was a hell.

7 o’clock in the morning after bath

She dressed me up and served me breakfast

The school was miles away

And I had no money to pay for my bus ticket.

In the morning walking to school was a hell.

A long sandy road in the noon

Full of hot sand, I remember.

My feet got burnt

When walking back home from school.

However the drop of rain can be heard

And puts a smile on my face as I can walk

Without feeling the heat of the sun in the noon.


by Naz

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities.

I have been thinking all my life

To make my way to this land,

Many of us called the rich land.

But when I reached

This so-called rich land,

I t’s like a white storm,

The whole land is so cold

As Arctic

With no home, no shelter.

The long road to teaching

By Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua

Ashraf Javdani outside Rokeby School in Newham. Photo by Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua.

Iranian teacher Ashraf Javdani recalls the struggle of finding a permanent position through the Jobcentre despite extensive teaching experience and university qualifications.

Ashraf left Iran for London in 2005, before her country was hit by a series of anti-governmental demonstrations. With little knowledge of English, yet 15 years of experience working as a speech and language therapist at the Ministry of Education in Iran she thought she could start in a UK school as a Teaching Assistant in Farsi and Dari – Iranian and Afghan languages. She didn’t expect it would be so hard.

She says, “It was really challenging to find out the correct information and the right direction.

“But I really wanted to teach.  I‘ve always loved teaching.”

In her first year in the UK, Ashraf improved her English. While looking for more information on how and where to work as a special educational needs teacher, she received income allowance.

To work in the UK overseas teachers need a recognized UK degree equivalent, GCSE English and Maths (and sometimes a science subject) and experience in a mainstream school classroom.

Unaware of the GCSE English requirement, Ashraf studied biomedical science at university in 2007. She says, “I went to an information centre, and I was told I needed a degree from here, nobody said to me I needed a GCSE in English.”

After her honors degree Ashraf spent one year as a jobseeker at the JobCentre.

“If someone had to ask me, that was the most difficult period of my entire life,” she says. Despite her qualifications and experience, Ashraf couldn’t find a suitable position and felt the JobCentre was not working well for her since they did not have enough information for professionals. Through the Internet Ashraf found the Refugee into Teaching project at the Refugee Council and Employability Forum.

Employability Forum referred her to Empowering Learning, a teacher training and recruitment agency, through which Ashraf obtained a position as a special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant (TA) at Rokeby Secondary School in Canning Town, where the English designer Alexander McQueen also studied.

Lynne Hannigan, director of Empowering Learning, remembers helping Ashraf through her journey. In November 2010, the teacher was taken up by Rokeby school for a work experience role as a SEN TA, first one day a week, then five. After six weeks she was offered a temporary post and in January, Ashraf  was offered a permanent position at a higher level.

Ms Hannigan adds that part of the problem when migrant and refugee teachers look for jobs is that schools fear that they will not fit in and that their teaching will be too formal. She adds: “By committing to six weeks working as a co-teacher, people like Ashraf can prove they can adapt and schools like Rokeby can see the strengths they offer.

“I believe migrant and refugee teachers find it even more difficult to work in a recession, I saw this when teaching in the 1980’s and meeting professional refugee parents who desperately wanted to make a contribution.”

The Office of National Statistics says that between 2010 and 2011 the number of migrants coming to the UK looking for a job decreased by 22%. And those here are sometimes advised to use alternative services to the JobCentre.

Sarah Lawson is assistant head teacher at Rokeby School. She says they successfully hire foreign teachers. About Ashraf she says:

“No one else in the school has her range of expertise. She had worked for many years with disabled students and so had insights into working with certain types of student that other candidates did not have.

“Ashraf speaks languages that no other member of staff speaks and shares many experiences with some of our students. This gives her added insight into how they are feeling and facilitates communication with families.”

Smiling outside what she defines as “the most wonderful place” she ever worked in, Ashraf is now satisfied and keeps studying to improve her teaching skills.

Luol Deng: A man to look up to

By Carlos Villegas

Team GB’s basketball star, winner of three major sportsmanship awards because of his ethical behaviour, fair play, and integrity on the court. A Sudanese refugee  who has not forgot his roots and works hard to bring education and sports to millions of displaced children in USA , UK and Sudan.   He plays for the Chicago Bulls in the USA as well as the UK team.  

Luol was only five when he had to flee Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War to go to Egypt with his siblings and was separated from his father for several years.  They were reunited when Luol moved to the UK when he was 10 following the decision to grant his father asylum in 1993.

His first impressions of the UK was that the country was “very clean with a lot of glass buildings”.  He lived in Brixton at the time which he felt was special.  It felt it was like a family – everyone the same – with similar problems.  Young migrant men were focused on getting better at sport, particularly basketball.  “..we needed to stick closer, work as a team and try harder to improve ourselves”. It was tough though, not speaking the language.  Now Luol continues to speak his native Dinka with his family but also speaks Arabic and English and is learning Masai.

Luol believes that it is very important that kids do not forget their roots, their mother tongue and their culture.  He felt that his Dinka language and culture gave him and his family a unique identity, strong family values, respect for his parents’ teachings and the desire to work hard and smarter in a different education system.

He became a British citizen in 2006 and says that he didn’t have problems integrating into British society.  “I came young and it was easy to learn the language.”  His respect for his parents meant that he was always focussed on having the right attitudes, not causing trouble, and being disciplined.  He says that the family always thought that they would be successful.

His father remains one of the biggest inspirations of his life.  He came from a humble background from a small village and rose to become the Minister of Education and Transportation in Sudan.  All of his family are doing well in the UK despite their struggles in his early life.

Luol was drafted into the NBA when he was 19.  He currently plays for the Chicago Bulls.  Away from the court, he has set up the Luol Deng Foundation to help children in South Sudan, USA and the UK who have not been as fortunate as himself. He believes it’s important not to be self centred and says “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”.

Parliament Week shows that Parliament is open to everyone

By Penny McLean

Photograph © UK Parliament


As part of Parliament Week 2012 Simple Acts is launching an online activity “Tell Your MP”, aimed at engaging migrants and refugees with the UK Parliament. Parliament Week (19-25 November 2012) aims to inform, connect and engage people across the UK with Parliamentary democracy. Coordinated by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Parliament Week looks at the people, places and events that shape democracy in the UK and offers something for everyone including migrants and refugees.

Across the UK, charities, schools, museums and community groups are organising events and online activities that demonstrate how you can engage with different aspects of democracy in the UK. One example is the online activity “Tell Your MP”, developed by Dijana Rakovic, Project Manager of Simple Acts. Dijana says, “Simple Acts is about inspiring individuals to use small, everyday actions to change perceptions of refugees.”

Dijana says, “With the “Tell Your MP” activity, we hope to create an online platform for both refugees and politicians to engage effectively with one another around issues of parliamentary democracy in the UK, e.g. how refugees can get more involved in the work of Parliament.” She adds, “We are really excited about Parliament Week and would like to see more of these initiatives from our Parliament.”
Refugees and migrants have fled and come to the UK from countries with a range of governance systems. For both migrants and refugees, UK parliamentary democracy will be new and many may not know the different ways that they can get involved in Parliament.

Although some migrants and refugees do not have the right to vote in the UK national or local elections, they can still engage with other parts of the parliamentary process, such as by visiting their MP to voice their concerns about important issues; by visiting Parliament to watch debates in the House of Commons or the House of Lords; by attending select committees which scrutinise the work of government; or by going on a free tour of Parliament organised by their MP.

Members of both Houses of Parliament will be taking part in Parliament Week events, providing the public with the opportunity to engage with key decision-makers at the centre of British politics, as well as with the institution that makes it all happen.

For the latest list of events or to find out how you can get involved visit:



Follow Parliament Week on twitter and facebook

Prose in Plight, an evening at Poetry Café

by Hasani Hasani

Writers Abol Froushan and Mogib Hassan presenting at the Exiled Lit Cafe. Photo by Álvaro Moliner.

“Apartheid is the period I grew up in and it is the reason I came to the UK,” said Shereen Pandit an exiled writer from South Africa as she took to the microphone at a recent “Exiled Lit” event in London.

Held at the Poetry Café in Betterton Street in London’s Covent Garden each month, the Exiled Lit event, organised by Exiled Writers Ink, has, for the past twelve years, been offering a platform to writers like Shereen to share their experiences through reading poetry and prose.

Founded by Jennifer Langer, the child of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Exiled Writers Ink has become the destination of choice for international writers who face persecution in their home countries because of their writing.

Every first Monday of the month (except bank holidays when it is on the second Monday of the month), the basement of Poetry Café on 22 Betterton Street WC2H 9BX hosts exiled writers from different countries, whether living in the UK or just passing through, to read their work.

At the most recent event, four writers: Shereen Pandit (South Africa), Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian (both from Iran) and Mogib Hassan (Yemen) shared the stage. The evening offered prose writers a chance to share their work – a change from other events.

“In the past, our events have focused on poetry, so writers of short stories and novels may have felt excluded over the years. We felt it was high time to give prose writers the chance to share their work, as well as poets,” said Abol Froushan, chairperson of Exiled Writers Ink.

Shereen read from her first novel ‘Burnt Child’, which chronicles the life of a South African exile in London. A lawyer by profession, Shereen came to the UK with her husband in 1987 and has won the Booktrust London Award among other short story prizes. Back in South Africa during the Apartheid era she was political activist; this put her life in danger of the governing regime and she sought sanctuary in the UK.   “I wanted to struggle for our freedom like other young people were doing,” she said.

Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian read two short stories, ‘Family Problems’, and ‘Anxiety’ respectively. The massive censorship by the notorious Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran meant half of Navid’s work could not be published. In Iran, a ‘best-seller’ can only hope to sell between 3,000 to 5,000 copies despite a population of 70million, said Navid.

Mogib Hassan was attacked and detained last year in Yemen at the height of the Arab Spring. Born in Yemen and now a citizen of the Netherlands, Mogib came face to face with state brutality when he went back to his home country. “You cannot help to be an activist when you go back, because everything is possible”, said Mogib.

To find out more about Exiled Writers Ink and similar events go to www.exiledwriters.co.uk or email


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.