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]

migrant

English classes: the key to integration

English classes

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 “hard facts” favoured by politicians – we were able to show that refugees’ second highest priority after feeling safe and secure was learning English. Indeed they placed more emphasis on the importance of speaking English than the policymakers who completed the same survey. Unfortunately refugees’ desire to learn English was frequently thwarted with many unable to attend language lessons and even more refugees finding that they did not make the progress they needed to get on in life. Our data supports earlier interview based research that showed refugees were being excluded from lessons through lack of childcare provision or high costs and that many of those who attended found lessons to be of low quality.

Furthermore we show there is no evidence whatsoever that forming social networks with friends, people of the same faith, or relatives makes refugees less likely to engage more widely. Indeed the opposite was true. Networks with friends and family led to formation of networks with other groups and organisations. Most problematic for integration was the lack of social networks. Those without them fared worse in health and employment terms while individuals who not only had networks, but were in frequent contact with those networks, the healthiest. Ability to speak English was crucial in the formation of networks and for good health and accessing employment.

So rather than focusing on “bad” networks we need to recognise the critical role of all networks in helping refugees to settle and perhaps focus on poor access to ESOL classes. Investing in quality language lessons and ensuring decent outcomes for refugees would overcome many of the key barriers to refugee settlement and ensure they can develop the wide range of social networks they need to get on with their life in the UK.

Social networks, social capital and  refugee integration by Dr Sin Yi Cheung, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University and Dr Jenny Phillimore, Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/social-policy/departments/applied-social-studies/news-and-events/2013/04/social-networks-social-capital-refugee-integration.aspx

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!

 

I REMEMBER

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.

DESTITUTE

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.

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 Jennifer@exiledwriters.fsnet.co.uk

 

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.