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]

migrants

ignorant ian

By Rhiannon Hughes

 

 

 

Camden Lock Market: A taste of the world, a recipe for success

By Georgie Knaggs

Joe Timur of Sonita’s Kitchen in the West Yard of Camden Lock Market. Photo by Georgie Knaggs.

Camden Lock Market, one of London’s most popular craft markets, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The market is one of the many in Camden that together receive some 15m visitors each year. The job of feeding these crowds falls in part to the chefs in the West Yard. Here the cooking is personal – recipes are learned at home and flavoured with tastes from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Take for example Sonita’s Kitchen, run by Joe and Sonita Timur. Joe, born in Turkey, is half Turkish and half English while his wife is from the Punjab state in northwest India. They sell fragrant, delicately spiced curries cooked without butter or ghee.

“It’s a really good market because it’s known as a food market,” says Joe Timur. “People come here specifically to eat.”

The West Yard at weekends probably hosts a sample of the whole world to a lunch break with visitors and stallholders alike.

A little further along, Danish Mirza, the chef from Food in the Middle, is a chartered accountant from Pakistan. He worked in the City for eight years but now he sells paratha wraps, a popular street food in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

“I always wanted to do my own thing,” he explains. “Karachi is a cosmopolitan city and people are always on the run,” adds Mirza. “They are getting your traditional tikka and selling it in wraps. I went one step further and took my food, which is much healthier than street food, and put that into wraps.”

The West Yard has an ever-changing selection of food.  On some days, within the space of a couple of hundred yards, there will be the saffron colours of Spanish paella across from bright piles of French macaroons.  Barbecued Turkish kebabs might be found next to a pitch selling cauldrons of fresh English soup.  The macaroni and cheese stall advertising a dessert of deep-fried Oreos might rub shoulders with the wide front of the Chinese stall selling dumplings and noodles.  There might be Italian pizza, Jamaican jerk wraps, Japanese sushi, sweet French crepes, and to finish it all there will almost always be the warmth of Ethiopian coffee.

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:

http://www.parliamentweek.org/
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/
http://counterpointsarts.org.uk/projects/
http://www.simpleacts.org.uk/

Follow Parliament Week on twitter and facebook

Focus on migration at the Tate

By Shirvan Arslan

'Between the Two My Heart is Balanced' by Lubaina Himid. Photograph © Lubaina Himid

The Migrations: Journey into British Arts exhibition at Tate Britain explores the rich contribution of immigrants to British Arts. As a German with Kurdish-Armenian roots, the museum’s promise that it would “reveal how British Art has been fundamentally shaped by migration” aroused high expectations within me. Sadly it failed to deliver. The exhibition begins with a portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington, by the Dutch artist Marcus Gheeraerts in 1592. The visitor is then taken on a journey from the 16th century to the 20th century through the work of mainly western European artists. The highlights include Flemish Baroque artist Antony Van Dyck, painter to King Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria; 18th century Swiss artist Angelica Kaufmann; and 20th century German artists Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.

Marcus Gheeraert’ss Portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington.

One of the stand out inclusions is a painting Between the Two My Heart is Balanced, 1991, from African artist Lubaina Himid, who was one of the pioneers of the Black Art movement in the 1980s which put black identity on the artistic agenda.

The exhibition ends with a selection of short films such as Measures of Distance (1988) by the Lebanon director Mona Hatoum, which is a poetic reverie on the pain of separation. There is also a film shot in Mauritania by Algerian born artist Zineb Sedira, that shows the African coastline dotted with ruined buildings and the remains of ships. It represents the hopes of immigrants leaving Africa for a better life in Europe.

A visit to the exhibition is worthwhile, but the link between migrant artists and their influence on British art is not as strong as I had hoped.  The omission of important artists such as British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare, who is best known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism and the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, who designed the Orbit in the Olympic Park, was disappointing.

Migration: Journeys into British Art is at the Tate Britain until 12 August

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.

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.”

Fat or fiction?

By: N. N. Dee

English athlete Jessica Ennis. Photo by Adam Kerfoot-Roberts.

English track and field athlete Jessica Ennis’ personal bests and record-breaking heptathletic feat could not have come at a more opportune time. Only last Friday it was revealed that a “high-ranking” athletics official had described Ennis as “fat”. What is remarkable about this is that anyone looking at Ennis would not dream of attributing to her a label that is so grossly inaccurate.  She is not anywhere near overweight or even chubby – two milestones one would certainly have to arrive at before one could be convincingly called “fat”.

I myself am no athletic official so cannot exactly be considered an authority on matters such as this, but I think that the average person would agree that Ennis’ physique more closely resembles “muscular”, “well-toned”, “strong”, “athletic” or any of a host of other words that do not denote surplus deposits of fatty tissue.

Apart from being untrue, the description of Ennis as “fat’ also reveals something very telling in society today: women are constantly bombarded with unfair and downright erroneous messages about their bodily appearance. The official’s inaccurate comment captures with absolute precision the serious body-image challenge that the typical woman faces today. The official’s voice simply articulated the non-verbal message women face on a daily basis – the fictitious message that physical feminine form achieves its pinnacle in “beauty” – a vague notion of some physical proportional dimensions increasingly being promoted as “ideal”.

Some women desperately aspire to this false (and unhealthy) ideal. They go to great lengths to conform as best they can to achieve what others deem to be an acceptable body image. Lamentably, in the process, many self-destruct, falling prey to depression, eating disorders and/or many other unhealthy behavior patterns.

If female athletes who are in peak physical form face such criticism, what hope is there for typically un-athletic women, who often feel ill equipped to cope and respond effectively when inaccurate and condescending labels are thrown at them? While it is a monumental task to surmount given the sheer volume of messages coming through to women from multiple sources, Jessica Ennis has provided an excellent example of how to deal with such messages.

By clever vowel substitution, Ennis proudly declared that she is “fit”, thereby effectively nullifying the label of being fat, not deigning to engage with the inaccurate label. In other words, she defined herself on her own terms. This act of self-determination and self-mastery of destiny, spells ultimate empowerment.

Even if she were fat (which she clearly is not), she is performing (and excelling!) in her chosen field and that is what matters. If actions speak louder than words, then her smashing of Denise Lewis’ heptathletic record, scream that “fit” is indeed the most appropriate word to describe her physical condition. She has indisputably proved that it would be a fiction to think anything else.

Her approach is flawless: pay less attention to how my body looks and more attention to what I am able to achieve once I put my mind and effort into it. This is the important factor – constructive achievement following applied effort and discipline in honing skill in one’s chosen field. Many women would do well to emulate this model rather than preoccupying themselves with societal messages of emphasis on size and image.

Ennis’ triumphs in Götzis this past weekend are being heralded as predictors of Olympic gold for Team Great Britain at the games, a mere 60 days away. That would be the icing on the cake. To my mind however, the a constructive model of effort and determination over preoccupation with size and image that Ennis demonstrates for girls and women everywhere, is conclusive proof that she is already a true Olympian success.

A Ukrainian Easter in London

By Christina Senechyn

Photo by Amanda Schutz

The spirit of Ukrainian Easter remains strong and essential within the Ukrainian community in the UK. This is the major religious holiday in Ukraine. In the UK, the Ukrainian community still follows the tradition of going to church in the morning and coming home to spend time with family over the traditional supper at the table.

Ukrainian families abroad keep a piece of their traditions in their everyday lives. Easter, in particular, is an important Orthodox holiday in Ukraine. Traditionally, it is important to fast before Easter, a time to cleanse your soul (giving up eggs, meat, and dancing, among other things). A week before Easter, you have Palm Sunday or as the Ukrainians call it, “Pussy Willow” Sunday.

The preparation for Easter is done over the last week of the Lent. The house is cleaned, the traditional food is ready to go in a basket to take to the church in the morning and the family is ready to spend a weekend together after a long week.

The Easter basket should include the following: sausage (a small ring), a root of horseradish, sweet cheese, butter, salt, hard boiled and peeled eggs, dyed eggs, pysanky (traditional Easter eggs), and last but not least Paska, a sweet bread with a candle beside it to be lit when the priest begins the blessing ceremony.

The Easter traditions within the Ukrainian community in the UK have remained stronger within the elder population. Many young Ukrainians also very much respect the Ukrainian culture and traditions away from their home country, although not as passionately as their parents.

“I respect my culture and traditions, I remember them and enjoy celebrating them, although for me it has faded slightly throughout the years, feeling that the time is moving so fast in the city that I simply forget it as years go by”, says British-Ukrainian Katherine. 

Katherine adds that if it wasn’t for her parents she may have slipped away from her Ukrainian culture when coming to live in London. Her parents have kept up with the Ukrainian traditions in London yet not as much as they would have back in their homeland.