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]

research

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

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

Photo by Craig Cloutier

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 that she could be relocated anywhere in the UK as many times as the UKBA considers it necessary. Following the new guidance on pregnancy and dispersal established in July 2012 by the UKBA a “protected period” of four weeks before and after the birth was introduced. During this period a pregnant woman cannot be dispersed.

Yet a 2013 report by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action, When maternity doesn’t matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum*, points out that the guidance does not take into account pregnant women’s mental well-being and health needs. The report highlights the risks to which this vulnerable group is being exposed. It is the result of exhaustive interviews with twenty women who have been dispersed during their preganancy.

The report shows that sometimes women have had serious health conditions such as HIV and diabetes or other factors such as depression and high levels of stress that put them at risk during pregnancy; frequently when women are relocated they are separated from family, friends, and healthcare arrangements and they are thusforced to give birth alone. In some cases women were dispersed against medical advice and journeys caused additional health and psychological problems; sometimes they were moved several times and accommodation was unsuitable because of lack of space, hygiene, inadequate food and overcrowded spaces. Moreover, interviewees found that they had insufficient money for essential needs such as clothes or food for their new born.

Dana, one of the interviewed women said “It was freezing (December 29th) but if I didn’t go I would lose my money. For £35 I left my baby. Two hours after I gave birth I left the hospital to go to the post office. The nurses said, ‘No you are not allowed to take the baby with you because you are not fine.’ I said, ‘No I have to go because she doesn’t have clothes. I have to buy clothes.’ So when she was born for two hours she didn’t have any clothes so they covered her with towels.”

The report concluded with a series of recommendations aiming to improve the conditions of pregnant asylum seekers, raising awareness about their care needs especially when they have been exposed to traumatic and violent situations in the past.

*When maternity doesn’t matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum a research report by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action (February 2013)

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