The Forum’s 20th Anniversary

19 December 2013
Zrinka Bralo

2013  at The Forum was a year as great as it was challenging. The challenges come from a hostile policy and public environment in which immigrants continue to be blamed for all kinds of social problems. The challenges also come from a lack of resources to deal with an increase in demand for advice, advocacy and support by very vulnerable people. But a hostile environment is nothing new for us and with a help of inspiring members, committed partners, amazing supporters, and the army of the most brilliant volunteers and interns, we continue to work for the right of all migrants and refugees to be treated with dignity and respect and to be given a helping hand at what is often the most difficult time in their lives.

The past year was tough because we said goodbye to  Nick Micinski, Beth Crosland, Indrė Gimžiūnaitė and Mahdi Omar, valued colleagues who made enormous contribution to The Forum as team members, passionate campaigners and friends. Our chair, Waris Mohamoud, also stood down after many years and we are very grateful for her service. We welcomed two new babies at The Forum this year: Indre gave birth to baby boy Adi and Francesca gave birth to baby boy Pietro!

In October, Jessica Kennedy joined the Forum as a Development Coordinator and thanks to the grant from Unbound Philanthropy, we are about to recruit our first Community Organiser, which reflects shift in our strategy, resulting form learning and partnership working with our friends at the Citizens UK .  We have updated our constitution, restructured our resources and work plan in order to be more responsive to a fast changing external environment.

With our partners, Migrants’ Rights Network and UNHCR, for the third year running, we are delivering the re-branded Woman on the Move Awards. This year, at the Royal Festival Hall, during theWomen of the World Festival, we celebrated five amazing women and thanks to your support and support from our funders we were able to produce five short films that promote their work and achievements.

In November we marked our 20th anniversary at a Celebration event at Amnesty International Human Rights Centre, attended by more than a hundred of our members and supporters. It is hard for us to even just list all our achievements over the years and the hundreds if not thousands people who made it all happen. So for our 20th birthday we decided to tell some of the stories that makes us proud and that will inspire our future work. That is why our speakers on the night were our members and supporters who are part of our story, our funders who help us deliver our work and speak out, and journalists who help us have voice,  report our stories truthfully and tell our stories when we cannot speak for ourselves.

We were delighted and honoured that broadcaster Samira Ahmed, Fergal Keane, BBC Special Correspondent and Bharat Mehta, CEO of Trust for London spoke at our Anniversary. We also heard from our valued members Agnes Swamba and Onome Ugbeye, and our amazing volunteers Jeff Samuelson and Ujwala Jayaram, people who make The Forum what it is – home away from home. We screened all five short films about the 2013 winners of the Woman on the Move Awards and heard from the winner of the Young Woman of the Year Award, Cynthia Masiyiwa. The celebration ended with a routine from fantastic comedian and campaigner Kate Smurthwaite.

Forum 20years 36“It is important to see the long term effect of giving support and giving welcome to refugees. It does not happen overnight. It isn’t just a about tackling a bit of racism, it is understanding that it takes time. I have been very conscious as a journalist, that it is very easy to look for positive story… particularly in London, about amazing children who came as refugees and had got a place at Cambridge to read Medicine. And those stories are great, and important and empowering, but it is also important that not all people need to have that kind of outcome to be judged to be worthy to be here. That is a quiet achievement of having made a place in London and in this country, and having made a place in the community that really counts, and not just exceptional stories that journalists seek out that should be celebrated. I think that is what The Forum does, and in the current climate of general hostility toward immigration in every sense it is even more important to think about individual stories and measuring  individual success in a different way.Samira Ahmed, Writer and Broadcaster

Forum 20years 48It has been a struggle, on many occasions in the nearly thirty years as a foreign correspondent, particularly one who specialises in reporting from conflict zones, it has been a struggle to keep about me a sense of optimism…  What I am sustained by, and what gives me cause for optimism is what people like you do, because there is in our world no shortage of rhetoric… you could power the universe with electricity if we hooked up to all the warm air, mellifluous warm air, that flows from the international community around these issues. But what you do is practical, it is reasoned, it works with very limited resources, but above all it remembers and recognises people as individuals. And when somebody comes through your door, after fleeing from an oppressive regime, how wonderful it must be to sit opposite a human being who smiles at you, and remembers that you are another human being. Congratulations to you!”  Fergal Keane BBC Special Correspondent

Forum 20years 41London is the powerhouse, and it is a powerhouse for the variety of reasons. One of those most important reasons is the flow of people. The fact is that people come here and provide that engine for the rest of Britain. So you are to be congratulated…  As migrants we are often persecuted, ignored, as Samira said the racism that goes on, the discrimination… But in the face of all that is tremendous achievement and The Forum’s 20 years is something significant to be celebrated. The Trust is very, very happy to fund The Forum and we have a long history of doing so… we see it as a cornerstone of the work that you as organisations are doing.” Bharat Mehta, CEO, Trust for London.

Forum 20years 27I have  been at The Forum for 12 years and I have an amazing job. It can be tough. There are days when we deal with more misery in a day than most people see in years. But despite the misery and hostile environment, I have thrived at the Forum, not because of who I am, but because of the people I have come to know.  Inspiring, brave, creative, tough, decent people from all over the world and amazing British people who help us recover from our traumas and in the process recover our faith in humanity.  It is that collective power of the Forum’s people that gave confidence to me and thousands of others like me to own our stories, to speak out and fight for justice. I am honoured and proud to be here tonight.”  Zrinka Bralo,  CEO 

 Photos by Beth Crosland

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