2015 – The Year of “Welcome”
Zrinka Bralo, Executive Director
What a year it has been for migrants and refugees and for The Forum!
In the face of the enormous suffering that is being experienced by millions of people on the move, it is a true honour and privilege to be part of an emerging movement of welcome amongst our fellow citizens in Britain and across Europe – citizens who are choosing to do the right thing, and to be on the right side of the history.
So much has happened in the past twelve months that I will not be able to do justice to all the good work done, so here are just a few of my personal highlights:
In January, I completed my Churchill Fellowship report Exploring community organising models for migrants and minorities, about the lessons learned from migrant and refugee community organising initiatives in the US. I shared my findings with our Trustees and the team, to learn from our colleagues’ successes and to better inform our work.
In February, our staff and Trustees met for a strategic planning day. The future looked bleak, as the funding for our work is reducing while the need for our services is increasing. Our resilience kicked in, and we realized that migration is a fact of life for us. We had to stop reacting to negative scaremongering and start organising – inside and out.
In March, our members spoke out against indefinite immigration detention. They bravely contributed to the excellent cross-party Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom. We thank them for their courage in taking a stand. This was not easy, as many of them are still stuck in immigration limbo, but working with our mentors and advice workers, they developed the confidence not only to have a voice, but to act together for change.
Also in March, together with our partner UN Refugee Agency, we held our fourth Women on the Move Awards as a part of the Women of the World Festival in at Southbank Centre. Annie Lennox , Livia Firth and Samira Ahmed helped us celebrate amazing migrant and refugee women: Sonia Khoury, Chrisann Jarrett and Asma Mohamed Ali and outstanding journalists: Giles Duley and Katie Razzall, and brilliant champion Pauline Hawkes.
In April, we supported groups to hold our first migrant-focused pre-election hustings in Brent and Ealing and registered nearly 5,000 new voters. This was the culmination of a nine month-long Leadership Academy – community organising training for twenty five migrant and refugee community leaders across London.
In May, we stood on the stage of the pre-election Assembly, speaking truth to power. This was the culmination of two years of work and preparation with our sister organization, Citizens UK, on the campaign for dignity for migrants and refugees: to welcome more Syrian refugees, to put a time limit on indefinite immigration detention, and to end the use of pain in deportations. In front of 2,300 delegates, we challenged the political leadership of all political parties – asking them to work with us for better, fairer Britain.
In June, together with Women for Refugee Women, we demonstrated against the detention of women in Yarslwood. With Citizens UK, we met with the Immigration Minister to start negotiations on our Sanctuary pre-election ask to put a time limit on immigration detention. We were also represented at the Feminism Without Borders panel at Glastonbury Music Festival. Life is tough for some of us!
In July, we started developing organising work with partners and migrant and refugee leaders in Bradford, Nottingham, Leeds and Northern Ireland and with young undocumented migrants. Watch this space!
In August, we were hoping for some quiet time, but the Calais crisis could no longer be contained to the parameters of “the Jungle”. We joined the noble movement by thousands of British citizens who took the aid effort into their own hands. We supported the birth of CalAid and World Wide Tribe by the amazing Jaz, James, Ben, Dan and Nils.
In September, the news of the exodus reached our shores – the world was moved by the image of late Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his family in attempt to escape war and destruction. The world could no longer choose not to see hundreds of thousands of desperate people knocking on Europe’s doors. More and more people wanted to do something. With Citizens UK, we led the effort to organise the good will of our fellow citizens. We are the proud founding members of the National Refugee Welcome Board which pressured our government to increase the number of refugees to be welcomed through resettlement programmes from 750 to 20,000.
Ten of our members were amongst the 100 refugees leading the 100,000-strong Refugees Welcome march in London – a great day of solidarity and humanity. The silent majority spoke – we are ready and willing to welcome refugees.
In October, the Welcome Movement lead to the creation of 65 local committees with 45 local authorities formally passing motions to welcome Syrian refugees. With Citizens UK we called for and won a commitment that at least 1,000 refugees will be resettled before Christmas – 50 local authorities took part in resettlement schemes, meaning that 1,000 people are now safe in the UK. More than £3 million was pledged in scholarships by Universities around the country and the National Refugee Welcome Board started developing a private sponsorship scheme to help bring an additional 50,000 Syrian refugees. We handed over your donations to CalAid and visited Calais with a group of faith leaders.
In November, we stood in solidarity with the citizens of Paris. We continued our work on the Detention Working Group and in parliament to bring an end to indefinite detention. Our new intake of students in the Leadership Academy is getting ready for action in 2016.
We entered the world of fiction in the new novel by legendary Edna O’Brien, The Little Red Chairs. Our work featured on Croatian TV and Czech Radio, as well Dutch newspapers, and our Blog was shortlisted for the Amnesty International Media Awards.
In December, we were in Brussels for the launch of our Together in Europe toolkit for mobile European citizens, and a culmination of a year-long partnership with civil society in London, Warsaw, Cologne and Berlin.
We also saw the launch of our local Refugee Welcome Committee in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and we supported the launch of the National Register of Private Sponsors.
We celebrated with our members Stephen and Onome, who won their appeal to stay after more than eight years of struggle. We held most amazing, super diverse Christmas party at the Forum. Finally, our Sewing Class created their own fashion label Create Sunshine for All and completely sold out of all their creations!
Of course, this short list doesn’t do justice to all the good work that we did this year. It is impossible to thank all the brilliant people and organisations we worked with – our volunteers, mentors, pro-bono lawyers, designers, musicians, writers, and our members. You all deserve a huge “thanks” for making the Forum home away from home.
We are truly grateful to our funders and all who made donations and supported our work – including those schools and individuals who made gifts and gave donations. As little as £5 makes a huge difference in the lives of people who are already here and face multiple barriers to integration.
I often use the word ‘we’, and that ‘we’ refers to our brilliant Trustees, our wonderful 100+ volunteers, and the most amazing, capable, powerful, compassionate and hardest working staff team in the universe: Francesca, Jessica, Ffion and Clare.
To hear more and meet our members and the team, please come to our Annual Meeting on January 28, 2016 to celebrate with us the beginning of an organised stage of our work under our new name, and with heaps of new energy and ideas for a better, more just and welcoming Britain.
Thank you for your support, for extraordinary good will and the most amazing year of welcome!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!