At Migrants Organise we believe that if refugees and migrants are given half a chance, and provided with help at the start of their journeys, they can rebuild their lives and make a positive contribution in their communities.
Our organising for systemic change is lead by the principle of justice and dignity for refugees and migrants, because too often dignity is stripped away in media coverage, in policy making, and in the lived experience that directly results from these two factors.
The Community Programme is a big part of this model of organising.
In response to the government’s hostile environment agenda, which systematically targets migrants in every aspect of their daily lives (the right to work, access to healthcare, access to the right to study, access to driving, bank accounts, protection from the police, housing and so forth), we have created a community where each of its members can feel included and safe.
“They are like my family that I’ve got here, somebody you can cry on their shoulders and they are ready to help you”―PO
“They embrace everybody, no matter what colour, no matter what religion, no matter what language, they show you love, they make you feel accepted in society.”―KR
Our work is highly specialist and intensive: our community approach allows us to spend more time with each individual and provide a comprehensive, responsive support package that is more detailed than most other frontline support services have the space to develop.
Each person who is referred and accepted into the Community Programme will be able to access the different projects at the same time. Our aim is to create a safe space where vulnerable migrants and refugees are able to always turn to no matter what they need, throughout the process of adapting and settling in the UK.
The distinctive feature of the Community Programme at Migrants Organise, therefore, as the name suggests, is its focus on creating a community for migrants and refugees.
The programme started as a mentoring scheme, created specifically to help migrants and refugees (whom we call members) to feel less alone in a new environment.
The mentoring scheme matches them with a volunteer mentor, who can provide them with one-to-one emotional and personal support. They would meet at least once a week all around London.
Many of the matches, however, would eventually develop strong relationships – our mentors would often contact us, and even other organisations, on behalf of their mentees when they faced a problem.
This was then supplemented by the various socio-educational classes and activities that we organise. These classes and activities are constantly changing, mainly depending on members’ interests.
Currently, we run English language classes, a wellbeing class, a sewing group, a football group, a voice group and the recently added theatre group.
The main aim of the classes and activities is not only to educate our members or provide them with new skills, but to provide them with a space where they can meet people who are going through similar problems. The flexibility of the classes and activities also allows some of our members to contribute to the community: our football group, for example, was started and coordinated by one of our own members.
The same ethos of creating a safe and supportive space and community was maintained even as the Community Programme eventually expanded to offer welfare and legal advice and casework support. Unlike many other services, the Community Programme does not have a specific list of things that we help our members with (which, of course, makes funding applications fantastically difficult).
“The day I came to Migrants Organise, in 2016 I saw some light. I spoke to the staff who said they’d find me a solicitor, and apply for legal aid. They gave me a small grant and helped me find clothes for my boys. I thought maybe there is a hope. I had been desperate and my mind could not take it.”―Moromoke
Read Moromke’s story here
We help with claiming the NHS low income scheme and advising our members on registering with a GP. We provide advice on all the different welfare benefits, assisting with requesting mandatory reconsiderations and even representing some of our members on appeal.
We advocate for our members to local authorities on various issues involving housing and community care, and with the NHS on overseas charging issues. We give immigration advice, help to apply for exceptional case funding, refer our members to legal aid solicitors, help them raise a complaint against solicitors, and often assist with the progress of the case.
We also help our members apply for various destitution grants and apply for educational courses and volunteering opportunities.
There are, of course, many issues which are beyond our expertise. But whenever we are unable to provide the advice internally, we help our members find the support that they need and continue to ensure that they receive quality support.
In carrying our day-to-day work, we are also extremely proud of the warm and welcoming environment that, we believe, can be felt the moment someone steps into the office.
We have a small office in Ladbroke Grove, which is often filled with our members and their families. No one at Migrants Organise has complete ownership of their desk or office, which means that even our chief executive is sometimes ‘evicted’ from her room when one of our members needs somewhere private for advice.
We also introduce new members to all staff and volunteers, including those who are not working in the Community Programme.
Our team members speak 10 community languages.
“When I come here, I feel like I am at Home, I am seating in the sofa, I am taking my tea, I know everyone, Zrinka, Francesca, everyone is great. In another organisations people do not know you by name. Here I know everyone. They feel like family.”
As a result, many of our members often come to the office even when they do not have any appointments. When they attend classes, for example, they often still drop by the office to say hello. Some decide to volunteer at the office, helping with things like administrative matters, while some eventually become volunteer mentors themselves.
The holistic and intensive nature of the Community Programme, of course, has its downsides. We have a relatively small capacity and often have to refuse those who we think are eligible to receive help from other services. We accept referrals based on who would benefit from our approach the most, and this typically means vulnerable people such as single parents and those suffering from mental illnesses.
The ongoing service that we provide also means that there is always a risk of some members becoming overly dependent, and continuing to return for help even years after their immigration issues are sorted and they have become settled in the UK. It therefore becomes a difficult balance of maintaining a flexible support, while ensuring that our members truly learn how to adapt to their new environment.
We are therefore constantly learning from our experiences.
Virtually anyone who leaves their home will find it difficult to step into an existing community, but migrants and refugees – those who need community support the most – face a particular struggle in finding it when they arrive in the UK.
Migrants Organise supports migrants in building these vital networks to ensure they can face the difficulties that the state throws at them in safety, and surrounded by care and support.
Through our mentoring programme, we match our members with volunteer mentors who provide ongoing personal and emotional support.
The mentoring programme continues to provide crucial support for our members, who face increasing isolation and loneliness as a result of the current government’s hostile environment policy.
At any given time we have between 35 and 40 mentoring matches.
Our classes and activities encourage friendship and a sense of community amongst our members. We have 231 members participating in 13 different classes and activities at the moment.
This year, we started our Migrants Women’s Rights group, where our female members take charge of the different activities that they want to do. The activity aims to equip them with new skills, while at the same time providing them with a sense of ownership over their lives. This is helping improve their mental health and overall wellbeing.
The casework advice and support that we provide encompasses a whole range of issues, from assistance with writing CVs and looking for volunteering opportunities, to ongoing casework relating to NHS overseas charges, Section 17 referrals, homelessness applications, welfare benefits applications and appeals, etc.
Immigration status affects almost all available statutory assistance. Many migrants without a status often face a multitude of issues, and those who are vulnerable will not be able to manage seeking assistance in different places for each distinct issue. This is the gap we seek to fill.
We continue to work with a barrister from No5 Chambers to provide ongoing legal support to our members. This primarily concerns immigration advice, however, we also assist in other areas, including (but not limited to), social welfare, housing, community care, mental health, mental capacity, and even family and crime.
Our Legal Organiser has become full-time this year in response to the increasing need of legal support, particularly for vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
Our partnership with the UCL Laws Centre Access to Justice remains ongoing. We recruit 2-3 students every 6 months to help with our casework, which provides law students with practical hands-on experience. This will encourage them to do publicly funded work in the future.
This is coupled with an annual lecture on immigration and human rights law. Last year’s lecture raised the issue of mental capacity in the immigration system. Judge McCloskey, who was president of the UK’s Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, was our keynote speaker
Last year we have opened 460 cases for welfare advice and support and 241 cases for legal advice – 92 of which have been successfully resolved.
The MMCA Project is our strategic work under the Community Programme, reflecting our expertise in working with individuals with ongoing mental health issues.
We are currently the only project in England & Wales which offers support and assistance to vulnerable migrants who lack mental capacity to engage with the immigration system, such as to provide instructions to their solicitor or to litigate in an appeal. We are creating a network of professional litigation friends who can act for vulnerable migrants who do not have anyone else to turn to for help and so far have recruited 20 legal professionals as our litigation friends.