How to Engage on Hyper-local Level with Migrants and Refugees

On Saturday, I attended the NetrootsUK conference in central London with a few other MRCF digital activists. The event was billed as the first ever gathering of digital activists in the UK and as a training ground for progressives to counter the Coalition’s budget cuts. I presented at the ‘Engaging on a hyper-local level online‘ workshop about both MRCF’s work with digital activists and in our work engaging in local politics.

Here are some notes from my presentation:

First, I shared MRCF’s report on how migrants and refugees participate in local political process. This report provides recommendations on how migrant and refugee community organisations (MRCO’s) can engage with local politicians and how local politicians can build relationships and work with MRCO’s in their areas. You can download a PDF copy here.

Second, I shared three observations from MRCF’s Digital Activism Project:

1. Migrants and refugees suffer from the same paralysing fear of technology as many others. I wrote more extensively about overcoming fear in a previous post, but will mention now that while fear is a barrier for many people, many participants in our project had additional fears related to how personal information online can effect immigration status.

2. Many individuals are suspicious of local government’s motivation for engagement. After years of consultation, many MRCO’s suffer from ‘participation fatigue’ from spend endless hours completing surveys or attending to focus groups with no real action afterwards.

3. MRCO’s are not democratic institutions that necessarily represent migrant communities. Internal politics, along with leaders who sometimes act as gatekeepers, can conflate community and individual interests. MRCO’s have expert knowledge about how to engage with their community but should not be asked to represent or replace full participation of their members in mainstream institutions. The goal of integration is for migrants to have full participation in mainstream institutions, not create parallel or sub-institutions.

3 Tips for Engaging with Migrant and Refugee Communities

1. Don’t do engagement for engagement’s sake. Consider what real resources and actions you can take after you ‘engage’. If it is just ticking the consultation box, you might be re-enforcing ‘participation fatigue’. Many migrant and refugee organisations feel burnt from endless consultation and no action.

2. Start by building offline relationships with community leaders. How? Attend their events before inviting them to yours.

3. Mobile phones are an overlooked and underutilised tool for organising.

MRCF conducts ongoing engagement with local politicians around London. If you would like more information about our work, please check out our Research & Policy work.

Here is the video of our session at NetrootsUK:

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