We are leaving behind a challenging year for immigration: both in terms of the experience of people seeking protection or trying to integrate in the UK and in the public perception of migrants. 2014 has broken two tragic records: 1. the number of refugees, now at its highest since WW2 and 2. the lives lost during desperate attempts to reach European shores. It has been disheartening to experience the uncaring responses of EU governments, who seem to believe that saving lives in the Mediterranean or providing sanctuary to Syrians will lose them elections.
It has been equally disheartening in the UK to see the passage of yet another Immigration Act, which amongst other restrictive measures denies driving licenses to unregulated migrants and turns private landlords into border guards. Our voices – refugee and migrant screams for humanity, justice, facts and fairness – were drowned in a pre-election race to the bottom. The terms of the so-called ‘debate’ have been set by scaremongering, myths and perceptions, which somehow have became more important than facts and truth.
Was that all that happened? In the spirit of Christmas and glass-half-full hopeful attitude that we need to survive in our world, let’s try to examine the good things that happened in 2014:
As restrictive as the Immigration Act is, working with colleagues from Citizens UK we were able to influence government to introduce an amendment that would effectively make it illegal for any future government to start locking children up in immigration detention. Yes, there are still problems with some children being detained, but we are at least on the right track.
The Forum and MRN were joined this year by UNHCR for the re-branded Woman on the Move Awards. The ceremony at the South Bank during the Women of the World Festival was a great success. Our winners went on to front campaigns, as Tatiana Garavito with Migrants Contribute did; win other awards as Diana Nammi did, winning Barclays woman of the year and 100 BBC Women in 2014; and raise funds to open a centre for the first migrant forum in Northern Ireland, as Lillian Seenoi did. This year’s media award recognized unusual suspect AA Gill for his brilliant series of articles on refugees in n DRC, Jordan and Lampedusa published in The Sunday Times Magazine. The Broadcasting award went to Sue Lloyd Roberts for the story about women seeking protection from female genital mutilation who are denied sanctuary in the UK.
Three days after the Awards Ceremony, three refugee women chaired a 150 person Citizens UK Diaspora Assembly which decided on issues which will be taken to the national organising movement as asks for the next general elections. As West London members of Citizens UK, we led a campaign to ensure our concerns are amongst top 5 in the 2015 Manifesto which we will be taking to all party leaders at the 4th debate in May next year. We want Dignity for Syrian refugees, who are welcomed in Britain. We want a time limit on immigration detention, as well as judicial oversight, and we believe British citizens and residents who marry immigrants should not be required to earn more than a Living Wage!
In May, our new colleague Krissie Nicolson started organising migrant communities to register to vote in local and EU elections. In just a few weeks, working with 11 community leaders, we saw 4,857 new voters registered. Nicely done!
In June we joined the sisterhood of campaigners from all over the world at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, led by Angelina Jolie no less. In solidarity with thousands of women from all over the world we spoke out against violence in conflict and reminded the Summit that women should be treated better in receiving countries too.
Throughout the summer we listened to our members who told us the most difficult thing about building a new life in the UK is loneliness. This made us even more determined to preserve our Mentoring Programme and continue to provide English classes and activities with Live Music Now and English PEN. What is the good news here? The good news is our amazing, supportive and committed volunteers and mentors – over 70 in all – who make such a difference to our members’ lives, but also fill our souls with hope that good people are out there and they want to help!
These volunteers joined other supporters at our summer party, where our members spoke and performed poems and songs, helping to raise over £5,000 through on online platform for activities from English classes to music sessions. It is not late to make a donation that can help our members who are on cashless benefits or no income at all to attend English classes, mentoring sessions and other activities. Please DONATE online via Charity Choice.
In July, Zrinka Bralo had our 5 minutes of fame in BBC Analysis speaking out for fundamental principles of refugee protection.
In August, we made submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention, and we helped 12 of our members who were detained to submit their personal testimonies. Two of our members testified in front of the Inquiry at the House of Commons. No one can say now that they do not know how we lock up migrants and refugees with no judicial oversight and how badly they are treated in our name and with our money.
In September, we launched our Community Leadership Academy, organising training for 23 leaders from diverse communities, with the aim to increase their participation and drive voter registration for the 2015 elections.
In October, we helped to organize a vigil to remember those who have died in immigration detention and launch our call for an end to indefinite detention. Over 150 people came to join the call for call, and listen to one of our members share his story of detention.
In November, we co-organised the first ever Sanctuary Summit in Birmingham and helped to draft the Birmingham Declaration – a set of principles and asks that we as citizens wish to see implemented in treatment of refugees and migrants. The partnership and solidarity with other colleagues is good news in itself, but the support for the Declaration is beyond our expectations! At present nearly 240 organisations signed it. There is still time to add your support. A new and exciting movement is born!
In November we completed our European project against hate speech online. The Light On project has produced various tools to combat hate speech and increased our capacity to continue to fight against hate as a part of our everyday work.
President Obama did the right thing in November, using his executive power to open a pathway to regularization for nearly six million undocumented migrants in the US. True victory for an organized migrant movement in the US! Watch and learn Britain. Watch and learn.
In other good news, research from University College found that European migrants to the UK are not a drain on Britain’s finances and pay out far more in taxes than they receive in state benefits, making a net contribution of £20bn to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011; whilst research from University of Bristol concluded that the work ethic of immigrant families leads to better exam results in GCSC in London: “There is nothing inherently different in the educational performance of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds (when compared to the rest of England) but the children of relatively recent immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education and are, on average, consequently likely to be more engaged with their school work”.
According to British Future’s ‘How to Talk About Immigration’ report, the Great British public is more likely to trust a naturalized immigrant who has been in the UK for more than 15 years than any politician from any political party. Fair and just British public, always able to dismiss scaremongering!
The myth that foreigners abuse the NHS was also busted by research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and York University, which found that eighteen hospitals earned £42m from foreigners in 2010. Medical tourists spent an estimated £219m on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transport in the UK. The researchers also found that more people leave the UK seeking medical treatment abroad than arrive in this country for care.
On 2nd December The European Court of Justice ruled that refugees who claim asylum on the grounds that they are homosexual or lesbian should not have to undergo humiliating tests to prove it, saying that states must respect human dignity.
In December, with many of our members and guests we celebrated our 21st Birthday! Not only that we are still here, still standing, but we have launched a new national membership programme, which reflects our work with nearly 60 groups around the country and will help us to build a more powerful movement of migrant and refugee community organisations and supporters who stand in solidary with us!
Throughout the year we celebrated with our members who won their court cases and asylum applications – although being able to stay in the UK presented our members with new set of problems in the form of a bureaucratic system not set up to help them. Despite the obstacles, and in the spirit of glass-half-full, we are very happy for all of them!
So there you have it, some good news to help us prepare for 2015! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
May the force be with you!