Navigating Britain’s dysfunctional and complex asylum system when you speak little English. Trying to overcome trauma and loss in a lonely new city. Attempting to build a new life in a system and culture that is alien to you.
Being a refugee or asylum seeker in the UK can be tough. With hostile environment policies, laws that prevent participation in work and study, and the paralysing uncertainty about what the future holds, surviving – let alone thriving – can feel like an almost impossible challenge.
Similarly, supporting individuals through these experiences; helping them seek justice in an unfriendly and bureaucratic system; and achieving results where funding is scarce and needs are great, is often difficult and gruelling work.
But the story of migration in Britain, and here at Migrants Organise, is also about so much more. For our members – all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers – and for our legal, office, organising, casework, and voluntary staff, migration is about uniting to fight for the rights that we all need and deserve.
It’s about coming together across languages, nationalities, and borders to form communities that are more welcoming and accepting for everyone; it’s the joy and satisfaction that comes from the creation of solid, long-lasting friendships and connections. It’s about strength, resilience, and the ability to overcome adversity; it’s finding a voice and gaining the confidence to speak out. It’s growth, development and the fulfilment of long-held dreams; about contribution and participation. For us, it’s power, dignity and justice – and acknowledging and enabling the humanity of us all.
Taking the time to celebrate this fact is an integral element of our approach – and it’s also just plain fun! That’s why, last Friday, we took time out to hold a party recognising the successes of our members, as well as our volunteers, staff and professional network. In a community hall not far from our Ladbroke Grove base, over 100 people gathered together around food and drink, for speeches, presentations, and music. Members of our Community Programme – which provides holistic, ongoing support for particularly vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – received certificates commending their progress in the English language courses that we run, while members of our poetry group recited powerful pieces that they’d written on the theme of ‘belonging’. Beautiful bags and purses, all made by the women in our sewing group, were on sale – and there was even free ice-cream from Ben and Jerry’s.
Darya, who joined us as a member several years ago and now volunteers to support newer arrivals in the UK, summed up the evening most effectively: “We are here to remind ourselves that we are not alone. Although we are far from our countries and loved ones, we’ve been made to feel at home. We’ve got a new family here at Migrants Organise – we have truly found a family that transcends borders, that spans the globe. Thank you for building such a heavenly nest for us lost birds.”
The Migrants Organise Community Programme provides holistic support to vulnerable migrants and refugees. Consisting of a mentoring scheme, currently working with 42 individuals; welfare and benefits advice, currently supporting 312 people who are unable to access mainstream services; and various classes and activities ranging from a sewing group to a football club, the initiative aims to ensure that people who have migrated or claimed asylum in the UK are able to adapt and integrate well into their new communities.
The Programme also includes a Legal Support Project, via which a direct access accredited immigration barrister provides legal advice and ongoing casework support to our members. To date, we have worked directly with 236 people, who we’ve supported through a variety of immigration-related issues, from problems with housing to instances of trafficking.
Last year, in response to the many complicated problems faced by our members who suffer from mental illness and often lack capacity to make decisions, we also established the Migrants Mental Capacity Advocacy (MMCA) project. Operating within the Community Programme’s legal remit, the MMCA both provides practical support to help those who lack capacity to access the legal services that they require, and employs strategic advocacy in an attempt to challenge the current immigration system. To help us continue this important work, donate to the Community Programme here.