How do community leaders facilitate migrant integration?


I’m Mohini, a volunteer researcher with MRCF; I am writing about the benefits of community organisations and ESOL lessons for the integration of migrants. Being of mixed migrant background myself (I am half-Indian and half-French), I have always been interested in issues related to migration. I studied sociology of migration to gain a better historical and socio-political understanding of migration flows, racism and equal opportunities policies in Europe and North America.

For this blog, I interviewed three community leaders who run migrant and refugee community organisations (MRCOs) that are members of MRCF. The main aims of this blog are to establish how MRCOs and community leaders support vulnerable migrants to have better experiences in the UK and how this in turn can facilitate migrant integration.

[h4]What are MRCOs?[/h4]

MRCOs are run by and help migrants and refugees develop skills and confidence for engaging in the wider community.[1] The range of services and support provided by MRCOs includes:[2]
[ul style=”arrow”]

    • Informal befriending structures
    • Sports or cultural activities
    • Representation of local communities to local agencies
    • Advice, advocacy
    • Interpreting and translating
    • Supplementary schools
    • Training and employment services
    • Housing services
    • Care service [/ul]

[h4]How do community leaders encourage integration?[/h4]

Research shows that MRCOs and community leaders encourage community development and participation, leading to migrant integration.[3] Such organisations do this by meeting basic needs, providing vital welfare and creating opportunities for migrants and refugees to feel part of society, as we will see in the below examples.

The community leaders that I interviewed run organisations that support specific communities, made up of people who are more often than not from the same background as the leaders themselves.

[h4]1. Giving migrants a voice[/h4]

Moving to the UK from Lebanon in the 1980s, Nazek learnt English by attending classes and teaching herself with the help of her children’s books and television programmes. As a migrant herself, she is concerned that migrants in the UK don’t really have a way to express their needs and concerns and/or directly influence policy. Having worked with organisations that support migrants, she found that migrants in the UK are rarely involved in decision-making and policy influencing. So she set up her own magazine with the help of volunteers for migrants to have a platform from which they can voice their concerns and produce their own research, to find out – for example – what migrants’ and host community’s perceptions of integration are.

‘I set up [the magazine] because […] I was very concerned as a migrant about the immediate reporting of migration and about representation of migrants in media. I was also worried about where the debate on migration was heading and things didn’t look very promising, I felt someone has to do something, not only that, but migrants have to do that themselves. Everybody is talking about migrants but not migrants themselves. I thought it’s time we did something, time we led this work.

[h4]2. Helping elderly Eritreans[/h4]

Fleeing war in Eritrea, Petros became a refugee in the UK in the 1970s when Eritrea was still under Ethiopian rule. He was involved in humanitarian work with Eritrean refugees until the early 1990s when he returned to Eritrea following its independence. However, further problems in his home country led him to flee once again to the UK; once here he worked as an interpreter in hospitals and courts. He is secretary of a community organisation which supports older men through social activities, to limit the risks they may face of isolation and loneliness. This is an important source of support for older migrants who may have lost their social networks, have low incomes, language barriers, psychological and emotional difficulties and poor access to information and advice on health and social care services.[4]

‘Clients are marginalised due to lack of English, and very low education and achievement, so their integration is very slow, [they are] not really integrated. So the support for them is very significant; every Thursday [we have a] club where people talk about their problems, play bingo, get to know each other, [have] refreshments, tea, coffee, sandwiches. People like it because it’s a place to forge good association and trust with others, [they] make friends.’

[h4]3. Supporting Ethiopian women[/h4]

Arriving in the late 1990s, Senait worked as an interpreter with Ethiopian communities in London and noticed that a lack of information provision combined with language and cultural barriers mean some groups in society struggle to get by, for instance single women asylum seekers. So she set up an organisation to support and empower Ethiopian women, by providing information on healthcare, family and social welfare, English language lessons, and fitness activities.

[blockquote]During my work I could see single women struggling to care for their children, with health problems, needing to learn English. […] We do programmes for migrant women, social welfare programmes, mentoring, exercise classes, family learning programmes.’ [/blockquote]

Speaking the same language as the migrants she supports, Senait provides a more comfortable learning environment for her clients who will be better able to express their problems and better understand what they can do to improve their situations, be that related to health, employment, welfare or education.

It is clear that community leaders have important roles to play in supporting the integration of migrants, by providing a wide range of services that are more accessible to migrants, address their needs more directly and are free of charge.

[1]Spencer, S (ed.) (2004) Refugees and other new migrants: a review of the evidence on successful approaches to integration, COMPAS, University of Oxford

[2] Lukes, S; Jones, V; San Juan, Y (2009) The potential of MRCOs to influence policy. Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[3] Gidley, B; Jayaweera, H (2010) An evidence base on migration and integration in London. ESRC centre on migration, policy and society, University of Oxford

[4] Patel, B; Kelley, N (2006) The social care needs of refugees and asylum seekers. SCIE: London

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