Migrants Organise came to life through gatherings in North Kensington living rooms, where migrant and refugee leaders would provide advice and support to their communities. In 1993, these leaders found each other and formed the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (MRCF).
MRCF grew to encompass several community groups supporting migrants and refugees during a difficult period when both Conservative and Labour governments sought to appear tough on the perceived threat of migration. Continued anti-migrant backlash after the September 11 attacks in the United States prompted the MRCF to pivot strategically. In 2001, under new leadership by CEO Zrinka Bralo, we transformed from a small West-London hub into an operation that advocated for migrants’ rights at national level—while maintaining the relational, people-first values that built trust in MRCF from the first days of meeting in community leaders’ homes.
In order to meet the challenges of the political environment, we knew we needed to move away from the traditional charitable advocacy model of social change. Instead, we started organising for justice, focusing on structural challenges that migrants and refugees face. To better reflect our work, in 2016 the MRCF became Migrants Organise. The name change reflected a full transition into our current approach: listening and releasing (rather than “developing”) the capacity of migrants to act. Our unique approach combines the provision of community support and casework with ongoing movement-building work for structural change. Migrants and refugees in the UK need support and community to survive, and it is their needs that must inform the bold organising work of pursuing long-term change. Our campaign issues are often identified through the casework and advice provided to our members.
We have successfully organised across the UK, with priorities emerging organically from our members’ needs. Our projects incorporate multi-level, international stakeholders and have ranged from migrant mentoring programmes, supporting migrant doctors’ ability to practise in the UK, cataloguing oral histories, conducting activism trainings, and beyond. When the UK government introduced the “Hostile Environment” immigration policy in 2012, our approach allowed us to respond rapidly to build resistance. In solidarity with migrant communities, Migrants Organise has celebrated the achievements of migrant women, registered migrant voters, campaigned for the right to healthcare for all, and mobilised in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy and Windrush scandal. In July 2020, as COVID-19 devastated the most vulnerable members of our communities, we launched the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Charter. The FIRM Charter unites efforts to address the Hostile Environment policy into a common struggle. In the Charter, we call for the Hostile Environment to be replaced with policies based on respect for human rights and the principles of dignity, justice, welcome, and action.