Migrants campaigning for change

GMT 00:00 Tuesday ,01 November 2011

 Migrant Voice - Migrants campaigning for change


  During the last year, 18 refugees and asylum seekers from community organisations have come together to develop their campaigning skills and implement a project in their own community. The Refugee Empowerment Project, which has just been completed, was run by the Refugee Council. After a six-weeks training with campaigning specialists, each participant had to define the goals of his/her campaign and was matched with a mentor who has worked closely with them throughout the project. The campaigns address issues from gang violence to the consequences of FGM, from awareness on mental health issues to improving the housing conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. The campaigns have already had successful outcomes, but most importantly perhaps, the project has supported migrants in becoming leaders of their own change.   Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, gave an inspiring speech at the closing celebration of the project, and emphasized the importance of campaigning for NGOs as well as for individuals. Ne Kunda Nlaba, one of the participants in the project, agrees with her: “Campaigning is important for migrant groups because it helps to get our voice heard, to raise awareness, to make changes and to be treated with respect and dignity.” His campaign, 'Respect and Dignity for Asylum Seekers' aims to improve the asylum reporting system in the UK.   Ne Kunda was motivated to start his campaign because of his own experiences and those of other refugees and asylum seekers. A particular challenge is faced by asylum seekers who are destitute, get no support, are not allowed to work, but still have to report every week or 2 weeks without money for a travel card to get from their area to the reporting centre. Ne Kunda talks about the experiences of queuing outside the reporting centre in cold weather and rain, and of people's fear of being detained when they go to report.   In this short time since he launched his campaign, Ne Kunda has already produced a film “Living Without Living” about the issue, but he is also raising awareness through websites and social media. The film was launched at a conference in October at Amnesty International Human rights centre. As an outcome of the conference, recommendations on giving asylum seekers work permits and changing the reporting system will now be sent to the home office.    Projects like these 18 not only enable migrants bring their own personal experience to create change, but also support migrants to become project leaders and leaders of change in their own community.  For Ne Kunda, the experience of being part of the REP project has brought him a good understanding of campaigning and a stronger network, and it has also built his confidence. He now feels a strong duty to take this work further and has decided to be an ambassador for refugees and asylum seekers.   As the Refugee Empowerment Project shows, campaigns are a way to raise awareness and create movements for change. Crucially, it helps to change the broader community perspective on migrants as well as serve the broader community, improving people's lives and experience in the UK. Campaigning thus not only creates change, but becomes a way to bring people together.        


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