East Anglia Bylines: Migrants organise to beat ‘hostile environment’
I’ve been involved with a number of charities and grassroots community groups since 2009 – all of them working to soften the impact of the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. And to put a fairer system in place.
I’m also working for initiatives to educate asylum seekers on their human rights and provide them the platform to speak out. With women’s groups in particular, this is about creating communities where compassion, respect, inclusion and empowerment will enable women to reach their potential and have a say in what happens to them.
Supporting asylum seekers means amplifying their voices and campaigning on the issues that affect people seeking protection. We all work in solidarity to end the hostile environment. It is important to help asylum seekers to access advice and support, and develop their skills and confidence.
People seeking protection are destitute for as long as they are stuck in the system. And plenty who’ve attained refugee status still have a baggage of trauma to struggle with.
These things matter to me because I myself have been seeking protection in the UK since 2008.
People seeking asylum are not allowed to work, study or claim benefits. We have no choice about where we live, and hardly any of us can access good legal aid solicitors. Many people will struggle to access the NHS.
And negative narratives in the media are very stigmatising and dehumanising. The result is that we find ourselves racially profiled when we try to access services.
The organisations I am involved with provide safe spaces and platforms where we can get support, let our voices be heard, share our stories and educate the public on why we are seeking asylum. That work helps us get back a little of our dignity and our humanity.
In the women’s groups, my contribution involves speaking out at events and protests and running workshops. I have to travel – Manchester, London, Cambridge, Birmingham, sometimes towns in Wales – for these, or take part online. I’ve yet to come across any asylum seekers or support organisations where I Iive, in Downham Market.
I have been mentored and immensely inspired by many women. Zrinka Bralo is CEO of Migrants Organise. She has provided many opportunities for me. Migrants Organise works from the grassroots up. I’ve benefited hugely from their mentoring of people who have experienced living through trauma. A lot of my own work involves encouraging other women to speak out and raise awareness about our experiences.
Solidarity Knows No Borders is a movement of community organisations across Britain representing different migrant and refugee groups and supporters. We work together on planning and coordination actions of solidarity. We can reach a lot more people that way!