Welcome to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants’ Spring newsletter!
We are delighted in this newsletter to share with you the story of one of our clients, Lola.
Lola survived torture in her country of origin. She is still at risk of being returned from the UK to the country that she fled in fear of her life. She tells us here about why she came to the UK – and how the Centre is helping her to overcome her problems and move forward with her life.
We will also be sharing news about some of our new activities, helping clients to develop new skills and pursue new interests. We will hear from Patrick about our project with the ICA to support asylum seekers and refugees to express themselves through art, developing new skills and experiences. Finally, we want to talk to you about changes to the way we raise funds. We are so incredibly grateful to our supporters – their generosity is crucial to enabling people like Lola and Patrick to rebuild their lives and begin to succeed in our community.
If you are able, please think about supporting our work through a donation.
Lola looks back on life in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, with her husband and four children, as the last time she could remember being happy. Her husband ran a business which supported the family and he was involved in a political group opposing the government in the run up to an election. But although the opposition got the most votes when the election came around, Lola explains, the government ignored the result, using military force to remain in power and intimidate the opposition. From that day everything became more dangerous for people involved in the opposition. As people were rounded up and killed, Lola and her family moved away. But then one day Lola’s husband went out promising to return soon. She has not seen him since. “I have no idea what has happened. His phone was off. I have to assume the worst” she says sadly.
She was staying with her husband’s cousin, away from Brazzaville. One morning she went out to get milk for the children. “That was the beginning of the horror. I was kidnapped by the police and I would not inflict what happened [to me] on my worst enemy.”
“I was beaten and beaten, raped and raped, starved and abused. I was there for about a month and I don’t know how I survived.”
Lola does not know how and why she was rescued. She was unconscious when a friend of her husband found her, and she does not know to this day where he took her or why he didn’t take her home to her children. He simply told her not to ask questions. He did tell Lola she needed to leave the country and that it was too dangerous for her to stay or see her children again – but that he would make sure they were all right. He organised a flight to England.
She arrived in the UK speaking no English, traumatised from all that had happened and desperately confused. She reported to the Home Office and was sent to initial accommodation for asylum seekers. Here she was told about the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. Coming to the Centre, she has been helped to improve her English with regular classes. Lola says the most valuable help she has received from the Centre was “the way I was helped to find a way to build a new life. The formal letters [from the Home Office] I received were translated for me, and when I came across a situation I didn’t understand, there was always someone willing to give me help and to help me understand how to deal with different situations.”
“It is dreadful, having been a competent wife and mother, to feel I have no way of coping with life. What I found at the Centre was such kindness, generosity of spirit and I have made many friends.”
Lola is making huge progress in her life: “I was so grateful for the encouragement from teachers at the Centre who convinced me I was good enough at English to go to college and now I am doing Level 2 at Waltham College and getting on quite well.” Yet that, too, can be a challenge as Lola is in a mixed group and has to cope with the fear that comes up when she is mixing closely with men .
She still does not have leave to remain in the UK, despite her experiences, and she is haunted by the fear that the Home Office will refuse to let her stay. “They have seen the scars all over my body and the Helen Bamber Foundation gave a medical report [documenting physical and psychological evidence of torture], but they [the Home Office] didn’t seem to accept that I had been tortured. Therapy is helping me but the only time the darkness inside me lifts at all is when I am among friends at the Centre.”
Then she turns her head away, her voice choked with tears: “I am a mother of four and yet I will probably never see my children again and that is so painful. All I can do is pray for them every single day.”
New opportunities for clients at the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants
At ICRM, we are committed to working with clients to ensure that we are able to offer them the support, opportunities, and experience they need to rebuild their lives and to integrate into their new community. We do this through our 1:1 discussions with clients, and through our Peer Support Group, where clients and staff meet regularly to work together to develop and deliver new services and opportunities for clients. We work a lot with external organisations to help them to develop partnership projects with us, offering skills development opportunities and experiences to our clients.
This year, we have been able once more to support clients to train as gallery tour guides with the Wallace Collection, and have been able, for the first time, to offer boxing classes through the Hackney Academy. Our Moving On Group, established this year, is working with clients who are at a more advanced stage in their journey with us. We are helping them to plan for the future, and, where appropriate, working with RENAISI to support them into long-term employment. Women clients are accessing theatre workshops with Routes, building their confidence and communication skills. We are working with clients inside the Centre to help them design and deliver services, drawing on their skills and experiences. We hope, by the end of this year, to host a group for older women, co-facilitated by a current client, who, at the moment, is undertaking research and outreach to groups locally to find out more about how to run a successful group. We have been able, for the first time, to provide ICT classes, helping clients to develop crucial skills for navigating their new life in the UK, and for accessing education and employment – we hope, in the future, to also be able to offer maths. We are also working with clients on a 1:1 basis to help them access the individual opportunities that they want to pursue, ranging from tailoring courses to getting started in higher education.
We also are running arts skills classes with the ICA. This is an important project in helping clients to build their artistic skills – and provides a great space for them to express themselves fully, breaking free of society’s expectations of asylum seekers and refugees. Their work this year has included making t-shirts expressing their desires and wants; creating a banner embroidered with their calls for human rights in their countries of origin; and, lately, making a zine. They work with professional artists, creating work of extremely high quality, and we are hopeful that we will be able to display their work in full at some point.
Our client, Patrick, explains how ICRM clients came together to make their beautiful banner:
Creating our banner at the ICA by Patrick
We were welcomed by Carey Robinson of ICA and artist Ed Hall, who came to assist us to develop ideas for creating the banner. After discussions and presentations, we had to go to work. We worked in three groups: people from Turkey; people from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a group of mixed nationalities including Iran.
The Turkish people spoke of the political problems existing in their country. They used a drawing of a musician holding a traditional Turkish instrument in the air to represent freedom. They are celebrating Group Yorum, a Turkish folk-rock band who play Turkish instruments and sing political and traditional songs. Their music has been banned over the years and band members have been in imprisoned. “Yorum” means “comment.” Their slogans for the banner are: “Group Yorum is the people. It will not be silenced. Freedom for Group Yorum.”
The Congolese presented slogans, saying in a few words their wishes for peace and justice in their country. “We need peace in DR Congo and We need Justice for 80, 00 who died in Congo DR.”
The third group made a lovely representation of the Islington Centre in the form of a tree bearing fruit, each of which is synonymous with a nationality present at the centre. It shows how we are all united around the tree trunk that is the Islington Centre.
For our second meeting, we continued with the work we started in November to finalize all the drawing projects of the different groups. Ed had moved ahead on the design of the banner by collecting the different drawings made at our first meeting. After being briefed on the work of the day, we got to work. This is under a very good working atmosphere with Christmas and New Year holidays coming up.
IMPORTANT: changes to online donations
After the New Year festivities, we returned to the workshop again to discover the results of our first two work sessions. The banner was complete. It is very beautiful, of a dominant green colour and resplendent red. We were astonished when we saw the results of all of our work. Each group was asked to explain the different images in the banner to provide a good understanding of the drawings and the meanings behind them. At last the time had come to display the banner. A special place high above a doorway in the ICA cafe was prepared. A ladder was put in place so that the banner could be mounted. Staff across the ICA joined us in the cafe to celebrate the completion of the banner and watch the hanging. When the banner was unfurled, everyone clapped.
Our online donation platform is changing. BT MyDonate, our online giving platform, will be closing on 30th June 2019. If you are a regular donor with us, we have contacted you to let you know how to switch to our new platform, Virgin Money Giving. If you have any questions about how to do this, please do let us know – we want to make this as straightforward as possible, and appreciate that changing the way you donate is inconvenient but it will ensure that you can continue to support our work.
The support of our donors is absolutely crucial to us. Regular donations, in particular, enable us to plan for the future, and to provide a safe, and sustainable service to some of the most vulnerable members of our community, like Lola – and to help people like Patrick to achieve. Online donations are simple and straightforward – and allow us to easily collect GiftAid, increasing the value of every single eligible donation by 25p for every pound donated, at no cost to the donor.
If you wish to donate to us going forward, then you can easily do so through our website. If you would like to discuss ways to support our work, please contact Katie, our fundraising officer on firstname.lastname@example.org.