Welcome to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants’ Refugee Week newsletter!
Refugee Week runs this year from 17-23 June, and is a really important week to raise awareness of refugees and their lives in the UK: the struggles they face, their contributions to our communities, and how we can support them.
We have some exciting events coming up for Refugee Week, showcasing our clients’ achievements. We are also really happy to be able to share the story of one of our clients, Robert, who has overcome persecution in his home country, and isolation in the UK. With the help of the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, he has won a scholarship to study graphic design.
The work of the Centre, providing a full range of support to some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in London, is crucial to supporting refugees to resolve their complex problems, and build the wellbeing, independence, confidence, and skills they need to build a new life in the UK, even though they are far from home and family. You can read more about our impact here – and keep up to date with our work by following us on twitter or facebook. We are a small organisation, working to support around 180 people every year, and every year, we are able to see our visitors make brilliant progress in learning English, feeling emotionally stronger, improving their health, resolving their practical issues and gaining key skills and experiences to integrate into society.
As a small charity, the support of our community is crucial.
Every year, we need to raise around £240,000. This allows us to provide our crucial services, and continue to work with clients to develop the services they need: this year, for example, we have developed new projects to enable clients to learn about ICT, and to help young men access boxing classes. It can be very hard to raise funding for a group that is misunderstood by society at large, and who have such complex needs. We are so grateful to you for your support for our work – through donations, and donations of time, and of gifts for clients.
The need for our work is only increasing, and we want to be able to meet it. If you are able, please consider donating: every single penny counts for a small charity like ours. If you would like to discuss ways to support our work, please contact Katie Commons on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07872161271.
Speaking to Robert today, it is difficult to imagine him two and a half years ago, locked in a dark prison cell, deprived of food and water, waiting for his jailers to take him out of his cell for another torture session. These sessions seemed to last for hours: the police in his country of origin were trying to prise to get Robert to inform about the opposition political group he belonged to.
“In prison I was treated as someone not human and I know if I had remained there it would have got worse, or else they would have killed me.”
He was fortunate that his parents were able to find money to bribe one of the guards who helped him escape, and he was eventually able to get to the UK, where he finally felt safe. “Of course I was relieved to be able to get out, but also very sad because I knew I would probably never see my parents again. I hear that they have moved to another country because they were in danger and if I go back I will be killed.”
When he arrived, he was able to stay with a relative for a while, but when that ended he had to sleep on the streets. He was “utterly dependent on the kindness of people who gave me food and help.” A friend stepped in to help him, introducing him to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. “I was amazed to find such a place where I was able to make a group of friends with whom I could share experiences – where we felt like a community supporting one another. I was offered English lessons with a wonderful teacher and my confidence grew.”
He was able to make links with other charities, finding stable accommodation. Having developed his wellbeing, he was in a position to engage with the Centre’s skills development work, which links clients with organisations that can help them to explore new areas of study and work. He won a photography prize, and, as a result of this, was able to win a scholarship to study graphic design. Asylum seekers find it hard to access university, as they cannot get a loan for fees, and they must pay the higher fees for foreign students of around £20,000 a year. This scholarship was crucial to enable him to develop his new skills, and work towards meaningfully rebuilding his life.
Even though he has made amazing progress, he is still waiting for the outcome of his asylum claim, and lives every day with huge uncertainty. He had his interview with the Home Office two years ago but has still had no news about whether the government accepts that he cannot go home.
Robert feels like he is not seen as a human by the government, and is worried that he will not be able to convince them to let him remain, despite his experiences in his home country. He is passionate about continuing his work to create positive change in his home country, and he continues to work for the opposition in exile. He knows that if he is returned to his country it will be a death sentence. “I shall be taken from the plane and killed” Robert says. “When I am at the Centre I feel safe and I know they will give me all the help they can. I am lucky to have that.”
Refugee Week Events
This Refugee Week, we are delighted to be able to showcase some of our clients’ incredible work – this includes their creative work, and their work in developing new skills to share with the community.
The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, together with South Library, are delighted to share an exhibition of new refugee art – ‘Landscapes of the Heart’. Created by our Art and Writing Group, supported by Jane Ray and Sita Brahmachari, this art speaks powerfully of our clients’ past, their hopes for the future, and their engagement with our Islington community.
Lately, the Group has been focussing on nature. A recurring theme has been the relationship between people and trees. This communal tree containing leaves of art and poetry is borne out of our deep connection with the natural world. The exhibition includes a poignant reminder of the tree as a shelter symbolic of a home that is left behind; a life uprooted.
In the tree and its ability to change in every season, the Group celebrates the possibility of new life as seeds are carried and grow into new saplings. The leaves of this tree contain the hopes, dreams and wishes of our members.
The art will be displayed in the library foyer when the library is open:
Monday: 9.30am – 8pm
Wednesday: 9.30am – 8pm
Friday: 9.30am – 5pm
Saturday: 9.30am – 5pm
Our Refugee Choir will also be performing with a range of community choirs as part of Singing for Our Lives on Sunday 23rd June to mark the end of Refugee Week at the Royal Festival Hall from 2.30pm. Find out more here: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/136974-singing-our-lives-2019
Wallace Collection Community Ambassador Tours
Three of our clients will be giving tours of the Wallace Collection in Refugee Week through our partnership with their Community Ambassador programme. This programme supports asylum seekers and refugees who are interested in art history and working in galleries and museums. Over 11 sessions, asylum seekers and refugees are supported to develop research skills, presentation skills, and to get to know the gallery and how it works, before working as tour guides, providing tours of the gallery and focussed sessions on their favourite pieces of art. This is the second year of the programme – some of our clients who took part last year are now acting as mentors to the new Ambassadors. During Refugee Week, Community Ambassador tours will take place at 1pm on Wednesday 19th, Thursday 20th, and Friday 21st June. Sign up for a tour here: https://www.wallacecollection.org/whats-on/community-ambassadors-tour/
And after Refugee Week…
Our Refugee Choir will be performing as part of Common and Kind 2019, as part of a 400-strong choir highlighting solidarity and support across different communities. Common and Kind 2019 takes place on Thursday 27th June at 8pm. Tickets, and more details, are available here: https://www.unionchapel.org.uk/event/27-06-2019-common-and-kind-2019/
You can see more of our clients’ work here
You can learn more about how we support asylum seekers and refugees in the community, this Refugee Week, and beyond, here. If you want to offer your support, you can find out more here – or get in touch!