Refugee communities and representation - Refugee Council
August 11, 2010

Refugee communities and representation

In July 2010 a conference in Manchester organised by the Basis Project, Manchester Refugee Support Network, Greater Manchester BME Network and the TRIO Policy and Information Network looked at refugee communities and participation.

Here’s a video report from the conference.

More videos from the conference can be found on the Basis Project website.


Conference on Refugees and Representation – Manchester, July 2010

Keynote speaker: Jonathan Ellis, Director of Policy and Development at the Refugee Council

This conference on representation is so important.

The Basis Project has been running for three years, now. Promoting infrastructure – governance, finance, fundraising, project management – all important stuff. We need strong and vibrant refugee community organisations (RCOs) in this country.

But it’s not an end in itself. I would argue that we are trying to build up RCOs to deliver services, to engage, to campaign and to make sure the voices of asylum seekers and refugees are heard through organisations led by asylum seekers and refugees.

The political landscape is in a state of flux at the moment. Will local ways of engaging such as Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements continue. How will the new coalition government develop things? Will things be devolved downwards? Will there be much greater flexibility? How will local government take things forward?

I think we’re going to see more and more local flexibility. And what’s so important is that you’re studying things locally, in your own local authority area and asking who has got power locally. Those of you who’ve had contact with Citizens UK will know that they talk so much about power. I don’t think it’s just about power but power is important. Who has power? Who has power locally?

… We live in challenging times, but campaigning, representation, influence and voice have never been more important. With financial instability and political instability we all need to be passionate, we need to enjoy what we’re doing, have a willingness to work with others – be consistently seeking allies, but above all never give up. Our fight in the defence of asylum seekers and refugees is so important we must never give up, despite the challenging circumstances.

Fergal McCullough

I’m the Basis Project Organisational Development Officer for the North West. This is a conference on refugees and representation that I’ve put together with the Greater Manchester BME Network project, Manchester Refugee Support Network and the TRIO Project.

Pamela Grant – National Association for Voluntary and Community Action

The policy context for the past 10 years has been localism and it’s about government shifting powers from Westminster to local areas. Because local areas know best about how to solve some of these intractable problems.

It was the New Labour government that pushed and developed localism and it’s all about devolving power from the centre to local people because you know what these issues are and how to solve them. It’s also about the expertise of public bodies at a local level – local authorities, primary care trusts, the police. And private business. It’s all about people getting together at a local level to work on some of these issues.

Now we have the coalition government. And the words, in some respects, are still the same. It’s all about giving power away from the centre to local people. It’s about giving councils power and it’s still about increasing citizens’ involvement to improve services.

Sharmarke Jama

I’m with the Manchester Somali Youth Forum – we’re a recently constituted organisation with an office in Moss Side – that’s a deprived part of Manchester. We’re currently focusing on three main issues: lack of employment, gang activities, and education.

Angel Kaseka

I work with the Manchester Congolese Organisation (MACO). We started the organisation officially last year although it started informally before that. I came to this meeting today because we have been getting training from Fergal and the Basis Project to help us with organisational matters so that we can run the organisation in a professional and strong way.  

Sharmarke Jama

We’ve come up against a few barriers in the short period we’ve been around. One of the main ones has been trying to convince the council that we are a large population – the data is not out there and we have ambiguous numbers about the population in Manchester. It’s stated as about 20,000 but I’m sure it’s a lot more than that. It comes down to the census which we feel we’ve not been engaged with about. Positions of community advisor have been created in London, but that’s not been looked at outside of the capital, even though we have large populations of Somalis in Wales, the West Midlands and in the North West. If you look at the history you can trace some Somali communities in this country back to the 18th and 19th Centuries – so we have the links but haven’t had the engagement that we should have had from the council.

Angel Kaseka

We are becoming a voice – I cannot say we are already there, but we are in the process of becoming that voice because if I look at the history of the Congolese here in Manchester, we’ve been here for more than 20 years already. But to come together to form a strong community which can address issues which Congolese are facing in their daily lives – we are still in the process, I would say. I believe that with training like this, we’ll be able to become that voice.

Fergal McCullough

I think one of the biggest problems around engagement and representation – for any organisation, let alone a refugee community organisations – is the language, which is very off-putting. The structures are quite bureaucratic and quite top-down and they’re very, very confusing.

Nathan Banana

My organisation is called Vision Inspired People Zimbabwe and we focus on trying to re-skill Zimbabweans so that they are ready to reintegrate into Zimbabwean society when things go back to normal. We’ve come to this conference to see if we can network with other groups with similar objectives, and also to get some knowledge about what goes on with RCOs in the north west.

Bijou Kamba

My organisation is Home Hearts UK (?) and we are working with refugees and asylum seekers in the Congolese community.

Nathan Banana

I feel that already access to funding is very limited for us as a new organisation so what we are looking at now is co-operating with other groups who are also dealing with communities in our area so that we can maybe apply for funding together and then share whatever resources we have.

Bijou Kamba

Today’s conference is very useful and very interesting for me and for my organisation because we are French speakers and a lot of asylum seekers who come from Congo don’t speak English so they don’t go out. But this conference is very open. And it is going to help us to go further.