Since the Refugee Solidarity Summit back in February, our world has been turned upside down by some tumultuous events. This Refugee Week we are reflecting on the events of the last few months and the backdrop against which they have occurred.
As the last decade drew to a close, a wave of populism and xenophobia was sweeping across Europe; anti-migrant attacks were on the rise and racist rhetoric had become normalised. Conditions for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers – people fleeing war and persecution – were deteriorating and they were facing increased hostility and violence on Europe’s borders. Activists and grassroots responders who stood in solidarity with them were facing intimidation violence and criminalisation across Europe and our society was becoming increasingly more polarised in the wake of a General Election and Brexit .
These were some of the themes that compelled us to hold the Summit on the 31st Jan & 1st Feb 2020, coinciding with ‘Brexit day’ – rebadged ‘Solidarity day.’ Another of our motivations for the summit was to name and unpick the racist underpinnings of European immigration and asylum policy, to critique the humanitarian sector’s whiteness, to foreground a culture of care in an often action focussed sector and to centre the voices of those with lived experience of displacement, marginalisation and tokenism as part of our strategic responses moving forward.
Soon after the Summit, Turkey opened its borders. Some of you witnessed the surge in human rights abuses at the Greek/Turkish borders as the Greek forces moved to prevent people from entering Europe. Many of you reported a rapid escalation of tensions on the Greek Islands which led to many NGOs and projects being evacuated amidst fears for the safety of staff and volunteers. This is detailed in our report from back in March.
Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to huge losses of life across the world. It is exposing what many of us already know: that discrimination and inequality are still deeply rooted and worsening; that ‘austerity’ has impaired the functioning of our social care and public health systems; that those working on the ground are expected to work without adequate care, support and protection. And all of this is so much more lethal for people in refugee camps and detention centres or sleeping rough in cities across Europe, given the lack of access to sanitation and appropriate guidelines. There has also been a great deal of campaigning around this issue led by Europe Must Act, Safe Passage, areyouserious.eu, hias.org and cantwashmyhands and many others.
The inequalities affecting BAME communities have been shockingly and brutally laid bare in the UK with the publication of the study by The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre into Covid-19 deaths, which show is us in no uncertain terms that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting BAME communities, yet the reasons behind this, such as social inequality, lack of equity, racial discrimination and white privilege, are still being overlooked by many. Transport workers, food producers and retailers, care professionals, cleaners and medical staff are represented disproportionately from those communities and thousands continue to serve society at great personal risk. The injustice of this situation compounded by the fact that many were recently denied access to free NHS care package and their families risked deportation in the tragic event of them dying from Covid-19. See details of the campaign led by refugee rights activist Hassan Akkad here which brought about a Government U-Turn for some of the affected groups.
Another prominent campaign has been the Lift the ban campaign championed by Refugee Action with support from many other organisations in the UK. See the blog post from The Voices Network called ‘A life in Limbo’.
More recently the specific injustices suffered by black people have once again been pulled into focus by the brutal murder of George Floyd by US Police officers and the response to the demonstrations that followed. This has bought the Black LIves Matter struggle and Anti-black racism into wider public consciousness.
In response, many Black and POC-led organisations have made it clear that they are tired of the everyday forms of racism and microaggressions that they face – including from within the charity and Humanitarian sectors. They are asking their allies to explore how the ‘othering’ and ‘victimisation’ of refugees and the normalisation of Whiteness – a white centric view of the world – is prevalent within the charity and humanitarian sectors.
We began to explore this at the Summit in the Educating our Allies discussion here and in the Women Who Resist talk here. We are committed to continuing this work, and to uplifting Black and POC individuals and organisations and to centring those with direct experience of displacement, marginalisation, racism and Othering. We are open to requests for collaboration in these endeavours and are reaching out to see how we can be of service.
Meanwhile, at a time when shocking injustice is apparent both at home and abroad it is our responsibility to reflect and commit ourselves to tackling racial injustice and taking an actively anti-racist stance in order to create equity and sustainability in our communities and our organisations. This must include the way we work with people with direct experience, the language we use, the way we centre peoples’ stories – ensuring that we represent them as they want to be seen/heard – or better still giving them the tools to tell their own stories, or not tell them if they wish.
And beyond thinking about how we operate in our organisations, we consider it vital to address the wider systemic context in which we work. What creates forced displacement? What is the role of our global economy – both in conflict and in the devastation of local ecosystems and communities? What shapes immigration policy and who does it serve? Can we take a step back and get a wider picture and see how all of these elements are connected? Does that change how we understand our work in bringing about change? Can we talk about this openly and name it rather than shuffling our feet uncomfortably for fear of being ‘too political’ and allowing it to be the elephant in the room.
We see the pandemic and its exposing of racism and inequality as a defining moment, which presents us with an opportunity to radically reorient our approaches moving away from replacing the same broken institutional ways of working – replicating colonial models – towards compassionate and regenerative approaches.
Below are some helpful resources/organisations that may inform your thinking on inclusion and representation of those with lived experience and structural racism.
- Charity’s So White – An organisation who seeks to create a shift in fundamental structures across the charity sector, where our sector, leaders and decision-makers reflect the communities that we work with.
- Migration Museum – explores how the movement of people to and from Britain across the ages has made us who we are, as individuals and as a nation.
- Women Refugee Route – A refugee led organisation whose tag line is ‘from displacement to decision making‘ who advocate for greater inclusion of women with experience of displacement to have the opportunity to use their skills and capabilities in the design of projects and at management level in organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers.
- Migrants Organise – A Migrant led advocacy and awareness raising group offering training for groups working in refugee focussed projects and orgs.
- May Project Garden – A youth focussed organisation working predominantly with BAMER young people in South London – They also run workshops for organisations on diversity and inclusion, power and privilege.
- The Voices Network – an expert by experience led network of campaigners and advocacy community leaders and educators in the UK.
- Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre & Education Trust – the trust archives the life stories of BAME communities in Manchester, by running oral history projects, hosting events and exhibitions, and working with schools.
- BAMEed Network – a movement initiated in response to the continual call for intersectionality and diversity in the education sector.
- About Race with Renni Eddo-Lodge – from the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the ‘About Race’ podcast series features key voices from the last few decades of anti-racist activism, and looks at the recent history that lead to the politics of today.
- Activate – sponsor women who are community activists, carers, mentors and champions for other women – BAME women, women with low/no income and disabled women, to stand for election.
- Articles and reports addressing the structural racism in the charity sector here & here.
Here is a longer list of resources that may be informative and helpful compiled by Being Human Fest.
Refugee Week 2020
For Refugee Week 2020 our co-creator Maddie Harris was on Threads radio today along with Gulwali Passaraly talking about activism and the importance of centering our work around those with lived experience. That Link will be coming soon!
Earlier on in the week, one of our co-creators Pru was in conversation with Mona Bani and Ian KMT from May Project Gardens. Their talk on the lack of diversity and inclusion in funding approaches in the UK is closely followed by discussions with Help Refugees, Mass Action and Trust for London about funding to the community and grassroots sectors. Listen Here.
Below are some alternative funders who are doing things differently by examining who holds the power in the funding sector, calling for greater diversity and inclusion in the approaches of funders and modelling more inclusive approaches.
Activate – https://www.timetoactivate.org
Edge Fund – https://www.edgefund.org.uk
Fund Action – https://fundaction.eu
Mass Action – https://www.massaction.charity/
Resourcing Racial Justice – http://resourcingracialjustice.org
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on social media.
We look forward to convening with you all soon.