Refugee community organisations and integration - London - Refugee Council
October 28, 2010

Refugee community organisations and integration – London

On 27 September 2010 the Basis Project held its London Region Conference ‘Supporting Refugee Community Organisations’ (RCOs) role in integration in London’.

The conference aimed to encourage dialogue among representatives of RCOs, funders and policymakers, to generate practical responses for long-term sustainability of the RCO sector in the current policy and funding climate.

A video with some highlights from the conference is below with a transcript underneath.


David Clark –The Basis Project

Good morning and welcome to this the Basis Project London Region Conference – it’s good to see so many of you here.

I wanted to let you know the vision behind this conference. It started with the Basis Project being very passionate about the role that Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) play in the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. Of course, there are many other roles that they play but we really wanted to highlight their role in integration as it is often under-the-radar and unrecognised.

Sanjay Dighe – Big Lottery Fund

I’m really pleased to be here with the Basis Project, having previously spoken at the national conference in June. I’ve taken a special interest in the Basis Project and the support that the Refugee Council has provided to RCOs not just in London but throughout the country.

Of course, our concern with beneficiaries means that we want to work with the groups that are best equipped to help them. Organisations receiving our funding must demonstrate a capacity to meet that need and make a positive difference to people’s lives. This is where I believe the Basis Project has played a significant role for RCOs, by putting you in a better position to obtain funding and manage projects effectively.

Gladys Jusu-Sherriff – Women’s Association for African Networking & Development (WAND UK)

I came here as a refugee in 1997 and since then I have been committed to refugee issues. I run and African women’s organisation, WAND UK, and we do work around HIV, mental health and domestic violence. I also chair the Islington Refugee Forum. I’m very pleased to be here today because I think I will learn a lot about what is happening and I will be able to take this back to my organisation and other RCOs in Islington.

Daniel Fashe – Educational Alliance Africa

I’ve come to the conference because I work with a lot of refugee people – in fact we’re just doing some research with the Refugee Council. So I’ve come to the conference today to see what sort of materials are developing and the assistance that people working in RCOs need.

Austin Taylor-Laybourn – Trusts for London

I’m one of four grants managers with Trusts for London, an independent charitable trust that works across London. The reason that we wanted to be here today is that we have a very strong commitment to refugee and migrant communities. One of main priorities is around tacking poverty and inequality in London and a lot of refugee communities within London experience high levels of deprivation, poverty  and inequality.

So as a funder I’m here to provide advice around applying to funding – not just to us but more generally. I will also be giving specific information about our funding criteria which at the moment is specifically around new arrivals but also covers campaigning, training and all sorts of stuff.

Daniel Fashe

The refugee sector is a bit fragmented and hopefully an event like this will pull them together to enable them to use resources more effectively.

Luljeta Nuzi – Shpresa Programme

We started Shpresa 10 years ago – like everybody we had a good idea, we had needs to be met… but nothing else. Shpresa means ‘hope’ in the Albanian language and we work with the Albanian-speaking community that are from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

From the outset we looked to work in partnership, we were really outward-looking. We didn’t want to isolate our community – get the skills and do everything for ourselves. We wanted to work with others and we started working with schools and other community organisations.

Even after 10 years and having come so far, we are still user-led. We are very creative and look at our work through different angles, as long as it meets our mission.

Eltayeb Hassan – Southwark Refugee Communities Forum

I’m here today to share out commissioning experience with other RCOs and maybe to learn from other groups’ experience of commissioning as well.

I’m very positive about commissioning, even though it sometimes brings some extra pressure to an organisation. If RCOs have the skills to negotiate and can use the skills they have gained and can highlight that that they are well-placed within their community, then they stand a better chance of meeting the commissioner’s conditions.

Sharon Long – Children England

Children England is the national children’s infrastructure organisation and we support organisations around a whole range of issues including  commissioning is one of the main ones.

The lack of policy structure at the moment makes it very difficult for organisations to know what the key policy priorities are. Before we had lots of indicators, so organisations knew where they could fit in but now it’s going to be very difficult for them to know what the local priorities are. Also, for small organisations to be able to represent themselves in appropriate meetings and forums where decisions are made is a challenge in itself. 
Ibrahim Avcil – Hackney Refugee Forum

I came here today to find out a bit more about the current developments in the voluntary and community sector, particular in relation to RCOs.

I’ve just been in a workshop on commissioning and the point I would emphasise is that the commissioning process that has started in the past two years has unfortunately eliminated small RCOs and other small community organisations in terms of obtaining sustainable funding to provide a support service for their members.

These small organisations are mainly being asked to partner with bigger organisations when in practice we have seen that the bigger fish always eats the smaller fish. And the smaller organisations are asked to provide a service for very, very little money. Whereas bigger organisations get a lot of money from the commissioning process.

Micheline Ngongo – Light Project International

In 2004 we started just with a homework club. Now in 2010 we are running 12 different education projects and we’ve got 74 regular volunteers ready to help people. We have 350 service users from more than 35 different countries.

Kaveh Kalantari – Iranian Association

We’re based in Hammersmith and offer a diverse range of services to refugees and ethnic minorities including advice, training, health and cultural activities.

I’ve just attended the workshop on social enterprise, which was very good. I’m not new to the field; the Iranian Association has been trying to develop and social enterprise for the past five years and have generated some funds. But I found today’s presentation very useful.

Richard Barnes – Deputy Mayor of London

As chair of the London Strategic Migration Partnership and a frequent visitor to community projects around London, I’m well aware of the important role that RCOs play in the integration of refugee communities. And what has happened with destitution, people who have gone through the [asylum] process and have perhaps been refused and preferred to live on the streets or in friend’s flats with no money and no visible means of support rather than to go back to their own country should be lessons to all of us to heed. 

When migrants come here and are willing to work we must be willing to reach out our hand to help them to integrate. And by integration I do not mean assimilation. London is a glorious jigsaw of different communities, a tremendous kaleidoscope, and we must encourage that kaleidoscope and appreciate the culture, the music, the poetry,  the faith, the holy books that people carry with them. So we must remember that at heart we are all Londoners and we must give everyone, migrants and refugees, the opportunity to be Londoners.  But there is also a pressure on refugees and migrants that they too should hold out their hands and integrate and take part in civil society.

On Sunday I was at Eid in The Square and I was asked by a French television crew: “Why are you celebrating these things for the ethnic minorities?” And my response was that this iss not a celebration for the ethnic minorities it is a celebration for London. Muslims within London are an important part of London and it is right that we should understand and  share their festival just as we invite them to share  carol service when we light up the tree on Trafalgar Square and when we celebrate Diwali and Vaisakhi in the Square as well. All of these elements add together to make London the most glorious city in Europe and probably the world. And it is my pleasure to be part of the process of polishing that reputation and to hold out the hand of friendship to those who wish to be here.