It’s about giving a voice to refugees furthest from power, says Ezechias Ngendahayo, the Refugee Council’s Community Engagement Manager
In our 2017-22 organisational strategy, the Refugee Council committed to ensuring that our priorities reflect refugees’ concerns and interests by engaging with Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) across the UK. The establishment of the London RCO Advocacy Forum is one way of doing just that….
What is the London RCO Advocacy Forum?
The London RCO Advocacy Forum is an exciting new initiative that brings together refugee-led organisations from across London in order to push for positive change for refugees and people seeking asylum.
How will the London RCO Advocacy forum work?
The idea is to recruit 45 organisations from London over three years to be a part of this forum, (15 per year). These organisations must be RCOs – namely organisations created by refugees, managed by refugees and working solely for refugees.
Given their small size, most RCOs have usually only experienced advocacy as advocating for individuals, as opposed to advocacy in the much broader sense of challenging policies and decision makers. The Refugee Council will train RCOs in advocacy skills so they are equipped to try to achieve change.
After the first 15 RCOs have undergone the relevant training, the group will decide the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the forum to establish the scope, aims, targets and limitations of the forum’s work for the longer term. It’s really important the Refugee Council does not impose this on the forum, but that the forum creates this for themselves.
After the ToR has been established, the RCOs will come up with an year action plan which outlines their next steps. At this point the next cohort of 15 RCOs will be recruited and trained them to join the first 15. During the third year we will do the same – recruit 15 to join the existing 30 RCOs. It will be during this third year that the Refugee Council will gradually take a step back from it secretariat role, leaving the facilitation of the forum to the RCOs themselves.
What do you hope the new London RCO forum will achieve after 3 years – what will success look like?
Success will be the establishment of a London based RCO forum that can engage and influence decision making processes and respond to the impact relevant policies have on them, giving greater visibility to the issues affecting refugee communities in London. This forum would add a clear voice to the Refugee Council’s own work too, helping us represent London based refugees and better understand the issues that matter to them.
Another positive outcome would be that bodies such as the Greater London Authority and the Home Office, who have already shown interest in the creation of this forum, would look to it themselves and consult with it, to better understand issues affecting refugees in London.
Going a bit further we would like to see the model used by the London RCO forum duplicated by other types of community groups. Equally, we might also see a London type forum being created in other parts of the UK, which could together become a national RCO forum.
Why are initiatives like this one so important?
They’re vital because they are about helping people who are furthest from power to interact with that power. If you think about things like funding cuts, which we know have had a huge impact on RCOs, this will have come about from a decision made by someone in power. RCOs must be able to challenge such power, particularly in a society where the norm is that if you don’t have a voice, your only hope is to wait for someone who has more power to talk on your behalf.
What challenges do you foresee?
It might take some time for RCOs to have the capacity to prioritise advocacy work, on top of sorting out more urgent issues affecting their service users. For this to work effectively it will need long term commitments from participating RCOs and this may prove hard for some. As ever, we also face an uncertain political and funding environment which could have an impact on the financial stability of participating RCOs.