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10 July 2019

MRN’s London Network talks Intersectionality and Migrants’ Rights

Mumbi Nkonde

It’s thirty years since Kimberle Crenshaw theorised the concept of Intersectionality. On this anniversary, she has been holding discussions to reflect on the theory in practise and ask  “what is intersectionality, exactly, and how do we square some of the myths with the many ways that people use intersectionality to experience life, understand their own worlds, practice their work and advocate for change.” You can listen to this historic panel discussion here.

It’s against this background that twelve people from across the network gathered at Trust for London offices for a meeting to discuss what an intersectional approach within migration work might look like. We were joined by members of UK Lesbian and and Gay Immigration Group, Migrants’ Rights Network, OLMEC, Galop, Praxis Community Projects and ARHAG Housing Association

We covered the  context and thoughts on the politics of intersectionality, such as its critique of the state and existing systems of knowledge and justice, and its crucial differences to diversity and inclusion and representational approaches. Examples of intersectional approaches included; Unis Resist Border Controls in highlighting the urgency of not only pushing against the hostile environment policy, and African Rainbow Family, in supporting LGBTQI migrants and highlighting how the criminalisation of LGBT people is a legacy of colonial laws and practices.

We took some time to hear from the experiences of people in the room doing casework support, research and campaigning in the migrants rights sector – UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group and GALOP on the challenges of supporting LGTBQI migrants. We heard from the work of Unity Project on their research Access Denied: The Cost of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ Policy which exposes the discriminatory nature of the application of No Recourse to Public Funds.  Finally we learnt about the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, a campaign straddling migrants’ rights, women’s rights groups, and human rights organisations demanding safety over immigration status for women needing to escape violent relationships. In all their work, people reflected on how their clients are experiencing multiple forms of oppression, with immigration status being just one dimension of their struggle.

In 2018, MRN worked with Voice4Change England to scope the issue of intersectionality and exploring how sectors such as race equality, migrants’ rights, refugee and faith can connect their struggles to resist the current anti-migration and far-right climate.

The initiative led by Voice4Change England called ‘Working Across the Lines’  revealed ‘a desire for connection amongst a cohort working for justice along differently racialised and minoritised lines. The work has also shown with case studies the possibilities of joint work across racialised and minoritised populations – for example in family campaigns when loved ones die at the hands of the State. 

The learning for us from Working Across the Lines and from our London Network partners meeting is that we need more opportunities to share skills and knowledge between us –  about what effective intersectional working with our clients and communities that we serve looks like. There was also consensus that intersectional approaches foster a much-needed shift away from the overused and tepid framing of ‘equality and diversity’ to one that is underpinned by an understanding of oppression and orientated towards justice. 

These are ongoing discussions, with a day of workshops being organised by HEAR on Friday 13th September, which will hopefully build on the work that is already in process.