In the week that the Prime Minister announced a snap General Election, MRN launched The Outsider Project in Wolverhampton. As we came together with members of the local migrant community for the first time, the potential impact of current political affairs was at the forefront of people’s minds.
BY ANNA ROGUSKI
“I got my visa!”, was the delighted exclamation that met me – along with the invitation to dig into a box of Celebrations chocolates – on arriving at Wolverhampton’s Refugee and Migrant Centre on Thursday last week. Just two days after Theresa May’s unexpected announcement of a General Election in June, one of The Outsider Project’s Migrant Leaders had – after six months tentatively waiting – been granted indefinite leave to remain, and her relief was palpable.
Navigating the system
That evening as we delivered the first of four of the project’s community organising training sessions, the reasons for her relief became ever clearer; of the 35 migrants who attended, many shared stories of uncertainty about their future status in the UK. One participant who had fled Nigeria recounted his experience of travelling through Africa and Europe on foot, the destitution he faced during his time in The Jungle in Calais, and the difficulties he is now facing as an asylum seeker here.
Another of our Migrant Leaders recounted her traumatic experience of being detained and threatened with deportation to Jamaica, a country she had never lived in. Deeply affected by her experience, she chose to volunteer as a Migrant Leader with The Outsider Project so she could support and represent other migrants affected by immigration policy, and has set up an organisation to support and empower other migrants living in Wolverhampton.
Throughout the story sharing session, person after person expressed their concern about the impact current political affairs will have for migrants living in the UK. EU migrants spoke about the uncertainty surrounding whether they will be able to remain in the UK post-Brexit, and the frustration of being used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Non-EU migrants described the impact of Brexit on attitudes towards migration more generally, and what this may mean for future immigration legislation – particularly around increased restrictions on who can or cannot enter the country, and longer decision making times for visa applications. It was clear that the Prime Minister’s announcement of a snap election had only heightened these fears, and what the result could mean for immigration policy and enforcement in the UK after June.
In a room full of people recounting personal experiences of some of the UK immigration system’s worst treatment of migrants, you could be forgiven for feeling despondent or powerless. But at the end of the training session the atmosphere was anything but. As people shared their stories bonds were built and passion was ignited.
From those who had been through the system to those who are facing it now, connections were made and the strength of being united around a common issue made the room buzz. As the first training drew to a close, there was clear excitement about the potential of what we can achieve through working together as a united community, and the opportunities The Outsider Project will bring.
Now, as people begin to decide what their policy ask are for a post-Brexit Britain, let’s remind ourselves of the real impact these policies have on ordinary people. The stories that were shared in Wolverhampton are just a tiny fraction of similar narratives from across the UK, faced by members of our communities whose lives are feeling the impact created by increasing uncertainty and restrictive immigration policy. It is only when we begin to listen and engage with the people who are affected by immigration policy that we will know how to develop a fairer immigration system for all.
And as people begin to decide what their policy asks in a post Brexit Britain, let’s remind ourselves of the real impact these policies have on ordinary people. It is only when we begin to listen to and engage the people impacted by immigration policy, will we know how to develop a fairer immigration system for all.
Anna Roguski is MRN’s Outsider Project Manager. The project is running in Wolverhampton, Boston, Barking and Dagenham and Oldham. For more information about the project and how to get involved please email Anna at: [email protected]