Refugee integration in disadvantaged communities

Refugee integration in disadvantaged communities

“No! That will just fan the flames of tension!” I exclaimed.

It was the first time I had spoken at a meeting like this, but those around this decision-making table were proposing 'solutions' to issues which I believed would prove hugely divisive.

"I am passionate about addressing this imbalance and was thrilled to be awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2020 to find out more about refugee integration in disadvantaged communities."
KERRY CRESSEY IN SAN FRANCISCO Download 'Kerry Cressey in San Francisco'

At this point, I was working as a Community Development worker for a charity that supported migrants with English language learning. I had also been living on one of the most economically deprived council estates in Sheffield. At one point, things were so bad that the police had fitted a panic alarm and CCTV to our property. We had meeting after meeting with the council to try and persuade them to grant us 'priority status' on the housing waiting list so we could move. Finally, a recording of my neighbour threatening me secured the deal. We were granted the status and began the process of moving, a process which took six months and 16 failed housing bids.

The meeting I was referring to in my introduction, was a 'multi-agency' meeting of charities in Sheffield which work with refugees. They were having a discussion about Asylum Seekers who, when granted permission to stay, had to wait months on the council house waiting list before securing a property. They thought this to be a terrible predicament and were proposing a priority list just for refugees.

That suggestion triggered my response above and set in motion a journey of discovery in seeing how class imbalance and under-representation in our sector negatively impact the work we do and the communities we are desiring to serve.

This lack of representation in supporting agencies from people with real lived experience of life in these communities can lead to desperately out-of-touch policies like the one above.

I am passionate about addressing this imbalance and was thrilled to be awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2020 to find out more about refugee integration in disadvantaged communities.

Put on hold due to Covid, I was finally able to travel this year to Oakland, California, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, to experience their approaches in involving people from these communities in the integration process.

Having local people willing to volunteer is a vital part of community cohesion. In Oakland, organisations have developed a good understanding of potential barriers to volunteering faced by people from disadvantaged communities. For example, people can often be 'time poor.' They might have three or four part-time jobs or caring responsibilities, so it's very difficult to commit to a weekly volunteering slot. They have dealt with this by recruiting groups of people to volunteer on a rota or drop-in, drop-out basis, offering support to each other.

They also offer a wide range of volunteer roles. Offering varied roles can help people with less confidence build up experience and progress to more specialised roles later on. For example, there were roles based around helping a family to go shopping or how to navigate the public transport system.

In Amsterdam, the organisations I visited were situated in areas with around 80% social housing. None of them focused solely on refugees because they made a point of delivering community initiatives for everyone in the community, although they were very mindful that this would aid integration for newcomers. The services were delivered by all and provided for all. They didn't differentiate.

I met two local Syrians who had set up a small hairdressers in one of the community centres and were offering reduced-price haircuts for anyone in their community.

There was a language cafe, where non-migrant locals would come in, get a coffee and sit at a table, with the expectation that local people from the refugee community would sit at the same table and practice speaking Dutch.

My Fellowship was inspirational, and you will be able to read more of my findings here when I finish my report at the end of September.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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