Throughout 2011, the Refugee Council has supported 18 London-based refugees and asylum seekers to develop their own campaign action plan to be delivered by the refugee community organisations they are involved in, and make a real difference in their communities.
Participants in the Refugee Council's 2011 Refugee Empowerment Project, funded by Trust for London, attended six-week training sessions delivered by different members of Refugee Council staff that outlined the ways to campaign effectively. During the courses, they acquired the skills, knowledge and confidence to conduct campaigning.
After the training, each participant had to define the goals of his/her campaign and was matched with a mentor who has worked closely with them throughout the project.
The campigns they developed addressed issues from gang violence to awareness on mental health issues and improvement of the housing conditions of refugees and asylum seekers.
The successful outcome of the single campaigns was matched only by the sense of empowerment of the campaigners, that learned to become leaders of their own change.
As reported by The Migrant Voice, the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, gave an inspiring speech at the closing celebration of the project, and highlighted the importance of campaigning for NGOs as well as for individuals.
Ne Kunda Nlaba, one of the participants in the project, has already produced a film “Living without Living” about the issue, but is also raising awareness through websites and social media.
The film was launched at a conference in October at Amnesty International Human rights centre. As an outcome of the conference, recommendations on giving asylum seekers work permits and changing the reporting system will now be sent to the home office.
Ne Kunda Nlaba, agreed with Shami Chakrabarti and said that campaigning was important for migrant groups because it helped to get their voice heard, to raise awareness, to make changes and to be treated with respect and dignity.
His campaign, 'Respect and Dignity for Asylum Seekers' aims to improve the asylum reporting system in the UK.
Ne Kunda was motivated to start his campaign because of his own experiences and those of other refugees and asylum seekers.
A particular contest is faced by asylum seekers who are destitute, get no support, are not allowed to work, but still have to report every week or 2 weeks without money for a travel card to get from their area to the reporting centre.
Ne Kunda talked about the experiences of queuing outside the reporting centre in cold weather and rain, and of people's fear of being detained when they go to report.
For Ne Kunda, the experience of being part of the REP project had brought him a good understanding of campaigning and a stronger network, and it has also built his confidence. He felt a strong duty to take this work further and had decided to be an ambassador for refugees and asylum seekers.
As the Refugee Empowerment Project shows, campaigns are a way to raise awareness and create movements for change. Crucially, it helps to change the broader community perspective on migrants as well as serve the broader community, improving people's lives and experience in the UK. Campaigning thus not only create change, but becomes a way to bring people together.