The outlook is “bleak” for the future of Hackney’s immigrants and refugees organisations, says the founder of a local migrant centre.
Refugee and migrant institutions are working to make Hackney a “Borough of Sanctuary” by providing help for newcomers, but gentrification, increasing rents and funding cuts are making this work difficult.
Ali Aksoy, director of Hackney Refugee Forum (HRF), a network of local organisations providing services for refugees, and co-founder of Hackney Migrant Centre, said: “We’re expecting for things to get worse because of the Syrian crisis”.
“In 2009 we used to have 92 groups in our lists. 50 of them simply disappeared or moved out of Hackney because of unaffordable rents”.
He added: “Things have drastically changed in Hackney since the Olympics in 2012 and it’s become very expensive,”
According to Nationwide Building Society, the average house price in the East London borough has increased by almost 50 per cent since the first quarter of 2012. After the Olympics, Hackney saw the strongest annual price change in London and last year the average cost for a house in the borough broke over half a million pounds.
Aksoy knows first hand how difficult it is to navigate the UK’s immigration system, as a refugee from Turkey himself.
“When I decided to stay in this country I didn’t want to go to the GP for more than a year because I thought it was going to cost me. But then I learned that it’s free and I registered. People need to be informed”, he said.
One of the main tasks for organisations in Aksoy network is helping migrants and refugees gain access to information and services needed.
But the reality of gentrification and funding cuts is making it hard to provide these services.
“The demographics are changing. There’s new residential areas everywhere and new types of people are coming to Hackney”, he said.
The HRF is working in close contact with Hackney council to improve the situation for people who just arrived to the borough. According to Aksoy the council has been listening to the organisation concerns and offered moral support, but he is unsure of how much they can help.
He told EastLondonLines: “As long as resources can’t be found it’s not too much help.”
Even though the future is looking uncertain, Aksoy is not ready to give up on Hackney’s tradition of helping refugees and migrants.
He said that organisations are being more “committed” and “innovative” than ever to find solutions.
Aksoy is also turning to the local community for support saying “We need to educate and inform ordinary people in Hackney about the refugees’ situations and that we are all just ordinary people.”
“We need to inform people to welcome refugees and migrants.”
Hackney’s Mayor Jules Pipes said earlier this year that the borough has a “strong history” of offering support to refugees and migrants and he wishes it to continue to “stand up and help” newcomers.