Listening campaign launched to help newly arrived refugees in Lewisham

Lewisham is hoping to help refugees feel safer. Pic: Katie Moum

A “Sanctuary Listening Campaign” has been launched to identify needs and concerns amongst migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Lewisham.

The campaign was launched as a partnership between Lewisham Citizens, part of community organising group Citizens UK, and Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network (LRMN) in Deptford, as well as 13 other local organisations.

LRMN is non-profit organisation that offers free and confidential advice and counselling to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers across the capital.

In a report released last year, Lewisham Council said: “Since the referendum there has been a marked increase in hostile behaviour towards immigrants and an unpleasant and dangerous increase in nationalism and xenophobic attitudes in this country.”

An introduction to the campaign was held at Lewisham Islamic Centre Nursery on March 18, where representatives and residents were offered the opportunity to raise their thoughts and concerns.

According to Refugee Council’s 2019 report, the number of applications from asylum seekers in the United Kingdom increased from 7,225 to 8,639 (19.5 per cent) between the last quarter of 2017 and the last quarter of 2018.

The campaign is expected to run until May, when the 15 participating organisations will attend a meeting, discuss feedback and receive recommendations from experts. Throughout the campaign, their core team will collect information through one-on-one talks, group meetings and surveys.

Hannah Gretton, Community Organiser for Croydon Citizens and Lewisham Citizens, told ELL: “With a core team, working within different organisations across the borough, the campaign is held to help immigrants and refugees that are struggling in the community.”

According to independent charity Refugee Action, 75 per cent of the public agrees that learning English is beneficial for refugees. Despite this, many refugees have to wait up to three years to access English classes. Discussing the matter, Gretton urged: “Learning English is one of those vital things that refugees need”.

Lewisham is one of a number of councils to removed Home Office immigration officers from within their offices.  Until recently, immigration officers have had access to meetings between councils and migrant families, and their responsibility has been to report any person that seeks emergency funds to the Home Office.

Gretton said: “If we want to see changes within the immigration system, we need to do it ourselves. We cannot expect the government to do it for us. People don’t understand that these issues affect more than one generation”.

The partnership is scheduled to present its main priorities to Lewisham Council during Refugee Week in June. Gretton said: “I think providing English classes to newly arrived refugees could perhaps be voted as one of our priorities. As well as improving the NHS and the council’s treatment of refugees.”

Highlighting the issue of health care for refugees and asylum seekers, she said: “Women cannot take their ill children to the hospital without worrying – that needs to change. The system has too many flaws.”

For more information, visit Citizens UK’s website or call Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network on 020 8694 0323.

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