Parliament, media headlines and hoardings have all featured arguments over refugee protection and migration in recent years. News, fake news and down-right scare-mongering have played to public uncertainty and anxieties, rarely allowing time for considered conversations and discussion within neighbourhoods and communities. All too often the most strident opinions crowd out tentative questions. When people feel that their views are not being heard, they take refuge in saying ‘No’. Election, opinion polls and referendum returns highlight the fact that it is those areas with least experience of refugees and migrants that can be the most adamant that migration is a problem for the UK.
The SCI sponsored convening ‘Welcoming Communities: Working for Inclusion’, in May 2017, heard from activists working in local communities across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Facilitated by Centris (Newcastle), they spoke about how community organising can ensure that the refugee and migrant contribution to their new communities can be a win-win situation. Certain essential pre-conditions were identified: taking the time to build trust and relationships; identifying common issues around which people can work together and highlighting values that speak to generosity rather than fear. The need for activists and advocates to escape from organisational silos of working purely within the refugee/migration sector or within locality-based community development, was recognised. The key to more inclusive strategies at grassroots level is to explore the overlap between the two.
The seminar acknowledged the importance of creating space for potentially ‘difficult’, and contentious, conversations, drawing on the experience of addressing sectarianism in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The importance of a non-judgemental approach was agreed. Stories were shared of where empathy was forged between people – of whatever background – that experience marginalisation, poverty and uncertainty, whether due to fear of conflict, economic deprivation or cultural isolation. The positive contribution that in-comers bring to their new home was celebrated, although this needs to be communicated to their neighbours on an on-going basis. Deliberative community organising can work effectively in building welcoming communities.
Alongside this focus on community organising and inclusion at neighbourhood level, The Social Change Initiative works to support peer exchange and learning between organisations working in support of refugees and on migration issues. It also has an interest in effective strategic communication in this area. The full seminar report can be downloaded below: