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Migrant Voice conference in Birmingham

Event report
Autumn 2016
1. Background

Migrant Voice (MV) is a migrant-led organisation established with the aim of increasing the
representation of migrants in the media in order to encourage a more balanced, well-informed and
inclusive public debate on migration.

Migrant Voice works to strengthen the skills, capacity and confidence of members of migrant

Since setting up in 2010 Migrant Voice has worked through two general elections and a financial
crisis that has contributed to sharpening the tone of the migration debate. We see the coming years
as holding a number of continued challenges.

This conference created a space for migrants, academics, journalists, and others interested in
migration to unpack current problems and the ones ahead, deepen our understanding of the
complex and fast evolving developments in Europe and the UK, and develop our narratives and
strategies to have a voice on these issues

Following the surge in hate crimes against migrants after the EU referendum vote and the new
developments facing the UK, we chose this year to hold regional conference in Birmingham, London
and Glasgow rather than one national conference in order to go to the heart of these issues
regionally and explore ways forward in a local context. They bring together migrant communities
with experts on migration, equality, academics, the media and other stakeholders to take action.

2. Overview of the conference

Migrant Voice held the first of three regional conferences on the topic of: Migrants and Migration
Post Brexit; finding our voice to influence the new landscape, on October 24th 2016, at the University
of Birmingham.

The University of Birmingham played an important role in supporting and hosting this conference.
The one day event brought together over 70 activists, professionals, media and migration experts, to
discuss the urgent issues concerning migration in the UK and the EU.

Participants included members of our network hubs in Birmingham and the West Midlands, as well
as interested individuals and experts from around the West Midlands, both migrants and Britons.

David Hirst, Migrant Voice Community Worker in Birmingham welcome participants to the event.

Dr Nando Sigona, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of IRiS, School of Social Policy, University of
Birmingham delivered the keynote speech. This was followed by a panel discussion on migrants and
migration post Brexit chaired by Nazek Ramadan, Executive Director of Migrant Voice.

On the panel were Joy Warmington, CEO of BRAP, Don Flynn, Director of Migrants Rights Network,
Kenneth Rodney, CEO, Centre for Equality and Diversity, and Sabir Zazai, Centre Director at Coventry
Refugee and Migrant Centre.

After a networking break, participants broke into workshops to come up with practical ways to
address the issues discussed in the morning; which included Dealing with hate crime and
xenophobia, What are the challenges for migrants rights and what can we do about it to engage?,
and Working with the media getting our stories and issues covered.

Following the workshops, groups fed back their actions to the plenary.
3. Conference speeches

Keynote speech: Dr Nando Sigona, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of IRiS, School of Social
Policy, University of Birmingham

Dr Nando welcomed all to the University of Birmingham and to the conference. He emphasized the
relevance of this event to the work of IRiS (Institute for Research into Superdiversity) and for himself
as a migrant.

Dr Nando then dedicated his speech to focus on how we can work to ensure the migrant voice can
be heard within the current political landscape in the UK.

He said the starting point is to identify the challenges, and the spaces where the voices can be heard.

We need to understand public opinion first of all. Dr Nando showed a map of the UK depicting the
relation between the size of migrant population in an area and views on migration. It shows that
areas which have more migrants tend to have more positive views and those with few migrants tend
to hold more negative views.

The challenge for us living in cities is how we reach out to areas that are concerned about migration.

Dr Nando then turned to research showing which issues are of most concern to the British public.
Looking at the trends over the last decade you can see that during the EU referendum, the economy
receded in prominence as an issue of concern compared to issues of race relations and immigration.

When you look more closely at what this concern is about and compare to other countries, you see
that uniquely the UK is the country with the highest concern for legal migration. What is contested
here is the contribution of those who are legally resident in the country. It comes down to British
jobs for British people, which is important to understand in order to plan your messaging.

The other concern is about the country being overcrowded and when you look at opinion on
migration in areas with few migrants, there is a mismatch between perception and reality, he said.

Dr Nando then turned to the challenge of the media, looking at its role in the referendum debate.

He showed that while it was the same number of papers that supported Leave and Remain, in
terms of distribution and readership then the majority of papers supported Brexit. How do we then
get space for our voices?

Throughout the referendum period these newspapers systematically demonised migrants, free
movement, and Europe as undemocratic and as something different from us. They separated the
issue of EU migrants from British expats in Europe.

On the ground in Birmingham we had additional complexities. Dr Nando highlighted the issues
regarding the antagonising of established minority ethnic groups against new eastern Europeans and
eastern European groups against each other.

He said that when we think about the voices of migrants, we can see that 3 million EU migrants in
the UK were not heard. Both the media supporting Leave and Remain gave very little access for
migrants voices.

What we need to think about is to what extent this is undoing the fabric of society and challenging
the idea of belonging, he said. EU migrants had no voice in the election, no voices in the debate. The
fact that you dont have a voice makes it easier to scapegoat people.
Our challenge now is to reach out beyond the usual suspects and beyond the areas that support
migrants, he added.

Dr Nando concluded by encouraging all to also keep very strong focus on countering hate crime. It is
an issue where we can build support.

Nazek Ramadan (Director of Migrant Voice)

Nazek welcomed all to the conference, and explained that the day was designed not only to look at
the challenges but mostly to find out how we can work for solutions by working with others outside
the migrant sector. We need today to also look at how to find the space for migrant voices, and how
to work to build alliances with public bodies and other stakeholders.

Following from Dr Nandos speech, she highlighted Migrant Voices efforts to get EU migrants voices
into the media around the referendum and the difficulties in this, as there was not much media
interest in our voices.

Nazek explained that this conference is our first of a series of regional conferences in Birmingham,
London and Glasgow, whereas we usually hold one conference to bring the cities together. Because
of the challenges this year in terms of Brexit and the rise in hate crime, we could see the need for
regional solutions and therefore regional conferences.

Kenneth Rodney, CEO, Centre for Equality and Diversity (CED)

Kenneth explained the rise of the far-Right and anti-migrant discourse in Dudley. The statement from
EDL and Britain First, and even some mainstream political leaders, have created an atmosphere of
tension. He explained that the CEDs response has been to develop strategic alliances with other
community organisations including tenants and residents groups, (TRAs).

The alliances allowed organisations involved to gain intelligence before the police or local authority,
allowed for a better understanding of interfaith networks and community groups, and enabled
members of the partnerships to share with different communities and maximise resources. The
alliances were mutually beneficial for all groups, which is necessary for success. It also broadened
the base of support by identifying community players that share values. Another positive outcome
was that it led to greater representation of migrants on TRA committees and meetings.

Finally, working in alliances created a sense of community positivity, creating a greater level of
community empowerment and preventing communities from being played against each other.

Don Flynn, Director, Migrants Rights Network (MRN)

Don Flynn argued that currently there are multiple crises feeding off each other: the failure of Europe
to solve the refugee crisis, the problem of free movement post-Brexit, and so on.

He contended that there is a risk within migrant organisations to siloise the debate, and there ends
up being a focus on the type of migrant easiest to defend at any given time. There are also multiple
campaigns duplicating work on the same strand. He argued that such siloisation leads to divide-and-
rule tactics flourishing, is dangerous and allows for the silencing of the most marginalised voices,
drawing on his experience of campaigns around international students' rights. When the crises are
being viewed as the same, the response must be coherent and unifying.

He called for MV to take the role of aspiring to cement different groups together and offer a clear
narrative that also says to EU migrants suffering now that all migrants are in it together and
introduces them to more historic stories. This task cannot be left to powerful stakeholders who will
protect their own smaller interests.

Don described the coalition he helped build against racism in Dudley as having a flexible model of
what it wanted to say in public, bringing in diverse fora of ordinary people and centring their voices -
principles to adopt more broadly.

Joy Warmington, CEO of BRAP

Joy outlined factors playing a role in the Leave vote, including in Birmingham where 50.4% voted to
leave. She contended poverty alone was not a determinant of voting choice, but being excluded
might be. There are issues around how traditionally the majority of the citys development has
occurred in the centre and this has led residents on the outskirts to resent the distribution of
resources. Birmingham is complex. It is a city where 40% live in the 10% most deprived wards in
England. There are also issues around the lack of connectivity - transport infrastructure, etc., which
partly leads to people staying in their local areas.

Alongside this, lower levels of diversity in the outskirts meant less contact with migrants, which
combined with a sense not sharing in the cities prosperity, meant opinion was more likely to be
shaped by press untruths. At the same time those at the outskirts have less opportunity to test
assumptions through engagement with migrants.

Joy concluded that engagement in suburban and rural areas was critical to avoid further polarisation.
We need to think about how we listen to dissenting voices and try to understand what their
experiences are and what behaviours are driving those, she said.

Sabir Zazai, Centre Director at Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre

Sabir raised the issue of the emotional and highly divisive narrative on immigration seen around the
last general election, the debate about quotas for refugees and most recently in the referendum. This
was temporarily disrupted by the Aylan Kurdi case, where popular support was gathered and the
government committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees in response to public pressure. Yet he has
seen that the governments commitment has appeared to legitimise punishing those who are not
brought in by a government resettlement plan.

Sabir then highlighted the situation on the ground, and how his Centre have seen EU migrants in a
state of panic, unsure of their rights after Brexit, which has created an atmosphere of fear. This
includes refugees who have status in other EU countries and are worried about their future here.

Sabir spoke about the increase in hate crime. City of Sanctuary polls with members show that they
have seen not only hate crime but increased hate speech, which will lead to further hate crime if
allowed to continue. He raised the importance of Migrant Voice, MRN and others working to keep an
eye on the hate speech and challenging it and instead bringing a balanced debate. There is a great
opportunity to celebrate the positive and sustained public support for refugees and combine the
voice of the public and migrants to bring about positive change. A voice that is our voice and not
based on the language of them and us.

4. Panel discussion

Topics included

Micro-aggression does more damage than direct hate crime and is difficult to report, we
need make sure there is recording and policy to account for this
First impressions of new migrants, and the importance of getting them to have a sense of
Particular need for a framework with clear actions to keep the balance and create a shift in
attitudes, and more collaborative working
Need for clarity and specificity about implications of Brexit and/or migration policy changes,
and what it means locally for public services (e.g. impact of losing foreign-born NHS staff.)
Joy, (BRAP) argued that tolerance is not as widespread as we like to think, but things can
change. We have not been good at communicating the benefit that migrants bring, the
benefits of tolerance and the inevitability of migration - which is why we get fault lines even
between communities that have been here a long time.
We need a strategy to reverse the divide and rule campaign, and to address the issue of
media power.

5. Workshops

Workshop 1: Dealing with hate crime and xenophobia

An interactive session testing participants knowledge of hate crime in Birmingham while providing
guidance on how to report or support others to do so. The session looked at some of the challenges
around responding to hate crime as communities and how we can work with schools, the police, and
other stakeholders. Facilitated by Ghiyas Somra (BRAP)

We learned that 50% of 2012-15 crimes involved violence, 48% were race-based and 17% religion-
based (stats not based on reporting: 24-33% were reported)

Paul Street from the West Midlands Police was invited to explain the definitions of hate crime and
hate incidents, adding the perspective from the police and answered questions. He explained that: A
hate crime is a criminal act that the victim (or another person present) thinks is motivated by hatred
based on race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Whereas a hate incident is a
non-criminal act that is motivated by hatred. The incident is reported based on how the victim feels
about it, rather than evidence against the offender. He added that 97% of hate incidents in
Birmingham are racially motivated. You report hate incidents and hate crime the same way.

In small groups, participants looked at how to address hate crime and through group discussion
raised the main issues in Birmingham around addressing hate crime and came up with suggestions
for solutions and further actions.

Session 1 and 2 Workshop main issues raised

What to do to fill the gap between the occurrences of hate crime and those that are reported?

We need a clear understanding of what hate crime is and how to report it

There is a fear of reporting. You can report confidentially through a third party but the
evidence is still important for the police to be aware of patterns of incidents happening in an

Barriers to reporting

Mistrust of reporting to state agencies: some individuals had had negative experiences
reporting to the police. Others were scared of reporting to other agencies such as GPs
surgeries which now have a duty to check immigration status under??? due to
implementation of the new Immigration Acts
Communities need a stronger role in defining and challenging hate crime.
Communities would like more awareness raising and understanding of the process of
reporting hate crime and what constitutes a hate crime.
A major area of discussion was the use of third party reporting centres. While on the one
hand there is mistrust of reporting to the state and therefore a need to work with local
communities neighbourhood organisations on reporting, there are also several issues to do
with the existing list of third party reporting centres.

These include:

o The list of the centres is inaccurate and not kept up to date

o Some staff at reporting centres may not know that they are reporting centres or
how to handle a report.
o Individuals also may think they can only ask for help at centres that are on this

Causes of hate crime:

Constant negative Rhetoric against migrants from media and political leaders normalises this
kind of thinking and embeds the anti-migrant attitude in institutions such as NHS etc, which
then deny services to migrants. There is a relationship between this rhetoric and the rise in
hate crime. We need a campaign around that.

What can we do to prevent hate crime?

We can strengthen links between settled and more recent migrant communities to show we
are strong
Need to liaise with schools and teach children
Need community champions to provide support
Awareness raising by all community groups at our events and meetings, but with central
organisation providing information on hate crime that can be disseminated by local

The importance of reporting:

Some victims of hate crime want to talk through the incident have a sympathetic ear, but
not report in the first instance. They need support and empathy can we offer this as
community groups?
We should create safe spaces for people to come and discuss and know they are not alone
Paul Street stressed that intelligence was key for understanding patterns of hate crime, which
is why recording all incidents is important. Reports are filed but not closed; they are used to
build up pictures. These pictures can then aid prevention activity, responding in communities
likely to be hit, building understanding of communities and understanding the motivations/
predicting the actions of perpetrators.
WMP stressed that confidentiality is protected in reporting situations it is safe to come
forward but helpful to know early on whether someone will go to court, which provides
the highest chance of securing a conviction

Workshop main messages

Communities need safe spaces to discuss what has happened to them and know they are not
alone. These issues need to be addressed as a community not a burden on individuals.
The negative rhetoric coming from leadership and institutions. [is leading to hate crime]
Agreed Actions

Organise a conference for third party hate crime reporting centres to discuss how they can
support each other, signpost to each other and have further training
More awareness raising to be done by community organisations but with a central
organisation providing information on hate crime that can be disseminated by local
There is a need for a campaign around the link between the negative rhetoric and the
License it gives to the crime
Need more community champions and safe spaces for victims of hate crime to share their
More awareness raising and information- information pack prevention is needed
BRAP/MV/PEA to work on
Translation of hate crime information materials is needed
Organising local events to share information about hate crime, talking to community groups
to organise meeting and invite the police

Workshop 2: What are the challenges for migrants rights / what can we do about it to engage

What are the opportunities in the coming years for migrants to take part in shaping the post Brexit
landscape; how do we build new alliances; what are the platforms and opportunities for migrants to
push for their rights? Facilitated by Don Flynn, Migrants Rights Network.

Don facilitated discussions on the threats and challenges we want to respond to, what messages we
want to get across and who should we be speaking to, and what actions, projects and activities we
want to take forward.

Session 1 and 2 Workshop main issues raised

Challenges to migrants rights and barriers to accessing rights

Migrants are facing increasing challenges, with a growing culture against allowing them
access to their rights as migrants and citizens.
Lack of knowledge of migrants basic rights is leading to more rights being eroded, in
particular in healthcare, with recurring incidences relating to maternity care; which in turn is
leading to increasing levels of deprivation, in particular for children and families.
Other areas where migrants are refused access include employment, and being turned away
at colleges or at GP practices. There is a feeling of disempowerment: It was my word against
the doctors [when trying to access the service].
Cuts to funding for rights based NGOs, particularly in Birmingham, which could have
challenged this is making it increasingly difficult for migrants to know and access their rights.
This underfunding of independent rights-based NGOs is a massive political issue.
Communications about rights are unclear; people living in destitution are scared and
vulnerable and do not know where to get help
Individuals whether migrants or British born have little information about rights and also
how and where to go to ask for help or support other to get help.
Even though the rights are there, some agencies are acting unlawfully.

The impact of Brexit on communities

After Brexit more migrants are feeling uncertainty or feeling unwelcomed and are looking for
organisations to support them to deal with those issues.
There is a lack of understanding of EU migrants rights and confusion over legislation in
relation as to what is to come after the triggering of Article 50
Community organisations see migrants reacting in two main ways: an increase in signing up
to supplementary schools and people reaching out to organisations that they feel can
speak for them. But also parents saying we are leaving at the end of the year

Other challenges

There is a real increase in hate crime

There are worries for young refugees about what will happen after they turn 18.
Young refugees are wanting to understand their roots and histories and what happened in
their country e.g. Afghanistan
Migrants being told you cant dream of achieving equality as a migrant and woman, you
wont be able to achieve success in your field
Destitution levels will only increase with the implementation of the Immigration Act.
Social services are struggling to place unaccompanied minors in foster care, due to lack of
understanding of different language, culture and communities.
Parts of the public stereotype migrants and lack the understanding of migrants experiences
and the difference between settled and more recent arrivals and the difference between
migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

The tools we need to develop and opportunities to create change

It would be important to do research on the issue as the statistics are needed to work for
change. At present statistics and evidence on some areas are vague or their credibility is
questionable dependent on who has carried out the research.
We need a central repository for information for the service providers to access, because
there is a lot of scaremongering of what frontline staff can and cant do. It would help a lot.
There is a greater need for joint up work and collaboration not only between NGOs and
academic institutions. We need to work in a broader coalition to create the evidence base
and hold people to account.
The organisations that have the information need to share it with migrants in sessions about
what are your rights.
The messaging has to be led by the migrants and grassroots organisations rather than the
academic institutions
There is an opportunity there to go and speak to EU migrant communities at this point in
time can we assure them that we want them in our communities?

Key messages and actions

We need to undertake more lobbying

We need to undertake research together with universities to build strong evidence and
channel this through the local media. Come up with a business plan for what information we
need to gather and how to use this.
Build more networks
Police that do engagement work give feedback that they are coming across new
communities and dont know how to engage with them and there is no one there to act as a
go-between. What information does exist is not shared between regions. They want to make
sure officers are upskilled. It would be good to produce videos to train officers.
Develop a business plan for the sector that we can push forward with the public services
A need to share good practice. There are a lot of good projects across the country. We do too
much work in isolation. How do we use our existing resources to work better together as the
third sector
Migrants are too divided; migrant communities need to address these divisions and come
Organisations also need to unite: there needs to be a cohesive strategy in Birmingham.
NGOs and migrant organisations need to involve themselves with other events and hubs
such as places of worship, libraries and education institutions to break down barriers and
expand their reach.
A central repository needs to be created with the correct information on rights, entitlements
and policies so that all organisations can access it and pass it on to others who need it. There
is information locked up within communities and organisations that is not being used.
There was great enthusiasm for the one day without us campaign, and a need for a national
coordination to participate in the event.
Many participants felt the need to for migrants to become more outspoken.
Education was a key action that participants felt needed to be implemented in order to
address the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding surrounding migrants and refugees.
Create informal educational events through arts programs, libraries, galleries and museums.
Education: we need to reach out to anti-migrant audiences and those with negative
assumption about migrants and to challenge these assumptions through open discussions.
Change the narrative and language, specifically the use of labels and terms that refer to us
and them which causes greater divisions and segregation; e.g. I am not a stranger or a
migrant, I am a person, I am your neighbour.

Workshop 3: Working with the Media how do we make our voices heard?

The interactive workshop looked at how best to get our stories and messages into the media using
different tools and media platforms. Facilitated by Arshia Riaz, BBC radio presenter, producer and

Arshia explained what the media is looking for in a story and what makes a story interesting to the
audience you want to reach. Participants came up with a number of story ideas from their own
communities. The interactive session had participants work in small groups to come up with stories
and pitch them to Arshia. Everyone commented and gave feedback on the stories as presented.

6. Feedback

The overwhelming majority of respondents marked the workshops as either useful or very
The same is true of the panel discussion
People were overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to network with like-minded
people and groups
Many expressed a desire to continue collaborating in future, especially when they were more
aware of the organisational landscape
Many expressed a desire to get involved in specific campaigns e.g. One Day Without Us
An appreciation of the delivery of relevant, clear and rich information was common for all
workshops but particularly the media workshop
Some felt that the actions agreed could have been more concrete with clearer delivery plans
This is a selection of comments/feedback from participants on the question: As a result of the
conference I will:

Create more info to hand to people of my town and community. Make a change.

I am to feedback all of the gained information to my organisation to complement our understanding

and best practice.

Liaise with other community groups towards underlining things we have in common.

Awareness raise about reporting hate crime.

More communication with various media sources/outlets to promote community-led ideas.