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The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

June 2012

Refugee Week Supplement People

Refugee Writer


Football in Clapham



2012 Refugee Week Supplement

Roma Tearne Sri Lankan born refugee and writer tells her story

page 4 SupportingRefugees





Much more than a “ b e a u t i fu l ga m e ” By Carolina Ramírez Today there are hundreds of football leagues in London, and Latin Americans in particular are contributing to their rise in numbers. Sport-based social activities are often underestimated in understanding refugees’ experiences of becoming part of a new society, and their everyday lives in a city like London. The early days of the Latin American

football league of Clapham Common (1970s and 1980s) demonstrate, however, that what may begin as just sport can provide an important source of social support, camaraderie and community. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the pitches on Clapham Common and their adjacent surroundings did not simply involve sports. Women and men, adults and children went there to socialise and build relationships, all

facing the challenging experience of starting a life in a new country. While most of the players were male, women participated by socialising around the pitch and by preparing and sharing traditional national dishes which, apart from creating a familiar atmosphere, allowed them to raise money and send some of this back to Chile. It was also possible to find news from home and updates about forthcoming community

C o n ti n u e d o n p a g e 3 > >


The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

Editor-in-Chief: Ros Lucas Editorial team: Dermott Carroll Joanna Haber Sarah Pring Production & Communications: Sylvia Velasquez Creative Director & layout: Pablo Monteagudo Creative Design: Carlos Lavayen

Letter from Editor-in-Chief

This Refugee Week supplement of The New Londoners highlights the contribution that refugees make to life in London: refugees such as Roma Tearne, the Sri-Lankan born acclaimed artist and novelist, and Jawid Jamili, an Afghani poet. Then there are groups who have started activities to give support to their communities such as the Chileans who set up a football league in the 1 970s and the Southwark Day Centre for asylum seekers that provides a range of services to help refugees adapt to life in London. The New Londoners is also produced with the assistance of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who all wish to contribute to life in London. All of their experiences and stories are a triumph of hope over adversity and we look forward to celebrating Refugee Week with them in this vibrant, diverse city that has benefited greatly from their contribution.

Reporters: Helena Argyle Hasani Hasani Photographers: Jawid Jamili Bjanka Kadie Pablo Monteagudo Ray Yagnik Mauricio Zamorano

Ros Lucas MRC Executive Director

Contributors: Fotosynthesis Jawid Jamili Mauro Longo Carolina RamĂ­rez Richard Rushworth Drawing: Ian Drummond Produced by: Migrants Resource Centre 24 Churton Street London SW1 V 2LP 02078342505 With thanks to all the volunteer journalists, contributors and media group members who took part in the production of the supplement Special thanks to: Migrants and Refugee Social Media Group

Follow us and join in debate on:

The New Londoners @newlondoners

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The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement


ootball and new oundations

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activities in the UK. All of this created a sense of community and solidarity, drawing together Chileans who were living in a relatively scattered way throughout the city. This does not mean that all Chileans participated in the league, or that the ‘community’ in question was strictly based on country of origin. Indeed, the league increasingly incorporated players and audiences who were from other countries in Latin America and who also came to London in the 1970s and 1980s, either as refugees or through work permits. Support networks were created by and for them there. It also provided a way of coping with the difficulties some of them found in London, such as exclusion, exploitation and a sense of cultural loss, at the same time as coping with the burdens

of being in exile, away from family and dealing with the impact of traumatic experiences before departure. The football community gave a sense of familiarity in the face of these migrants’ common feelings of being ‘out of place’. The experience of becoming an exile and a refugee in the UK often came with feelings of dislocation and a sense of being perceived as different for the first time. This was not only felt by adults, but also by exiled children who often had to start school as soon as they arrived, even before learning the host country’s language. As some of the children relate today (as adults), counting on gathering places like the one created by the Latin American football league was crucial - “I didn’t have to ask myself if I had very black hair, if I’m different. I was a child of Chileans and that’s it!” one of

them recalls. By participating in the space developed by the football league, these children and adults received validation in relation to their customs, habits and appearance - invaluable sources ofbelonging for migrants. Communities built around sports are often underestimated in understanding how refugees live their lives in London. They are usually seen simply in terms of

entertainment activities, without acknowledging the wider social and cultural benefits they create. Yet, as the case of the Latin American football league of South London shows, these sport-based spaces can create a vital sense of belonging for refugees while they are handling the complex experiences of becoming members of a new and foreign society.

The pitches were not only used for sport


The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

Acclaimed Sri Lankanborn artist and novelist Roma Tearne recalls the traumas of her childhood, the experience of migration, and how she put on a Cockney accent

a chat with

Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne was just 10 when her parents moved to London, escaping the violent ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Over time she became an acclaimed artist and writer in Britain. Her first novel, Mosquito, was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Award and the latest, was long listed for the Orange Prize last year. Her fifth book is out in June. In her novels, Tearne depicts the brutal impact of the civil war on the Sri Lankan people and their experiences of migration and exile here. She talks to Hasani Hasani, an asylum seeker himself, about her life, her work, and how she became a master of the English language. The Swimmer,

Interview by Hasani Hasani

Hasani: What was it like to be an immigrant or asylum seeker in 1960s London? Roma: During the 60s and the 70s there was a lot of racism in Britain. When I was 18 and went to university, I wrote a piece about Charles Dickens. My tutor said I couldn’t have written that because, if I had written that, I wouldn’t be in that university but in Oxford. He said if I did it again I would be sent out. I was only 18 and I had enough. I left, I didn’t get my degree. Hasani: Your parents faced discrimination in Sri Lanka because of their interracial marriage. What impact had this experience on you and your family? Roma: On my parents it was terrible because they married against each of their parents’ wishes. My grandfather (my mother’s father) was a Sinhalese man and he said he didn’t want my mother to come within one mile radius of his grave when he died. My grandparents, on my father’s side, the Tamils, made my mother sleep outside in the garden

on her wedding night. My mother also lost two children because the doctors didn’t like the fact that she was expecting a Tamil child. I wrote about this in my book Brixton Beach; one of the doctors wouldn’t give her a caesarean operation and the child died. Hasani: Have you ever gone back to Sri Lanka? Roma: No, I won’t go. I’ve been warned not to go because the government is not very happy with the things that I’ve written about them. As a migrant, you come to a host country and you think that your problems are over, but then you have to deal with other problems and carry inside you all the hurt from your home. This is what I did, which is why I started to write. Hasani: How have you managed to retain such vivid childhood memories of Sri Lanka, which you left almost 40 years ago? Roma: I think it was a quite traumatic experience for me as a child. What I saw when I was a

The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement child was like a photograph in my brain and also, don’t forget, I saw some terrible things. I saw a man being burned in front of me when I was four years old. I also saw obviously what happened to my mother. Hasani: With the end of the Sri Lankan war three years ago, do you hope that things will improve? Roma: It can happen, but the oppressed must be able to speak openly, there has to be a sense of closure. There has to be an admission that the government did the things they did, but this government is not interested in that. What they call reconciliation is not reconciliation. Reconciliation always starts with remembering. Hasani: One of the main characters in your latest novel, The Swimmer, is an asylum seeker who faces xenophobia in Britain. What made you write about this? Roma: One thing was the boy that was shot by mistake in Stockwell [in 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician, was shot dead by police in a case of mistaken identity]. I saw a photograph of his mother after he was killed and I was haunted by that look. Hasani: You initially made a name as an artist. What made

you start writing? Roma: I always wanted to be a writer but when I left university because they said I was copying, I decided I didn’t want to write. I just wanted to be like an English girl with blonde hair and blue eyes [laughs]. I wanted to get rid of my accent, because I wanted the Rounders team to allow me in, so I told my mother not to speak to me in Singhalese and I got myself a little Cockney accent. Then, when the business at university didn’t work out, I wanted to see if I could paint. I went to Oxford, to the Ruskin College, and trained as a painter and filmmaker. Hasani: What’s your next book about? Roma: It’s called and is set in Italy. The story is told in two voices of two very different men: one is an immigrant and the other is a very cultured Englishman. Hasani: What advice would you give to aspiring immigrant writers? Roma: Read as much as you can. Get your reading skills as perfect as you can. Learn the language so that you can combat racism by speaking the language well. Do not blame your host country, but always try to have a positive outlook. The


I just wanted to be like an English girl



Roma Tearne published novels: Mosquito (Harper Collins, 2007) Bone China (Harper Collins, 2008) Brixton Beach (Harper Press, 2009) The Swimmer (Harper Press, 2010) Roma Tearne was pleased to support a literary evening to mark the 20th anniversary of REDRESS, the charity that seeks justice for torture survivors Left page picture of the writer by Mauro Zamorano



The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

Nabyeh Moramazi is an Ahwazi refugee from the Al-Ahwaz province in the south west of Iran. Despite being a lucrative state due to its natural resources of oil, the Ahwazi Arabs are mainly known for being the poorest people on the richest land. In addition to being left empty handed, since the 1980's the Iranian regime has imposed several discriminatory measures against the Ahwazi Arabs, culturally and politically; oppressing them and often torturing and prosecuting them. Nabyeh is a keen politically activist for her people and also a regular client of the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers.

Nabyeh Moramazi

Political activist and user of Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers How long have you been attending the centre and what benefits has it had for you?

As Ahwazi refugees, we have been coming to the centre for many years and we feel welcomed by the staff who work there. They are

friendly and kind to us all and encourage us to speak to them about our situation. Ahwazians, who have been under the Iranian regime, have had the opportunity to explain how they have been tortured, how our boys and girls have been hung, how we

Activists holding flags during a demonstration in London about the province of AlAhwaz (Iran)

have had no right to choose our childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s names, have no right to wear our traditional clothes and to speak our own mother tongue, or to celebrate our own festivals. We find that the centre is very helpful and convenient. For people who have just arrived and do not know how to register with a GP or school, find a job, find friends who have come from similar situations or from the same regime, and have been through a difficult time, the Centre provides support and an opportunity to socialise. Personally, I think the Day Centre is a great place to go

to. It helps people build their confidence, share stories and move on to a better future. How does the centre help you practically?

We go to the Centre for many reasons â&#x20AC;&#x201C; for filling forms, making phone calls, English classes, art classes, gardening, sports, advice etc. Some of those who use the Centreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s services, return as volunteers and help with translating and form filling. The Centre brings the communities together. We celebrate most of our festivals together and that shows what a multicultural community we are.

The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement


A little goes a long way

South London centre helps refugees adapt to life in London By Helena Argyle Spread over three centres, the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers offers a range of free services, ranging from legal advice to English classes and parenting lessons.

quickly attracts eager clients ready to talk to us about the centre, and sing its praises. Sassan from Iran, for example, is keen to emphasise how the centre has helped him work through the tough times he has had since arriving in the UK. He has lived

The New Londoner paid a visit to the Peckham Settlement to speak with coordinator Pauline Nandoo and some of refugees and asylum seekers attending the Centre. Lunch at the the Peckham Settlement is served at 1 pm, as in all the other centres; an eclectic group of people begin to congregate in the hall. A medley of different languages cuts through the air, and friends from all over the world come together, ready to chow down. A queue begins to form and The New Londoner

in London for 12 years, and had difficulty applying for permanent residency, also known as indefinite leave to remain (ILR). The first years of his London life were overshadowed by his difficulty obtaining work, but eight years ago he started coming to the Southwark Day Centre, where he was given advice on housing and benefits as well as important legal advice to help him with his status application. He points out that the British immigration law systems can be quite confusing; often because many people

using these services are still getting to grips with the English language. He cheerily looks around as food is being served and eagerly joins the queue. Today he is just coming to eat and socialise, a practice that is common at the centre. It's not just the practical advice, but the sense of community and familiarity that support the people who attend, who have come from far away and have often been through traumatic and unsettling experiences. The sense of society here, fostered by its volunteers, helps people like Sassan to connect with others and share their experiences. Raymond from Ghana obtained ILR with the help of the centre, and now drops by regularly to meet up with friends and say hello. I would say: For Raymond, the centre offers both a place to greet familiar faces as well as an avenue for different cultures to meet. Once everyone has eaten, the plates are cleared and people begin to say their goodbyes. At the back of the hall a crèche is provided so that parents can enjoy a stress-free afternoon of English lessons, or get help with such things as their status, their benefits and getting their children enlisted in schools. Those who wish to stay and carry on talking are welcome. At the Southwark Day Centres the doors are always open, with relaxed and friendly volunteers ready to help and a buzzing array of clients ready to chat and share experiences with.

a place to greet familiar faces

Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers:


The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

Refugees educate the school children 50 volunteers â&#x20AC;&#x201C; all refugees â&#x20AC;&#x201C; have gone into London schools and shared their experience of conflict, seeking safety and rebuilding their lives with more than 4,000 children. The Refugees into Schools* project engages schoolchildren from across the city in the personal experiences of refugees. It offers a unique opportunity for pupils to meet a refugee, ask questions, and deepen their understanding of why people are forced to seek refuge. Why is it important that children in London learn about refugees? There are enough refugee children in London schools for there to be, on average, one in every class. Hearing the stories of the volunteers gives these children more confidence in discussing their own backgrounds, as well as providing pupils from all backgrounds with role models of survival and success through incredibly difficult circumstances. As the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ethnic diversity increases, it is important that young people have a good understanding of different communities. Research shows that negative attitudes toward immigration becomes increasingly set during adolescence. Given the frequently hostile media depictions of refugees and asylum seekers, addressing how children think about these issues is essential for their interactions with people from different backgrounds.

What pupils say: It is really sad if you have a family and you have to leave them behind, we worry about little things but we don't see how some others have had hard lives.

Refugees into Schools

For the volunteers, it is a chance to learn more about the school system, gain experience and confidence that can improve their employment opportunities and become more involved in the city's civic life.

By Mauro Longo

The Refugees into Schools Project:

What schools say:

What volunteers say:

One year on, it is still clear that the children were genuinely inspired by the visit. They wrote passionate and articulate letters to the Indonesian government on behalf of an imprisoned teacher, after learning about what can happen if the persecuted of other countries don't leave to become refugees. By meeting a refugee, they were able to really understand why people are forced into such circumstances. (Enfield School)

I strongly believe that sharing one's experiences with others contributes towards a happier and more balanced society. I feel it is my duty to have a positive impact on our children's education as a token of gratitude to Britain and to the British people for accepting refugees as part of their society.

The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement


Jawid Jamili

Afgan refugee and poet share his experiences with us In Afghanistan I have two options: To have a good life in my house or to die. But here in UK, I don't have any options. Here they don't let you die and they don't let you stay alive. They put you in a cage. Money cannot bring happiness. I came here to enjoy my life and to have a better life but it became worse. I cannot do anything I want because now somebody controls me. The Home Office and Social Services, I can't do anything without asking them, I have to ask them and then do what they say. They are always promising but they are deceiving the people. They tell me I am over age so why are they telling me they would help me until I am 25? It is good to tell the truth and the person helped would be happy as long as he knows they are not going to help him. I have to pay for my house now but I cannot find a job. They told they would pay for it. If I know then I can do my things without waiting for them.

I came to the UK in September 2008. From that time till today I do not see any interesting things such as life and death. This situation is the only thing I am able to think about. The reason I am saying this is because those people disappointed me. First they say they will help you but the second thing they will do is to kick you like a ball, and that is the reason why I am disappointed.

This was my bedroom in a hos tel I liv ed for 2 years

“My name is J. J. ”

These pictures were taken as part of the “Exploring Surroundings “Project delivered by Fotosynthesis, a not-for profit organisation that uses photography to give a voice to marginalised people, provide educational activities and encourage community cohesion.


The New Londoners Refugee Week Supplement

Voices from No Man' s Land The Poems, published on this space are by refugees and asylum seekers living in London I feel alone By J.J I feel alone I alone can devalue gold, by not caring, If it falls or rises in the market place, Wherever there is gold, there is a chain you know, And if your chain is gold so much the woes for you Love A new feeling gets bigger in your heart. You feel it every time you look at me. You are always thinking of me. You long for me and die for me. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want you to tell me words that melt my heart of longing and love. Enough for me to tell me, I love you. These words kill me. With me, your heart is crazy; even your eyesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; looks are crazy. You blink for a second and my eyes will not see yours. My name is JJ; I am a refugee from Afghanistan. I arrived in the UK when I was 15 years old, I was alone and had left Afghanistan. Because of the war my family had many enemies who were trying to hurt us. We had no choice but to leave. I wanted my family to be safe. Sadly, I am the only member of my family who survived. Drawings by Ian Drummond

Refugee Week 2012 is a unique opportunity to discover and celebrate the contribution that refugees bring to the UK

The New Londoners Refugee Week 2012 Supplement  

Supplement Edition of the New Londoners Magazine for the Refugee Week June 2012

The New Londoners Refugee Week 2012 Supplement  

Supplement Edition of the New Londoners Magazine for the Refugee Week June 2012