What community activism looks like when the people impacted take the lead

Policies that affect refugees and people seeking asylum, as well as services for them, are too often designed and determined without considering the voices of the people that are most directly impacted.

The UK-wide Voices Network challenges the status quo by providing experts-by-experience of refugee and asylum issues (Voices Ambassadors) with a route to influence services, strategy and policy, and broader society.

The Network’s current priority issue is for people seeking asylum to be granted the right to work. To exert greater influence, the Network opted to become an independent coalition partner of Lift the Ban, the campaign to allow people seeking asylum to work.

Voices Ambassadors in Glasgow decided to host ‘The Voices of the Voiceless’ event to raise awareness of the issue in the local community and amplify the voices of those excluded from employment.

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Messages of support from members of the community.

Voices Ambassadors in Glasgow decided to host ‘The Voices of the Voiceless’ event to raise awareness of the issue in the local community and amplify the voices of those excluded from employment.

Planning the Event 

Voices Ambassadors began by brainstorming the audience and objective of the event – to engage different community groups who may not otherwise be engaged on the issue – before creating a list of roles and nominating individuals for each. We also allocated non-verbal roles such as collecting postcards to be sent to the Home Secretary, creating art work and setting up the venue.

The group co-wrote the script for the day and facilitated poetry writing workshops and a rehearsal ahead of the event. They then advised me on how they envisioned the event programme and reviewed multiple drafts.

Challenges

Planning the event was not without challenges, but we worked to overcome these so that everyone who wanted to could be involved. Most Ambassadors are only entitled to asylum support which works out at £5.39 per day. I ordered pre-bought bus tokens to give to them for the following meeting so that travel costs would not prevent them from attending. 

Planning mainly took place in May and June and many Ambassadors had exams which affected their attendance. Minutes from each meeting were sent to everyone via Whatsapp, SMS or discussed in a call to catch people up.

Hearing and speaking of very difficult experiences caused some participants distress. To best mitigate such feelings, we talked through risks and Ambassadors were asked to reflect on if participating was best for them. The Network also receives psychosocial support and take part in reflective practice and debriefs.

The Voices of the Voiceless Event – Glasgow, 29th June 2019

The event brought together over 100 people from communities across Scotland. It showcased the original poetry of Voices Ambassadors alongside local poets, lawyers and musicians who performed in solidarity with the Voices Network.

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A postcard to the Home Secretary from a Glasgow City Councillor

When describing the event and the opportunity to share poems and music, Voices Ambassador Ngumatjiua said:

It was so great to interact with people in our host community in this way because usually we only speak to Scottish people when we are accessing support services. It was nice to be seen as people with skills, talents, ambitions and things to give to this country.

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Mada reciting her poem about the destruction of Damascus
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The postbox for mail to be delivered to the (now former) Home Secretary

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