Friday, 22 May 2009

A Brighter Future for 5 Young People in Manchester

CITIZENS for Sanctuary is supporting Regional Campaign Action Teams (RCATs) across the UK to take action to implement the Independent Asylum Commission’s recommendation.

Here, Rebecca Murray of Brighter Futures, part of the Regional Campaign Action Team in Manchester, writes about the negotiation training which helped a group of young people to win a successful negotiation with a Vice Chancellor:

"Brighter Futures is made up of young refugees and people seeking sanctuary speaking out on issues they feel strongly about. One big concern the group have is access to education. Many of them do well in their A levels, only to be told that they have to pay international fees (which can be up to three or four time more expensive than home fees) if they want to go to university.

Brighter Futures had already successfully lobbied two universities to accept a quota of asylum seekers as home fees paying students. We had two more meetings with universities on the horizon and so Citizens for Sanctuary offered to train the group in new approaches to getting VCs to offer more places.

The training focused on roleplaying the meeting with the VC - all the roles were played by group members so that they got to experience how it felt to be the decision maker or a journalist covering the story - looking at the meeting from different perspectives. It also involved giving our young people the training and confidence to take charge of the meeting and not to be intimidated by those in authority. We made much more use of the personal stories of the young people affected.

Initially some of our team were sceptical of the new approach, which took us out of our comfort zone. But through preparation and support both meetings were incredibly successful – with one Vice Chancellor offering five places for our young people at university next year.

Citizens for Sanctuary are continuing to advise us on how to maximise our success and continue onto the next stages of negotiation."

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Enthusiasm for Change in the East Midlands

One of the joys of being involved with CITIZENS for Sanctuary is that I get to go to city after city across the UK helping ordinary people to realise that they can make real change.

I never tire of watching the realisation dawn on someone's face that they can make a difference - if they are prepared to organise with others, plan a strategy, take action, and negotiate with those in positions of power. Sometimes you can literally see years of frustration and despair lift from a person's face - and a steely sense of purpose and a determination to overcome injustice replaces it.

It was no different during my tour of the East Midlands this week. I started off in the Secular Hall in Leicester, where representatives of about twenty local organisations had turned out, along with the Deputy Mayor, to hear about how they could join the growing network of CITIZENS for Sanctuary Regional Campaign Action Teams and organise themselves to secure justice for people seeking sanctuary and rebuild public support for sanctuary.

Later I travelled the short distance to Nottingham for a similar meeting.

In both places my message was simple. Where citizens were prepared to work together to implement the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations, we could support them with advice, training and support. In return, they would need to:

  • Use the principles of community organising to build a powerful alliance locally;

  • Identify a winnable and worthwhile issue and then explore a solution in line with the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations;

  • Be prepared to take action in pursuit of negotiation with those in positions of power;

  • Commit time and energy to making change happen!
There seemed to be a positive response - particularly when I shared with them concrete examples of change from the work of London Citizens. The proof will be whether I get invited back to run a meeting at which a core of enthusiastic leaders will commit to forming teams in Leicester and Nottingham to join those developing in Cardiff, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Reading, London, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton and Plymouth.

Oh, and we even got some local journalists from an excellent media project come and record a short interview in Leicester - you can watch it here.