MRN Summit 2012: an opportunity to plan action on the burning issues for migrants
On 16 of March the Migrants’ Rights Network will be holding its third annual national meeting for migrant community organisations, activists, NGOs and other stakeholders with an interest on migrants’ rights.
What to expect
The first national meeting in 2010 focused on how to make the most of the knowledge and expertise held within community organisations to promote advocacy. The second meeting analysed opportunities and challenges for collaboration in the context of a tough funding environment.
This year’s event, MRN Summit 2012, will review some last year’s major developments and upcoming challenges for migrants. More importantly, it will be a chance to discuss collective action to respond to some of these challenges through advocacy and campaigning.
It has certainly been an agitated year. Capacity within the sector has been hit by cuts to local authority budgets and other sources of funding. The Government has introduced a raft of measures in rapid succession with the aim of achieving its net migration target. Many of these measures – on students, the Points Based System, settlement, family reunion, domestic workers – not only make entry to the UK more difficult, but restrict the rights of entitlements of those who are allowed to come.
The legal aid bill risks taking away the possibility for many migrants of receiving advice on their situation and to redress mistakes on their immigration cases. The Government has indicated its intention to review the ECHR, with migrants being singled out as justification for action. Meanwhile the government’s recently published ‘approach to integration’ offers very little in the way of a vision or actions to facilitate the integration of migrants. The ‘strategy’ does hardly more than passing the buck to local authorities.
Our collective successes
Yet, in the middle of this tough environment, lots of organisations and individuals continue to do great work, not just supporting migrants and their communities, but campaigning and lobbying to improve opportunities and rights for migrants. And there have been some significant successes in the past year and a half as a result of the hard work of a diverse group of activists and campaigners.
There has been a reduction in the number of children held in detention, the period they are held for and improvements in the support they receive (even though completely ending child detention has remained elusive). Free HIV treatment has been extended to overseas visitors who have been in the UK for more than six months. Further education colleges have been given discretion to provide fully-funded ESOL to learners not receiving active benefits and an extra £10m funding basic English courses has been announced. Short term visas for artists and academics have been announced. Legal aid for foreign-spouses who are experiencing domestic violence will be retained despite initial proposals to be removed.
Beyond these national achievements, groups continue to develop relationships and campaign at a local level to improve access to services and support for migrants and people seeking asylum.
These achievements have come about through persistent lobbying and advocacy from activists, often through joined up working by complementary organisations. They have required collecting evidence, discussing alternatives with policy makers, rallying up political and grassroots support and setting out alternatives to government’s proposals. Many have been partial victories, not obtaining the full set of results expected, but nonetheless achieving a much better outcome than what was on the table. These achievements will significantly change the future lives of thousands of migrants in the UK.
As a sector we need to take inspiration in these achievements, learn from them, and plan towards the future to prepare ourselves for upcoming challenges. These will be the aims of the forthcoming MRN Summit 2012: to think about the main issues concerning people working with migrants, anticipate trends and forthcoming changes and set the scene for joint action to address them making the most of the diverse expertise of different organisations and individuals.
The meeting will be an opportunity for people with an interest in migration generally, those working with specific communities and those focusing on a particular area of expertise to come together to share their experiences and projects within a broad narrative on migration. We hope that by coming together on this day there will be a cross-fertilisation of ideas, a chance to connect with others who have similar interests and an opportunity to rally support for specific causes.