Caitlin Burbridge is Research Co-ordinator at the Contextual Theology Centre. Her work on diaspora communities is for the Contending Modernities research partnership. Here she reports on an extraordinary event that took place this week. Hosted by Church House in Westminster, it saw people from across the globe come together to address their common concerns under the banner of the Citizens UK Diaspora Caucus.
‘All of us are…tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. These were the words powerfully displayed on a screen at the front of the stage whilst representatives of London Citizens 71 diaspora institutions proudly processed into the room waving their flags high and proclaiming the names of their countries.
So what was the purpose of this assembly? The agenda was threefold, to celebrate what has been achieved by this diverse alliance of people; to meet together and build our sense of collective power as we look ahead to the challenges that face us, and finally to commit to a future agenda which seeks to further the capacity, dignity and freedom of people in our UK diaspora communities.
Oscar-style awards were awarded recognising the commitment of all sorts of people who have worked tirelessly to further the work of this alliance, from those who have worked to establish the New Citizens Legal Service (a new social enterprise to combat the corruption created by cowboy lawyers), to a schoolboy who spent his weekends asking shop keepers in his local community to commit to becoming ‘safe havens’ for young people in danger, as part of the city safe campaign. The celebrations were enhanced by all sorts of cultural displays such as dancing from the Congolese Catholic chaplaincy youth group, to the SOAS Samba band, and Hazara music performed by Zakir Rostami, all of which was accompanied by the dancing, singing, and clapping of those watching. The atmosphere was vibrant and energetic, and displayed a strong sense of delight in what has been achieved by this group of people.
Standing together to build our power
Having celebrated the achievements of so many, it was time to look at where we are now and where we hope to be a year ahead. Representatives from the Mother Tongue campaign articulated what they have achieved in one year. Having campaigned for meetings with OCR, finally members of SPRESA (a group who seek the recognition of the Albanian language as a GCSE qualification) explained how they managed to negotiate with the Chief Executive of OCR to broaden the GCSE language syllabus. Although this is great news, the work begins now to raise enough money and guaranteed entrants to meet the criteria outlined by OCR in order for this to go ahead. However, there was a great sense of momentum in the room. Representatives from the Somali community also stood up and outlined how they had begun their journey towards the same goal for the Somali language. It became clear that in order for these young people to maintain strong relationships with their families back home, as well as have this opportunity to achieve another highly graded qualification, we must all work together to support them.
Finally, it was time to hear the results of the NICER inquiry into enforced removals. At the first assembly last year we spent a minute in silence to respect the memory of Jimmy Mubenga, a member of a Citizens UK member institution in Manor Park, who was killed whilst being deported from the UK. A CITIZENS UK inquiry has taken place over the past year to ensure that this never happens again. The 7 commissioners stood before the CEO of CAPITA, the UKBA agency contracted to undertake deportation, and acknowledged his cooperation and commitment to working with CITIZENS UK over the past year in order to improve the culture of deportation. They then outlined their recommendations for how CAPITA must now improve its practice for the future. The most striking recommendations was as follows:
We believe that there is no place for the deliberate use of pain as a way of controlling people who are being removed, so we are calling on contractors and the government to work with us and experts in the field to develop pain-free forms of restraint.
CAPITA made strong commitments to observe and implement the recommendations. Another moment for celebration. This is only step one in the process, but having already celebrated so many great achievements earlier in the evening, it became increasingly exciting that when we bring people together we can achieve great change for the future.
Daniel Stone is a church-based community organiser at ARC Pentecostal Church and the Catholic Parish of Manor Park. His comments sum up the vigour and energy held throughout the assembly: ‘It was an exhilarating evening which found the right balance between celebrating the unique offerings of our diaspora communities, while bringing us together as citizens and friends. I have no doubt that attendees have left church house believing that our disparate communities are strong when we stand together’.
In the UK we have a long way to go to bring about the dignity, respect and opportunity to contribute that all people deserve, but this assembly marked a significant progression from when this diaspora caucus first met last December. No longer are we just acknowledging a belief that when we stand together we are stronger, but we can now celebrate examples which proof that this is the case. The assembly gathered momentum and helped us to look forward with confidence that our voices deserve to be heard, can be heard and will bring about justice.