This article is written by Anna Baum, change maker of the #MigrantsContribute campaign and IRMO trustee.
Brixton’s rich history of migration, from the Windrush generation in the late 1940s to the later arrival of South Asian, African, Latin American and Southern European communities is what makes it such a unique and exiting place to live today.
Some 42.8% of residents in Lambeth are non-white and Brixton’s lively atmosphere, colourful markets and bustling streets would not be the same without the contribution of migrants.
Unfortunately, the political discourse on migration has taken an increasingly negative turn in recent years, with immigrants being blamed for many of ‘the social ills of society’. UKIP ‘s claim that migrants are taking British jobs is anything but evidenced, and migrants contribute far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services. The #MigrantsContribute campaign wants to challenge these lies and distortions and provide a platform for Britain’ s seven million migrants from all generations and walks of life, to speak out with real life stories. Over the next months, leading to the General Election in May 2015, the campaign will show that migrants are not the problem, but are instead a part of the battle to build a better future for everyone.
IRMO is a migrant-led organisation based in Brixton whose mission it is to empower the Latin American community through providing education, training, advice and support to children, young people and adults. IRMO has been part of the steering group and actively supporting the #MigrantsContribute campaign since its birth. Over 85% of the 113, 500 Latin Americans living in London are working and over 70% of them have a qualification beyond secondary school level. Despite this, many experience discrimination, exclusion and isolation and feel their voices are not being heard.
IRMO provides a space for people’s stories to be heard and at its Together as One festival, people wrote down stories of what they have brought in their ‘suitcases’.
Laura from Colombia came to the UK as a political refugee in the 80’s. She was involved in a political campaign in Colombia which meant that her life was threatened, and she had leave behind family, friends and her job as a lawyer. Being 40, many people regarded her as too old to learn English and restart her career. She was put in an English class for older women and said she was treated like a ‘housewife’ who needed to learn ‘how to go shopping’. But, through determination she managed to enroll in Westminster College, learnt English and completed four NVQ qualifications as a legal advisor. In 1997, Laura founded New Generation, a cultural project aimed at creating a community support network for young Latin Americans to allow them to take their future into their own hands. In 2000, she became the general Welfare and Legal advisor in IRMO and has since helped thousands in the community with her guidance and services. “Be careful not to be de-motivated,” she advises people who have faced discrimination, continuing “the thing that helps you most is your own enthusiasm”. Laura reflects on how young migrants often have a bad reputation of being violent and lazy: “If you don’t have faith in them, how will they have a chance?”
Bruno and Gerardo, two young Latin Americans recently arrived in London, are examples of the kinds of daily unseen contribution that migrants make in London. Bruno, 20, from Chile, was only two weeks away from starting a university degree in Information Technology in Spain when his family had to move to London due to the financial crisis. He said he finds British people “the best”. He loves London’s diversity, considers people friendly and open, and feels respected and integrated. He is using his computing skills by volunteering at IRMO as an IT technician and an IT teacher for the elderly once a week.
Gerardo, 19, from Ecuador lives with his girlfriend in South West London. His 15-hour days start at 3am when he leaves his house to start work at 4am in Westminster, where he cleans the offices of Jeremy Hunt and others in the Ministry of Health. In ten years time, he hopes to have a successful career and a family.
These stories are full of hope and expectation and a desire to contribute to society. The skills, talents and hard work which migrants bring as individuals contribute to British life and offer a different perspective on how life can be lived.