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Young Migrant Voices Need To Be Heard In The Discussion On Immigration

31/07/2017 12:55
Stringer . / Reuters

As Brexit negotiations get underway, HOPE not hate and British Future are working alongside Parliament's Home Affairs Committee to lead a National Conversation on the future direction of immigration policy. For the whole of 2017, they are engaging the public in discussion around how we make immigration work for employers, workers and local communities.

The children's charity Coram is keen to ensure that young migrant people's views in particular are included within the debate.

Coram's Young Citizens network is a group of 16-25 year olds who have moved to the UK from countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Indonesia and Ethiopia. Together they work with and represent the views of migrant children and young people, and shape projects to tackle some of the issues they face.

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Fourteen members of the group from London and Coventry recently came together to share their views. Here are some of the key themes that emerged.

There is a role for young migrant people to support newcomers

The group believe that those who have settled in the UK could play a key role in supporting those who are new to the country. They said it would be good for new arrivals to hear what helped others to settle and integrate, to make them feel more hopeful. Having these role models would help to counteract the challenges that tend to dominate the conversation in their first weeks or months in the country.

The government and individuals should work together to support integration

The group feel it is the government's job to protect people and make sure they have their basic needs met, but it is the responsibility of migrant people themselves to become successful members of society. Learning the language was seen as the most important way of integrating.

They agreed it was important to mix with people born in the UK but they don't always have opportunities to do so. They observed that people who have migrated to the UK often move to where there are people from the same country, who have the same native language and can relate to their experiences. Therefore there is a need to support people to feel welcome and to meet people outside of their own community. One young person said: "People will then give more back to the country because they're in a position to do so".

Isolation can also be avoided through empathy. The group highlighted the importance of understanding what those moving to the UK have been through, and that it is everyone's combined responsibility to accept each other's religions and beliefs.

People need to feel safe and secure in order to integrate

The group agree that young people from migrant backgrounds want to integrate, but it is important they feel secure, settled and safe in order to be able to do so.

To improve the situation, they feel that local authorities need more funding to support migrants more fully to access their entitlements and enable them to settle.

Another area of discussion was how the immigration process can negatively impact wellbeing. Young people expressed that during the process they had experienced a sense of suspicion about their circumstances and their age, and did not feel they were treated as an individual. They suggested more support is needed to help young people assert their rights, ensuring that the law can be explained to them in their own language.

The debate needs to include the voices of young migrant people

The group agree that the public don't hear enough about the people behind the numbers, and that the voices of people from migrant backgrounds need to be more prominent in the debate in order to show the reality. This includes highlighting the skills and contributions of migrant people and cultures and traditions that enrich the country.

They argued that young people are sometimes judged by their age, and their opinions are not heard. They feel that everyone has an individual message and story to contribute, and "it doesn't matter if you're young or old - you should hear from everyone."

It was suggested that Ministers and MPs meet with people from migrant and refugee backgrounds across the country to see the reality of their experiences first-hand.

Coram's Young Citizens network is just one project enabling young migrant people to help others and giving them opportunities for their voices to be heard within the debate. This September, the network is launching teaching resources to help improve integration and understanding of young migrant people's experiences within schools. Find out more and get involved at www.coram.org.uk/youngcitizens.

Join the National Conversation at nationalconversation.uk.

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