Activism

The Big Issue Changemakers of 2024: Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

These are the organisations and individuals advocating for better living conditions for the displaced

‘Welcome To Folkestone’, 17 October 2020. Image: Andrew Aitchison

The government is turning its back on the displaced, but hope remains thanks to a passionate group of Changemakers who are fighting the corner of those seeking a brighter future in this country.

Home Office policies and a promise to clear the asylum backlog pushed thousands of refugees into homelessness in 2023. Liverpool-based Asylum Link Merseyside is one of the countless charities on the front line, providing urgent support. From language lessons to handing out sleeping bags, Ewan Roberts and his team give help to those with nowhere to go. 

What was 2023 like for you and Asylum Link Merseyside? 

“That was a tough year. Successive home secretaries have put their faith in creating a harsher environment to fix their broken asylum system and it just doesn’t work. The people in charge are not looking or listening, and until they do things will not improve.” 

Why is your work important? 

“Our society is not equal. We see it everywhere; millionaires’ yachts on the TV versus non-millionaires’ tents in the park. Yet one has no greater right to occupy their space on the planet than the other. So if we want to live in a better, fairer community, then we have to stick up for and work with those people with less. There are too many disadvantaged people hurting because of the way the government operates and changing that is important and benefits us all.” 

What’s next in 2024? 

“A new Immigration Act is coming; we get one a year now so more homework. One of the people using our centre got leave to remain last summer after waiting eight years. He said, I don’t see big changes at ALM, but every year I see things improve, people doing more. And that’s the key, to just keep going.” 

Angel Nakhle

Young Changemakers Sam Pordale, 23, and Angel Nakhle, 20

Sam Pordale

Pordale and Nakhle are both volunteers with Student Action for Refugees (STAR). Pordale is a member of an English teaching programme in the organisation, as well as STAR’s Youth Club, where he goes to migrant centres and provides emotional support, alongside maths and English tutoring. Pordale and Nakhle are part of the campaign at Warwick University to join the Lift The Ban coalition and are youth advocates for Refugee Education UK (REUK). They are members of the STAR Mentoring Program partnership with UCAS, helping asylum seekers with their university applications.

Find the rest of the Changemakers series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor

Bridget Chapman

Bridget Chapman. Image: Andy Aitchison

Chapman is a Labour councillor in the Kent coastal town of Folkestone who advocates for fairer asylum systems and safer routes for refugees. While Chapman has only worked in local government since 2023, her campaigning has spanned more than 15 years, and she is firmly dedicated to hyper-local action to make Folkestone a more connected and welcoming community. Through her work, Chapman puts herself in the firing line for far-right trolls on social media. Her nominator wrote: “Most of us feel that we can’t change systems, we just mitigate against the worst failings at a local level. Chapman is shaping her community. She takes time to talk to people about their perspectives and help them understand where she is coming from.” 

Salusbury World Refugee Centre

Salusbury World was founded in 1999 in response to high numbers of newly arrived families from Kosovo and Albania who were being housed and schooled in Brent. It is the only school-based refugee charity in the UK. They run afterschool and holiday clubs, one-to-one educational guidance and support to refugee and migrant pupils, free English (ESOL) classes and heritage projects. They work from schools and Family Wellbeing Centres, spaces known and trusted by vulnerable families. Their work now supports people from all over the world.  

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Zain Hafeez

Hafeez first arrived in the UK from Pakistan at 12 years old. Now, 16 years later, he is still advocating for better living conditions for asylum seekers. Hafeez fought to be considered for resettlement, and now he campaigns for the rights of other migrants and asylum seekers. He is a community organiser and engages with MPs, sharing his experience and making his voice heard to try to make sure others don’t have to go through the suffering he has faced. Hafeez has been calling on the government to include people who previously sought asylum in decision-making, lift the ban on asylum seekers working and reevaluate the no recourse to public funds policy.  

The Voice Of Domestic Workers

Since 2009, The Voice of Domestic Workers has worked alongside migrant domestic workers, many of whom are victims of modern slavery or have been trafficked to the UK. The founder, Marissa Begonia, was also a domestic worker and she seeks to provide education support, welfare, counselling services and pastoral care to the overseas domestic worker community. They run classes for migrant domestic workers in IT, English language, body and mind wellness, financial literacy, media and communication and the arts. The group also supports workers who have run away from employers or who are in other acute situations. 

One Roof Leicester

ORL was founded in 2012 to provide a space for single people who are homeless, including destitute refugees and asylum seekers. In 2015 ORL opened their first temporary accommodation for previously homeless people to live semi-independently. Each resident is assigned a support worker who helps them apply for benefits, employment and training to eventually move on. ORL also raises awareness of the issues by delivering workshops in schools and by doing talks for faith and community groups. 

RAMFEL

The Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) provide advice, support and advocacy services to asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants and refugees. There are English classes on offer, and assistance to access benefits, housing and registering with a GP. They also give immigration advice and representation, including regularising the immigration status of individuals, renewal applications, citizenship applications, permanent residency and EEA.​ They ​run a range of services, such as a Thursday food bank for destitute migrants. 

Freedom From Torture

Since 1985, Freedom from Torture has provided ​​specialist psychological therapy to help asylum seekers and refugees who have survived torture recover and rebuild their lives in the UK. It is one of the world’s largest torture treatment centres. Their doctors document evidence of torture, while their lawyers and welfare advisers help survivors with their asylum applications and social support. They also support other organisations delivering high-quality rehabilitation services. Freedom from Torture, speak out to expose torture and defend the rights of survivors, nationally and globally – holding torturing governments to account. In the UK, they campaign for women, men and children to be treated fairly when they seek safety here. 

Josie Naughton of Choose Love

Naughton is the CEO and co-founder of Choose Love which, since 2015, has provided humanitarian aid to refugees around the world. For the seventh year in a row, it set up a pop-up shop in London at Christmas, allowing shoppers to buy essential and life-saving supplies for displaced people. The organisation is supported by a host of famous faces, such as co-founder Dawn O’Porter, Olivia Colman and Jamie Dornan, who worked behind the till at the shop’s 2023 launch. Choose Love is now the largest grassroots distributor of aid in Europe. Naughton’s nominator wrote: “I want to nominate Josie for this because she has committed her life to the better good of displaced people all over the world. There’s no clock in and clock out for her day. It’s just all in, all the time.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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