Refugee and Migrant Centre – ‘We deliver services in over 40 languages’
RMC provides a free, face to face, drop-in advice and support service for asylum seekers, refugees, EU and other migrants as well as members of more established BAME communities. Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) accredited caseworkers (Level 1 &2) give guidance in the areas of immigration, accommodation and destitution, welfare, health, education and training, employment and citizenship. The service is delivered in over 40 client languages.
We can support clients on the complete journey from within days of their arrival in the area, often destitute, right through to settling in their new communities and achieving citizenship; or we can assist with any part of that journey. Clients arrive with very little understanding of UK systems and practices, often traumatised by whatever may have caused them to flee and by their journey here; they are further hindered by the language barrier.
They come to us because people in a similar position will have advised them to come; we are respected and trusted when statutory organisations may not be, partly because the majority of our 31 staff and 100 volunteers are from the communities we assist and have undergone very similar experiences and because we can speak client languages.
Our aim is to support our clients in removing barriers to achieving equality in their new communities, thus meeting their needs and the needs of the wider community. There is no similar service within the region and clients access our provision from a wide area, often beyond that for which we are funded.
The biggest challenge is of course securing funding. We are hugely grateful to all our funders but ideally we, like all similar organisations, would love to be able to develop our services to address the expressed needs of our clients supported by long term funding. This would free the management team and trustees to concentrate on the task of developing and honing a service which is always responsive to evolving client need. Currently a massive proportion of senior managers’ time is devoted to fundraising, we have to work extremely hard to ensure that the next twelve month’s funding is in place and are often in the position of having to discuss contingency plans if funding does not materialise. It has always been our policy to maintain a broad, ‘mixed economy’ funding base and this has probably ensured our survival and expansion over 17 years, when other similar organisations have sadly struggled. However the demands of funders are ever increasing. The demand to demonstrate very precise, positive impact when the positive effects of our work are quite often delayed are ever present. It is not good enough to say we are responding to client demand.
Other challenges include our progression from a small to a medium sized organisation. It is clear to us that there is huge unmet demand for our services; in response to this, not only has our Wolverhampton/Black Country service almost doubled in size in the last few years but we have also recently opened a similar service in Birmingham. This requires changes in structure, culture, systems, relationships, attitudes etc that are not always easily negotiated and which requires time to reconnoitre, and time as observed above is in short supply.
We are often limited by lack of capacity, some potential projects have to ‘fall by the wayside’ purely because we have to prioritise and do not have enough capacity to develop them.
What would make our role easier- apart from funding and capacity issues? A change in populist opinion around migration. Lack of empathy, Ignorance and prejudice are on the increase and yet individuals have shown that when they are aware of the real stories of our clients there is huge compassion and a willingness to help. Individuals need education and that willingness needs appropriate channelling before real progress in first understanding issues and then addressing those issues, in a way that brings about long term solutions, can happen.