Credit: James Daniel

International Migrants Day: Making London a welcoming place for everyone

To mark International Migrants Day 2021 (18 December), Grants Manager Klara Skrivankova takes some time to reflect on some of the work Trust for London has supported this year in the migration space, as we work together to make the capital a fair and welcoming place for all.

London has a proud history of welcoming people from all around the world and benefits from the skills, knowledge and creativity of its diverse migrant communities. Many find sanctuary here from persecution and conflict.

We know that newcomers often find it hard to navigate a new system, understand their rights and struggle to find support. Consequently, migrant communities are often impacted by social issues in the capital and some are disproportionately affected by poverty. The policy of the hostile environment has put up further barriers, increasing negative attitudes towards migrants and rendering people into hardship and exploitation.

That’s why the Trust funds organisations supporting migrants in the capital. Many were set up and are led by migrants themselves. They all deserve recognition for their hard work and resilience in a second year of the global pandemic. This vibrant ecosystem of civil society groups provides a safety net for many, but also helps migrants organise and have a voice in policy and decision-making. While supporting those already here, they are also ready to respond to emerging crises that push people to move and seek assistance in London.

International Migrants Day

For example, this summer, communities mobilised almost overnight to receive Afghans fleeing the rapid resurgence of the Taliban. The Trust offered additional support to our grantees working with the Afghan communities to help them assist those who have just arrived. But we know that the situation can change quickly and one-off support may not be enough. That’s why we remain in regular contact with groups on the ground to understand what is needed.

This vibrant ecosystem of civil society groups provides a safety net for many, but also helps migrants organise and have a voice in policy and decision-making.

Hongkongers in London

Since 2020, many Hongkongers have been coming to the UK fleeing political persecution following the introduction of the National Security Law. The UK government opened a route for settlement and citizenship for Hongkongers who have access to British National Overseas (BNO) status.

Recent research by the Migration Observatory, co-funded by the Trust, found that within five years some 379,000 Hongkongers with access to the BNO status may move to the UK, and that some 42% of that might move to London. Sky News have reported that Hongkongers are the fastest growing community in the UK.

On the face of it, provisions made for Hongkongers are better in a system where most that are fleeing persecution lack safe routes to come to the UK. But this does not mean that Hongkongers find settling here easy.

In reality, there is little provision and infrastructure to assist them with settlement. Consequently, many struggle and find themselves in financial hardship, unable to find housing or work in exploitative conditions. Some are also concerned over tensions with local communities that are already struggling with rising costs of living and may view newcomers as competition over scarce resources.

There are also false assumptions that Hongkongers coming to the UK are wealthy. This is true for some. But average families can quickly face the cliff edge of destitution as they burn through savings and jobs they can access do not pay enough to cover the sky high living cost in London. Without support networks and being restricted from accessing public funds, these families risk sliding into poverty.

We will continue to support community groups and work together to make the capital a fair and welcoming place for everyone that calls London home, wherever in the world they come from.

There are also those who are excluded from the BNO route - young Hongkongers born after 1997. They are often the ones fleeing political persecution and arriving in London alone, with little or no work experience, without financial means and support networks. Their situation is precarious until their immigration status is secured, yet the cost of visa application is prohibitively high. Community organisations tell us about young Hongkongers struggling with multiple issues, including ill mental health, labour exploitation and homelessness. Without support and advice, they risk being trapped in poverty.

That is why we've funded Hongkongers in Britain, a group set up by young Hongkongers to provide practical support and advice to those who do not have access to the UK government schemes.

This year we made 36 grants towards work that benefits migrants, totalling £2.7 million. We will continue to support community groups and work together to make the capital a fair and welcoming place for everyone that calls London home, wherever in the world they come from.

18 December 2021

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Take a look at the full list of who we have funded in 2021.