Belonging

Guest Post: belonging.

'I came to the UK in 1993 to marry my husband who is a British citizen.  Before I came we followed the rules and regulations.   We went the British High Commission to get my visa; I had an interview and showed letters my fiancé sent me and proof  that he could support me i.e. bank statements, deeds of his house, letter from his employers to prove he had a permanent job as well as proof we had met before.  Later when I came here I met others who had either come to the UK on tourist or other temporary visas and then got permission to stay here.

 

A woman I know was allowed to enter the UK after she married a man who had no permanent home or job and had several children for whom he was responsible financially, a few years later the man left her and went abroad, when she fell ill with cancer; at that time they had two very young children and this meant the state had to care for all of them.  Another lady married after coming here, and working illegally, so she could stay.  Because of these sorts of people those of us who are genuine are treated with suspicion.  I have no objection to anyone coming to this country but there cannot be different rules, immigrants must prove as I did they will not be a burden on the state.  When I arrived I was forced to undergo an X ray for TB but I have read that disease is growing in the UK because of migrants and I wonder why those entering from countries with high rates of TB are not scanned, my original country does not have high rates of that disease.

 

In 2005 I had a stroke and was given the carer's component of disability living allowance and the mobility component but after one year these were taken away but when I appealed the carer's component was restored.  Later I went before a panel about the mobility allowance and their response was quite obviously motivated by some degree of racial prejudice and was so unpleasant I was affected seriously both in body and mind. 

 

We have always paid our fair share of taxes and when my father in law died we were deprived of quite a large sum of money.  I have no objection to the state taking taxes but when I see how it is misdirected I get angry.  It seems those who contribute little or nothing get preference when there is anything to be given.  In my own case I experienced the revenue checking up on my small income just before one Christmas and they were demanding proof of every penny which spoiled the festive season for all of us; in the end after I had got copies of every document together they closed the case without looking at them because all they wanted to know was how I had bought a house.  I was told afterwards that was because my given name was obviously foreign. I have since added an English given name by deed poll.

 

This is nice country and after marrying I became a British citizen and am proud of my adopted country but I fear for the future of my children because the government does not care for those of us who are British but worries more about everyone else.  In my original country there was a policy of discrimination against outsiders and even those of us who were descendants of immigrants but here it is the reverse.  Too many migrants do not integrate, are too demanding, complain too much and still think of their homelands.'


Jessica (Poh Kian) was a participant in the Belonging Project. Her interview and portrait can be found here. If you have a story that you'd like to share, send it to internsbmc@gmail.com and we will publish it.

The Human Narrative of Belonging

 

BY: LAUREN RENFRO

I am by no means an expert in any of this. Feel free to comment and challenge what I've written

The dictionary defines belonging as the “fitting into a specified place or environment.” For most people, it is easy to belong -- to their family, to their community, to their city, to their country. It is that sense of security and familiarity with the conditions and lifestyle that allows one to feel like they truly belong to a place. Imagine then, for a moment, being stripped of that luxury. What happens when we no longer belong, when we no longer have a safe place to run to when we are frightened, when there is no home to belong to anymore? That gives at least a glimpse into the perpetual reality of a migrant.

 

There is an army of emotions that accompanies the journey of a migrant. Fear, loss, anxiety, depression, dread, and a small glimmer of hope that the new life will be better. These emotions are not unfounded. Moving to a place where everything is different -- the language, the culture, the dress, the food, the demographics, the expectations -- can be a massive shock to the system. It can derail people and cause feelings of rejection, of cultural alienation, or deculturation (the loss of a cultural identity). And local people can make the transition even more challenging if they harbour intense fears based in biases or stereotypes or prejudices that are most often utterly inaccurate. Fear mongering in the media and new sources create spurious attitudes that are damaging not only to the people on the receiving end of the hate, but the society as a whole in the long run. There has yet to be any truthful and sufficient proof showing that migrants have negative effects on the host countries. More often than not, migrants add to a country’s economy, boosting GDP and business efficiency. They bring new ideas and new practices into communities that allow for growth and development that would not have been possible previously.

 

So why is hate and discrimination so persistent?

 

The ironclad grasp of discrimination is self-perpetuating; the hate is passed down generation to generation until there is no longer a recognisable reason for said hate. It turns into the answer of, “oh, it’s just the way it has always been.” Which is also quite possibly the worst reason to hate someone. There is hope, however, for an end to the cycle. Thanks to globalisation and the ever-increasing use of technology, people are ever more connected and able to understand the stories of others. The younger generations are (mostly) more tolerant and compassionate towards people that are different from them, though there are always exceptions to the rule. On the whole, growing up in a technology-permeated society talking to people they may never see and hearing stories from the other side of the world has given this generation a leg up in the world. And if each generation continues to raise the next with not as “us versus them” mentality but one of understanding and compassion and humanity, then maybe there is hope for a world where belonging is no longer something to fear losing.

 

This is where the ‘Belonging’ Project comes in. It is our aim to create the potential for a more empathetic population. In the week that I have been in Belfast, every single person I have talked to has been warm and welcoming and more than happy to help. It did not matter race, religion, gender, sexuality, ability -- they were friendly and obliging. The people of this country have already been through so much horror, just listening to the history from tour guides and other people from many different perspectives and hearing about everything that happened, it is amazing to see how far Belfast in particular has come. I would be at loathe to see anyone welcomed less warmly than I was. We are all, ultimately, human and deserve respect and kindness. With the 'Belonging' Project, we hope to further address the biases by bringing the issues to a human level, one where people can connect to and see themselves in the stories of others. We are never too old nor too young to begin seeing the world differently, and if even one person’s life is changed for the better, then the work is not in vain because that one person’s life can go on to touch those of countless others.

 

These photos and stories and lives are more than separate accounts -- they are part of the human narrative that ties us all together.

 

Belonging in 2015

BY KEVIN BRISKIN

The Belonging Project launched our Workshop Toolkit, held exhibitions all around Northern Ireland, participated in the NI Human Rights Festival, and taught dozens with our diversity trainings.  Take a look at Belonging's 2015 in pictures below.

Belonging at the NI Human Rights Festival

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Migrant Centre Advice and Advocacy Manager Jolena Flett speaks at Queen's University Belfast

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Belonging at Belfast City Hall

Belonging at Libraries NI

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Belonging at the Migrant Centre NI Annual General Meeting

Islamophobia is Playing into Terrorist Hands

BY KEVIN BRISKIN

The world is in turmoil.  Recent terrorist attacks have struck the West killing dozens and the British Parliament just approved airstrikes in Syria.  It's important that, in these times of crisis, people remember that the enemy of the West are violent extremists, not Islam.

Islam is a global religion encompassing more than one in five of the world's population.  It should go without saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims practice their religion peacefully.  Muslims must be welcomed by the West, not only to fulfill Western democratic values of tolerance, but also because opening our hearts to our Muslim brothers and sisters is the best way to defeat extremism.

Organizations such as ISIS rely on Islamophobia for recruiting purposes. "ISIS as one of their stated goals has been to destroy this gray zone between Muslim-Western coexistence,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer. “They want these governments to crack down on their Muslim diaspora communities so that they can have a new pool of recruits."

The best type of response towards violent extremism was seen over the weekend when a man allegedly stabbed three individuals at Leytonstone Tube station in London and shouting "This is for Syria!"  "You ain't no Muslim bruv!" a bystander can be heard shouting at the alleged assailant in a video posted to Twitter.  The video erupted on social media and the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv was trending on both Twitter and Facebook.  The story was picked up by media outlets all around the world, hailed as "the voice of defiant unity," and a "wonderfully British" response to the attack.

Everyone is someone’s son or daughter, and every religion is welcome in our diverse society.

Terrorist attacks show the worst in humanity, but they also bring out the best in us.  The bystander's simple message, that a violent extremist was not a true representative of Islam, was compared to the humane and compassionate reaction in Paris to open doors for anyone seeking refuge during the November 13 attacks by the BBC and The Guardian.

On Sunday, Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding Dalia Mogahed was asked if ISIS represented a true strain of Islam. "I would say that ISIS wants us to think so," she answered.  "And I think that's the real danger here. It's that what ISIS wants the narrative to be is that they are the true Muslims." Mogahed concluded, " if we give into their narrative, we're actually doing their propaganda for them."

The West needs to recognize that Muslims are our neighbors, they're our doctors and lawyers and clerks and friends.  Everyone is someone's son or daughter, and every religion is welcome in our diverse society.  Rejecting or mistreating people based on their religion is discrimination, and it plays into the hands of those who wish to do us harm.

True Islam is represented by the words of the bystander in the London Tube station.  When he said "You ain't no Muslim bruv," it resonated with Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  We all need to realize that the extremists in ISIS ain't no Muslims either.

Reflections as a Migrant

BY SANGEETHA ALEXANDER

There was once an Indian man who applied for a job in a call centre, as many Indian people do – if you call BT or a bank it will often be an Indian person who answers. Well, he went for the interview and was asked to make a sentence using the colours green, pink and yellow. So this man thought for a long time, then answered "the phone went green green, so I pink it up and said yellow."

My name is Sangeetha Alexander and I came to NI in 2006 to study at the Belfast Bible College. While studying in college, I met my Irish husband Mark, got married and am a proud mother of a gorgeous 5-year-old daughter called Esther.

I heard about the Belonging Project through my husband and got in touch with Jasmine, Claire and Laurence Gibson on March 4th 2015. It was wonderful and a privilege to have my picture taken by Laurence and to be interviewed by Jasmine.

I attended the family day on August 15th which is also the Independence Day of India! I met some wonderful mothers and ladies from India, Africa, China and other countries; it was like meeting my extended family of sisters; in other words a home away from home.

On the Belonging Project's Workshop Toolkit

Sangeetha speaking at the launch of the Workshop Toolkit.

Sangeetha speaking at the launch of the Workshop Toolkit.

The red pack targeting children from the age of 5-11 – my daughter Esther is 5 years old and is growing up in an inter-racial home. She knows she is both Indian and Irish and at this tender age it is wise to teach tolerance, love and acceptance of different cultures and ethnic groups, by telling stories of different cultures, having more ethnic minority people on kids’ television and talking positively of immigrants.

The blue pack 11-16 – I, unfortunately, do not have much knowledge about teens. I do not know if that is a good thing or a bad thing (!), but I know that society, culture and media, plus peer pressure, govern the pre-conceived idea of the teens. Talking positively of immigrants is important, as well as love and acceptance of people of other countries without bigotry.

Pink pack 16 and above – we all know the song ‘I Am 16 Going on 17’ from the movie the Sound of Music, and I still wish I was 16, but by this age the presuppositions – in other words, the way an individual sees a migrant or an individual from an ethnic minority – has already formed. The upbringing of family media and society, especially peer pressure, have fashioned this young adult’s mind. It is very important to have positive opinions of migrants and also as the Belonging Project says, hearing the stories of the migrants to change pre-conceived opinions.

The Humanity That Unites Us

BY JASMINE McGHEE

Every human being on this planet deserves the right to mobility, the ability to leave ones home in search of a job, education, adventure, or simply a better life. I can personally speak to the importance of this right: I left my own home in the United States to travel across the ocean to Northern Ireland. I went for a six-month internship working as the new coordinator of the Belonging Project, an opportunity that would prove to be hugely impactful. But, my story is a comparatively easy one. I am privileged to attend a university that supports global education and world travel. I was able to come to the United Kingdom on a sponsored visa, which only required a little bit of paperwork and a copy of my fingerprints. I wasn’t fleeing my country because of persecution, violence, poverty, or unemployment. I had a safe, stable home to which I could return when my internship finished.  

On the other hand, many of the migrants whom I encountered as coordinator of the Belonging Project do not have such simple, straightforward stories. Some are mothers and fathers, leaving their home countries to obtain economic stability in order to create better lives for their children. Some are artists- authors, poets, and musicians, who are determined to share their stories of living as refugees or growing up during apartheid. And, many of these individuals are leaving war-torn countries, in the hopes of living safely somewhere else.

Jasmine (left-centre) with Belonging Project Photographer Laurence Gibson (left), Migrant Centre Advice and Advocacy Manager Jolena Flett (right-centre), and High Sheriff of Belfast Gareth McKee at Belfast City Hall.  (Photography credit: Allan Leonard)

Jasmine (left-centre) with Belonging Project Photographer Laurence Gibson (left), Migrant Centre Advice and Advocacy Manager Jolena Flett (right-centre), and High Sheriff of Belfast Gareth McKee at Belfast City Hall.  (Photography credit: Allan Leonard)

Unfortunately, the problems of these migrants often do not end once they find a new home. Migrants in Northern Ireland, and in countries across the world, face discrimination, hate crime, and racism. They are often treated as a singular, cohesive group, instead of as individual people from differing backgrounds. However, this perspective is so very wrong.

When I met Plamena, she expressed her desire to share Bulgarian culture with the people of Northern Ireland, through dance, food, and festivals. She glowed with pride when discussing her family business in Armagh, but even more so when recounting the academic success of her children. Vasundhara, a teacher and activist from India, told me about her political work in India, and her new passion for political work in Northern Ireland. Even though I couldn’t understand Luis’s Portuguese during his interview, I could see the joyous sparkle in his eyes and I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he recounted tales from his childhood. I was both overjoyed and surprised when Sangeetha, world traveler and loving mother, decided to sing a song in her own Tamil language during her interview. She was fearless and confident, proud of her music and her culture. Yes, these people are migrants, but they are foremostly human beings.

When I interviewed my first subject, a lovely young woman named Luminita from Moldova, I was nervous and anxious about how to connect with her. I remember sticking the microphone too close to her face, and awkwardly mumbling the questions. But, I soon learned that the best way to connect with my subjects was to let them take charge of the conversation, while I simply listened and reflected as they shared their stories. For anyone reading this blog post and learning about the Belonging Project for the first time, I recommend that you try the same technique. There is so much to learn from this project about the migrant experience, and the human experience, and I hope that more and more people take the time to listen and learn. I am so grateful to have contributed to and learned from the Belonging Project, and I am proud to watch as it grows and develops.