Commissioners Visit Birmingham for the First Hearing
The Commission launches at the West Midlands Local Engagement Hearing
November 30, 2022
The Commission’s first local engagement hearing took place in Birmingham on Monday, with a delegation of nine commissioners visiting the region to find out what is and isn’t working for the integration of refugees in the West Midlands.
Whilst experts from across the region shared their experiences and views with commissioners at the Central Library in Birmingham city centre, three commissioners visited Brushstrokes, a project focused on supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the area.
At the project, which is based in Sandwell, commissioners Dr Ed Kessler, Professor Hanna Kienzler and Alphonsine Kagabago met with staff and clients to learn about their work and gain an insight into the challenges and opportunities for integration in the area. They joined women asylum seekers and refugees in a craft group to hear about their experiences and met former clients who the project had supported to achieve the level of English required to convert their medical qualifications to practise medicine in the UK.
The commissioners met Assayed Dawood, a medical doctor who fled Sudan in fear for his life and arrived in the UK in 2015 as a refugee. Brushstroke supported Assayed to learn English and he is hoping to take the tests to practise as a doctor in the UK next year. In the meantime he is working part time for Brushstrokes to deliver health programmes.
Assayed said: “I did full time night shifts and then got the bus straight to the Brushstrokes classroom because one day I will practise medicine as a doctor again, as an NHS GP. That is my overall goal even if it takes years. It is a goal I will achieve. I am determined.
“It is an amazing network of organisations and support who have helped me to progress towards working as a doctor again. These organisations have all helped me a lot. It’s brilliant.”
“I feel well integrated here in Birmingham. This is where we have settled and are building our lives. I left to find safety for me and my family. And we have been welcomed here. We have made connections. I feel like I’m home.”
Commissioner Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director of Women for Refugee Women and a former refugee from Rwanda, said: “It has been a real pleasure to meet everyone here at Brushstrokes today. There is clearly great work being done. Learning directly from those affected by the asylum and refugee system is essential to our work, and today we have heard stories of fortitude and courage, but also of difficulties and setbacks. We thank everybody for their openness in sharing their experiences. We will use these important insights as we progress to developing practical solutions.”
Commissioner Hanna Kienzler, Professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and Co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, said: “What a privilege to visit Brushstrokes, meet the team and hear from those rebuilding their lives from the trauma and devastation of fleeing their homes. We cannot have a meaningful process without hearing from those with lived experience, alongside those committed to supporting them.”
Meanwhile, during the panel hearings at Birmingham Central Library, commissioners heard from a range of experts and people with lived experience from across the West Midlands including representatives from:
• Asylum Matters, West Midlands
• Birmingham City Council
• Brushstrokes, Sandwell
• Citizens Advice, Staffordshire
• City of Wolverhampton Council
• Coventry City Council
• Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
• European Welfare Association
• Migration Policy and Practice
• Refugee and Migrant Centre, West Midlands
• Spring Housing, West Midlands
• Walsall’s Afghan Community Group
• WEA, Adult Learning West Midlands
• West Midlands Combined Authority
• West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership
Lord Alex Carlile CBE KC, Chair of The Commission on the Integration of Refugees, formerly an MP and Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and crossbench member of the House of Lords, said: “My parents and sister were refugees in the UK having survived Nazi persecution in Poland. I was brought up to believe that the UK is a place where justice is done for people wherever they come from. But the current system is not working. It’s not working for refugees and asylum seekers, and it’s not working for society. Our hope is that by bringing together 23 reasonable people of appropriate experience to hear different perspectives from across the country a solid and enduring set of solutions can be found. We intend to produce a programme that easily can be translated into lasting policy and better law.”
The commissioners who took part in the West Midlands Local Engagement Hearing were Lord Alex Carlile (Chair), Alphonsine Kabagabo, David Goodhart, Dr Ed Kessler, Professor Hanna Kienzler, Jacqui Broadhead, Jehangir Malik, Professor Jenny Phillimore and Trixie Brenninkmeijer. You can find out more about them and the other 14 commissioners here.
The Commission will run until the end of 2023 and hold seven hearings across the UK, as well as visits to Border Force, asylum seeker accommodation and a detention centre. The other six will be in Cardiff, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and one rural location still to be confirmed.
Read the Commission’s first publication now for more information.