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Regional Refugee Forum North East

£160,678 (2007/2012) for policy and representation work. New grant for January 2013-June 2015: £30,848 for 2013.

The Forum, which is linked with similar bodies in other parts of the UK, has developed as an independent body for promoting the collective voice of the region’s refugee community. Its membership consists of more than 40 refugee community groups in the North East. The Sub-Groups Project involved individual refugees in a three-year programme of representation to regional bodies, local authorities, the Health Service and other key agencies, regarding issues which affect the refugee community as a whole, particularly employment, housing, health, education, community and child safety, equality, community cohesion and integration. In November 2009 MHF’s Trustees agreed to a further grant to support the policy work of the Forum from August 2010 until December 2012 and in May 2012 it was agreed to extend this support until June 2015.

Policy impacts and outcomes:

  • 165 people from 26 countries have taken part in the Forum’s specialist Sub-Groups (covering Economic Inclusion, Access to Education and Training, Promoting the Voice of Youth, Health and Policing), speaking up for 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the North East.
  • The Forum was a member of the Regional Board of the North East Strategic Migration Partnership, took part in the Regional Strategy Group led by the Learning and Skills Council involving ONE, the TUC and others, and was on the English as a Second Language Group with practice managers from FE Colleges, Local Authority Adult Education Departments and the Learning and Skills Council. It was a member of the NE Migrant Health Group with the NE Public Health Observatory, Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts, the Medical Foundation (concerned with issues such as torture) and practitioner groups. The Forum is advocating for an independent cross-sector partnership of stakeholders to replace NESMP (whose funding from the UK Border Agency has been withdrawn), with a remit to address the continuing significance of migration issues in the North East.
  • A promotional event held in Newcastle by the Forum in November 2013 was very well attended by representatives of statutory and voluntary agencies and refugee community organisations. The aim was to demonstrate the value of engagement of refugees in influencing policy and practice on economic inclusion, community safety and health. The event was also an opportunity for the Forum to provide information about its priorities for 2013. These are: continuing work on asylum issues, equality work around race hate, health, economic inclusion and community safety, and engagement in communities.  Members of refugee communities in the region shared a platform with representatives from the Police, the NHS, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Durham University and the office of Fiona Hall, MEP.
  • The Forum worked with EHRC to design and deliver 3 sub-regional workshops to further develop the knowledge and skills of its members in using the provision of the Public Sector Equality Duty.  During the autumn the Forum contributed to case studies on work at local level and to Race, Crime & Justice in the North East, the final report to the consultants drafting the Impact Statement on the role of the VCS; this was to be given to the newly elected Police & Crime Commissioners to inform their objectives and planning. The Forum was instrumental in the inclusion in the Impact Statement of a dedicated section on Hate Crime and in having it backed by members of the North East Equalities Coalition.
  • The Forum contributed to the national Let Them Work Campaign to lobby for return to the pre-2002 position, whereby asylum seekers who had been awaiting a decision for more than 6 months were allowed to work; it has been working in partnership with the Northern TUC, which organized a day conference at which individual refugees and asylum seekers gave moving testimony about their experience; and it has continued to campaign for changes in the way the benefits system discriminates against refugees who gain status in forcing them to take inappropriate and low-paid employment.
  • Following campaigning by the Forum’s associated group Youth Voice, Newcastle University’s Finance Committee agreed to accept five asylum seeker refugees per year on a home fee basis. The acceptance of this principle coincides with the increase in fees and the costs are likely to be prohibitive for refugee students. However one of the leaders of Youth Voice was offered funding from the Children’s Society to enable her to take up a place. It is intended to use this story to extend the campaign to other North East universities.
  • The Forum contributed views on proposed changes in the government’s contracts for asylum and refugee support, including the combining of the North East with Yorkshire and Humberside as a single region for single managed bids. Further discussion was invited by the Deputy Director and Immigration Team Manager of UK Borders Agency NE.
  • The Forum was sub-contracted for the national Refugee Council to research, and provide evidence of, the future needs and roles of refugee community organizations in the North East, as a contribution to the Council’s strategic planning for beyond 2012.  The Forum lobbied for the Refugee Council to adopt a supportive role, adding value to regional activity as opposed to the Council itself seeking to deliver regional work, and argued for partnership in the planning and delivery of campaigns.
  • As part of a developing partnership with the Universities of Durham, Northumbria, and Teesside, the Forum organised a joint consultation with the universities (part-financed by the Ministry of Justice) on race, crime and justice. The consultation, which involved 30 members from 16 refugee community organizations, fed into a wider piece of work around issues affecting BME communities in the North East and was presented to the Ministry of Justice at an event at Durham University.
  • One of the Forum’s strategic aims for the future is to network with the refugee diaspora in Europe. An invitation was secured from the office of Fiona Hall, MEP for the North East, for the Forum’s Trustees to have meetings at the European Parliament and the European Commission, including with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). The Trustees found that NGO s dominated the ECRE and have made suggestions for more effective inclusion of refugee voices.
  • The Forum contributed to the design of, and is a key contributor to, an action research project funded by VONNE (through the Policy and Representation Partnership) on how the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector can help to ensure that social inclusion and equality are embedded in Local Enterprise Partnership activity and thinking.
  • In 2012 the Forum won a Tees Valley BME Achievement Award for its work of support, empowerment and integration, the effectiveness of its collective voice and the sound evidence of its policy work.

Tel: 0191 423 6255
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