Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre (CRMC) joined Coventry City Council (CCC) to host the community launch of the MiFriendly Cities project in the city at the Jesus Centre last month.
The MiFriendly Cities project aims to welcome and provide opportunities for people moving to the West Midlands in search of safety and a better life, so that they can rebuild their lives. It also aims to enable the city to benefit from the skills, talents and culture newly arrived people offer. The project includes Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and 11 partners.
Toni Soni, Centre Director at CRMC said: “Today’s event provided an opportunity for people living in Coventry to find out more about the project, to share their ideas and get involved.
Each partner brings different skills and expertise to the table, but it also important that this is community led, which is why this launch was so important in engaging people from across the city.”
The event followed the successful grant of £4 million by the EU’s Urban Innovative Action fund for the project. This was announced earlier this year at the projects West Midlands MiFriendly Cities launch at Coventry Cathedral.
CRMC will be leading a number of initiatives as part of the MiFriendly Cities project, including increasing the provision of English classes for refugees and migrants and improving employment opportunities.
Jen Preece, MiFriendly Cities Project Manager at CRMC said: “The ability to speak English is the key thing that people require when moving here. Without it, it makes finding work, engaging with the community and neighbours, or getting on in school incredibly difficult. We currently have long waiting lists for our English classes with people keen to learn, so increasing the provision of these should improve the situation.”
“Finding employment can also be a real challenge. This can be because of the differences in the culture of applying for and securing work in the UK compared to some of the countries the people we work with come from. Similarly, because of the long period people may have been out of work while waiting for the right to do so, the gap on their CV can make it difficult to secure work, despite being qualified to do so.
“We have set up a team here who will be able to support people with this, while also directly liaising with local employers to raise awareness about the skills and talents migrants and refugees can offer.”
Attendees heard from two clients at CRMC who spoke about their experiences of moving to Coventry and what they hoped the project would offer.
Tion, who has just started secondary school in the city, arrived in Coventry with her mother when she was six. CRMC helped the family apply for refugee status, overcome challenges with their accommodation and to secure a school place. Since arriving, she has achieved top SAT’s results, donated her hair to a cancer charity and holds dreams of becoming a doctor so she can help children. She said: “When we were told we have leave to remain, which means we can stay in the country and we have refugee status, this was very exciting for me and my Mum. We finally felt safe and happy.
“I hope this project helps families get reunited quicker, because it is hard to spend time without all of your family, and it is nice for everyone who loves each other to be together and happy.”
Alsadig, a secondary school teacher from Sudan found safety in Coventry during 2014 with his family. CRMC supported the father to access English classes and adapt to life in the city. He said: “I am incredibly grateful for the welcome and opportunities I’ve been given, and I hope this project enables these kind of opportunities to continue and develop.
Jen said: “Tion and Alsadig are just two wonderful examples of what can be achieved if people moving here are given the opportunities and welcome they deserve. This project will help improve these opportunities and to create a more welcoming society.”
John Kiely, McDonalds franchise owner in Coventry is a keen supporter of the project and already employs a number of people from migrant backgrounds. Speaking at the launch, he said: It’s about employing people who can make a difference, giving them the opportunity to use their skills and contribute to working society. I see myself not as a ‘migrant-friendly’ employer but a ‘friendly’ employer, and everybody should have the opportunity to work, no matter their background.
“We also want to make a difference to their lives, helping them talk to employers, and get their foot on the employment ladder.”
Project partners Coventry City Council, Coventry University Social Enterprise, FABLab and Migrant Voice also spoke at the event.