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“I have always maintained that whilst immigration is a global and national phenomena, integration is a uniquely local experience.”

Senator Ratna Omidvar delivered one of the keynote speeches at the ‘Integration and Immigration: getting it right locally conference’ on 17 May organised by British Future, Hope not Hate and Barrow Cadbury Trust.  She spoke of her journey from India to Canada via warring Iran, her pride in sponsoring refugees and how integration must work on a subjective person to person level to have an impact on a national scale. Below is an abridged version of her speech:

It’s humbling being asked to come to another country to share my insights. But it is also perhaps an opportunity to engage in a bit of two-way traffic, because our system has borrowed so much from yours, in particular our parliamentary system. When I became a Senator I understood better how much we base our parliamentary democracy on yours.  So this is an appropriate opportunity to say “Thank You” and give something back.

I may not have all the answers or the silver bullets that you desire.  What I do have is a story to tell, some ideas to share, and a perspective of how my own country manages migration flows and continues to stitch immigrants and refugees into its national fabric.

I was born in Amritsar, India – home to the famous Golden Temple. After studying at the University of Delhi, I headed off the West Germany to continue my education there.

One day I went hiking in the Alps with some other foreign students. By the time we climbed back down I had met my life partner. He was from Iran, and so after we completed our studies, rather naively as it turned out, we wanted to give his home country a try.  Bad idea. We arrived in Tehran during one of the bloodiest and most turbulent periods in Iran’s history. 2500 years of Persian monarchy was coming to an end with the Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the Shah.  We knew we had to get out but it wasn’t going to be easy. We had a child by that time – still a baby – and all air routes out of Iran were closed.

So we decided, with all the courage of youth, to pack our bags, load up the baby carriage and make the long, cold journey by road. After two horrific days, we found ourselves in a small square room on the border of Iran and Turkey. On one side of the room: a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini. On the other: a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

We were cold, very tired and very afraid. And frankly, we were telling whatever lies we could in order to get to the other side of the room. We omitted the fact that we had money crammed up the legs of the baby carriage. We did not tell the guards that our papers were not quite real.

They ripped everything apart – the diaper bag, the milk powder – but they did not think to check the carriage.

We made it to the other side. And through Turkey we eventually made it to Germany. Unfortunately they were not accepting a lot of immigrants at the time, so we eventually applied to Canada – and were rejected. But we persisted and thanks to friends in Canada, we were eventually sponsored and made that initial journey across the Atlantic.

My story is not special. The details differ from one migrant to another, but we all share similar experiences. We all leave one life to find another. And we all faced the inevitable struggles from rejection to reinvention; from prejudice to persistence.

Every immigrant stars in the same four part serial: Arrival, rejection, then slow reinvention and renewal, and then hopefully “redemption”, if not in our lives then through the lives of our children.


Canada has always been seen as a nation of immigrants, and therefore of diversity. In a recent survey, it was further determined that Canadians believe that multiculturalism, diversity and inclusions are our most notable contribution to the world. So now it is less about peacekeeping and foreign aid and more about who we are and how we get along with each other. Multiculturalism, and the acceptance of immigrants and refugees now stand out as the best way Canadians feel their country can be a role model for others and as a way to exert our influence on the global stage.

Here’s the good thing about Canada: The results of immigration in the long term are very encouraging. The children of immigrants enjoy an exceptional rate of success in school, outpacing the success of native-born Canadians. Sixty per cent of immigrants buy homes within six years of arrival. And rates of intermarriage are growing, particularly in urban centres. Many of my country’s future elites are second and third generation immigrants. This will surely continue.

The bad: Canada often struggles to recognize foreign credentials. There is a common mythology that internationally trained doctors and scientists drive our taxis and Ubers in Canada. Name-based discrimination is another barrier to entry for newcomers. In Canada you are 35% more likely to be called for a job interview if your name is Matthew and not Sameer. This limits our success greatly.

And the ugly truth is that Canada still struggles with racism, particularly towards black Canadians and indigenous peoples. Extreme poverty and rising inequality are perhaps the greatest indicators of this ugliness.

Moving to public opinion, Canada and the United Kingdom have a lot more in common than you think with respect to public opinion on migration. And while Canada is seen both within its borders and around the world as a beacon, people often need to see that multiculturalism is truly working in order to receive their stamp of approval.

Work by Canadian academics Randy Besco and Erin Tolley point to a rough rule of thirds. About one third of Canadians hold clearly negative views. They want less immigration and think minorities should receive less accommodation.  Another third are greatly idealistic about immigration and diversity, and are vocal in their rejections of proposals that negatively target specific groups. The middle third are ‘conditional multiculturalists’. They will accept those who accept their national values. For instance, they might favour restrictions on the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, but not while accessing public services. They worry that some Muslims pose a threat to public safety, but they also think Muslims deserve equal treatment.


I have always maintained that whilst immigration is a global and national phenomena, integration is a uniquely local experience. People may leave one country for another, but it is the local experience that will be felt first hand.  I am talking not just of the newcomers. I believe that the conversation about integration and inclusion has to shift to include three players – first the newcomers, second all existing residents in the local community, and third local institutions. These are the groups that help or hinder integration.

There is a rich narrative of local best practices from the world that lends itself to this idea. Cities of Migration the world over are experimenting and succeeding with unique local expressions of innovation. For example, Copenhagen teaches cycling culture to newly arrived Muslim women. Barcelona equips local residents with facts to dispel fake news about migrants. And Toronto matches immigrant job seekers with mentors drawn from the same occupation.

Good ideas have long legs, and some of the best ideas have indeed originated from right here in London: The London Living Wage is just one example. And because local communities are far better placed than their national governments to nimbly borrow and adapt ideas, the London Living Wage has been embraced by prominent labour unions and activists across Europe and North America.


Conversely, your country has just borrowed an idea from my country that deserves your attention. That idea is to allow everyday citizens to privately sponsor refugees to come to their country.

In Canada, any individual can act as de facto guarantors for refugee families during their first year of resettlement. Before these refugees arrive, these volunteers raise funds to provide them with the necessities – food, shelter. And they develop resettlement plans to ensure these refugees have the support they need to belong and thrive in our country. This can include anything from English language training and enrolments in public schools to weekend museum trips.

As an individual who has privately sponsored refugees, I can attest that it is among one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

Today, more than 250 communities across Canada are home to these refugees.  One in three Canadians either sponsored a refugee directly or knows someone who has. This I think, is a modern nation building strategy, more about social cohesion and less about national infrastructure.

This is social engineering at its best.


So in closing I want to leave you with five good ideas which may be helpful:

First, governance matters. Now more than ever the pursuit of the national interest needs to carry through to the local level. And the procedures that govern our processes need to be clear, consistent and easy for the public to understand.  It is this confidence that has led the public to support public investments in integration.

Second, local institutions matter. We know that migration issues are local issues at their core. It is libraries, hospitals, schools, parks and bus stops that facilitate or hinder integration.  My favourite examples come from Toronto, where libraries are no longer just a place to borrow books, but they also double as job search clubs. In Dublin, it was the bus service that launched an anti-racism campaign.

Third, human nature matters. Time and time again it has been proven that barriers between migrants and other residents fall when they have opportunities to come together. In these times of post-truth or post-fact, we have to fight emotion with emotion. Reason over emotion alone will not prevail. And what better to bring emotion and empathy to the front than through human relations.  So a bit of social engineering here would be great.

Fourth, language matters. Words give shape to our values and since values shift over time, so must language. Roughly two decades ago, a small whisper campaign started in Canada. It sought to displace the word “foreign” to “internationally-trained”. Just think of the shift in your minds when you use one word instead of the other.


Perhaps the time has come to shift some of your language. Here and in Europe, the terminology of the day is “migrant”, whereas we in Canada use the word “immigrant”. Possibly because we are more comfortable with the permanent nature of the phenomena.  I have just come from Berlin, from a conversation about diversity and integration. I have left Berlin with a conviction that the words need to shift. Diversity is nothing more than a demographic reality. Integration is no more than a two way or three way process over time. The end goal is always inclusion. As someone has said, diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice. What good is integration, if it does not guarantee inclusion – economic, social and political inclusion?

And finally, narrative and stories matter.  I have always been a big believer in the power of role models and champions. However recently I have begun to develop a slightly more nuanced view. I believe now that the story of the Immigrant as Hero is ultimately not very helpful. For one, heroes are exceptional, for another most heroes will have feet of clay.  We are far better advised to portray immigrants as ordinary people: as taxpayers, as neighbours, as good parents. We need to normalise them and make them more human and therefore more likely to be your friend, your buddy or a member of your book club.

Watch a bite-sized video of the conference which Ratna Omidvar spoke at

The public should have more of a voice in the debate on Britain’s immigration choices after Brexit, according to a new report today from the National Conversation on Immigration, the biggest-ever public consultation on the issue – released as Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee publishes the report of its own inquiry on immigration.

Co-ordinated by British Future and Hope not Hate, the National Conversation has conducted citizens’ panels in over 40 towns and cities in every nation and region of the UK, from Southampton to Shetland. It asks citizens what they think about different flows of migration, its impacts and benefits nationally and in their local area, and what approach Britain should take to immigration after it leaves the European Union. It examines common themes as well as local differences.

It will visit a total of 60 locations overall, holding over 130 meetings with members of the public and with local stakeholders concerned with immigration.

This model of public engagement with important policy decisions is one that could be taken up by government on an ongoing basis and replicated across a range of issues.

Interim findings from conversations to date include:

  • Most of the public are ‘balancers’, seeing both pressures and gains from immigration. While there is disagreement on immigration, there is much agreement too.
  • Getting integration right and addressing local pressures on housing and schools emerged as key themes across many locations.
  • As well as some common themes there are significant differences from place to place. People view immigration, positively and negatively, through its impact on the place where they live.
  • Contribution is important: people want migrants to make a contribution to Britain, through the skills they bring, jobs they do and through taxation.
  • Participants had strikingly different views about different types of migration, such as high-skilled and low-skilled migration, international students and workers who do specific jobs such as fruit-picking and care work.
  • People lack trust in the Government to control who comes into the UK through checks to exclude criminals and enforcement of immigration rules.

The National Conversation provides an opportunity for members of the public to have their say on immigration policy after Brexit in a way that will be heard by decision-makers. Its interim findings are submitted as evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s Inquiry. The report draws on the first 30 locations visited.

As well as the citizens’ panel, in each location the National Conversation researchers meet local organisations, councillors and business leaders to hear their views. National opinion polling will take place in 2018 and an open online survey allows everyone in the UK to have their say in the National Conversation.  A final report will be published later this year, incorporating the poll findings and survey results together with recommendations.

In a new report released today, Britain’s immigration offer to EuropeBritish Future sets out a proposal for a new, preferential system for EU immigration to the UK. Such a system, it argues, could secure UK public support for immigration in a managed system which is fair to migrants and host communities; yet remains politically deliverable in Westminster and for the EU and its member states too.  According to the report many think immigration presents an impossible conundrum for the Brexit negotiations.  But could we find a system that helps rebuild trust while continuing to welcome European migration to Britain and, crucially, gives UK negotiators a positive offer to make to the EU as it seeks the best possible trade deal?

The British Future proposal offers preferential European access to the UK labour market as part of a UK deal on trade with the EU. It retains freedom of movement for EU workers above a set skills or salary level: UK attitudes research shows that 88% of the public does not want to reduce the migration of skilled workers that our economy needs.  They would, however, like greater control of low- and semi-skilled immigration, which would be subject to quotas, set annually by Parliament, after consultation with employers and local communities. Importantly, the first opportunity to fill those low-skilled migrant quotas would go to Britain’s preferential trade partners – and the first offer of such a preferential trade and migration deal should be made to the EU.

It is essential that migrant workers are treated fairly and offered routes to settlement and citizenship and we make clear that this is not a guest worker system. We believe this is a constructive offer that is capable of securing support from within the European Union. What’s more, it could help to rebuild public trust in our immigration system here in the UK.  A preferential system would bring unskilled migration under UK control, while still ensuring that employers can recruit the staff they need to keep our economy growing, and our country remains open to the immigration that we want and need.



The New Beginnings Fund was set up by a group of funders, including Barrow Cadbury Trust, to provide support to organisations involved with welcoming and integrating refugees into the UK.   Phase 1 of the Fund completed earlier this year.  Find out about some of the initiatives funded under Phase 1.  The applications for phase 2 of the New Beginnings Fund are now open.  The deadline for submitting an expression of interest form is 30 October 2016.  Please note, that web page will direct you to the relevant Community Foundation website.

For this phase grants will only be awarded in Yorkshire, the East Midlands, the North East, the South West, the South East, the East of England and Cumbria, Staffordshire, Manchester and Cheshire.

The New Beginnings Fund was set up to support small groups. Applicants must meet certain conditions before being awarded a grant. Find out more about the eligibility criteria.  Read the Documents and Policies checklist before you submit an expression of interest.

Questions in the expression of interest form and application form


The blog below was originally published in Alliance Magazine

In September 2015, a group of UK-based foundations and NGOs met at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to discuss responses to the refugee crisis that was engulfing Europe. The images of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach had jolted many from unease or disbelief to shock, sympathy and compassion.  Although the UK was not experiencing inflows like mainland Europe, there was a groundswell of public support for refugees and positive coverage of an issue all too often mired in controversy.

Some of us thought that there was scope for collective action and the meeting led the establishment of New Beginnings, a pooled fund managed by the UK Community Foundations Network (UKCF). Although both Barrow Cadbury and Paul Hamlyn are strategic, long-term funders in the area of migration we thought it was important to help set up this responsive fund. Firstly, we were hearing that small local groups were over-stretched and overwhelmed by offers to volunteer. Often the first port of call for people who want to engage with this issue and welcome migrants and refugees, these groups were inundated with requests but ill-equipped to harness this new energy and interest.

As long-standing investors in work to understand public attitudes to refugee and migration issues, we were under no illusions that the crisis would lead to a dramatic and positive shift in views. However, this fund seemed opportune given that surveys have found that the public have more positive attitudes to migration in their local area than at national level. There is also extensive evidence to show that meaningful contact with migrants and refugees can be a very powerful experience that shapes how people feel about this issue.

We were also struck by the US experience of building a movement in support of migrants and refugees. There, advocates and their philanthropic partners have found that a healthy immigration movement requires investment in both large and small organisations. The ability of these organisations to engage meaningfully with the public, and not just their core supporters, has proved critical.

With New Beginnings we were motivated by the chance to build on the momentum generated by external events and to help often fragile community groups become more resilient and reach out to newer constituencies. Given its short-term nature, the fund was not designed to fill gaps in service delivery – of which there are many – but to build capacity in engaging local communities in support of their work at a time of great demand. To that end, we are also in the process of developing workshops to enable some of the groups involved to strengthen their approach to communications and to tap into existing networks and reach new supporters.

In May 2016, New Beginnings awarded £506,000 in one year grants to 45 organisations, 39 of which received up to £10,000 and seven partnership projects that were awarded up to £20,000. Typical examples include Restore, a Birmingham based group that has seen massive increases in volunteer befriender requests over the past year. Also supported is Oasis Cardiff Partnership, which will work with new arrivals to help them integrate, partly through sessions organised by volunteers from the local community and also a ‘Friends and Neighbours’ group.

New Beginnings will launch a second round, of a similar size to the first, later this summer. Approaches from foundations or donors interested in contributing would be very welcome. One of the issues we and the other funders and partners hope to address this time round is the paucity of applications from refugee or migrant led organisations. How do we go about reaching these often over-looked and low profile groups that have the potential to make a significant contribution towards long-term change?

In this post-Brexit haze the refugee crisis now seems quite distant. However, the rationale for the fund remains, perhaps even more so now that some of the fault lines and anxieties that existed before the vote have surfaced and have uncovered a tension that risks undermining the UK’s long tradition of welcoming newcomers.

Trusts, foundations and other philanthropists and supporters now more than ever need to demonstrate collective and sustained support for the often unglamorous work of these community groups and the volunteers working with them.

Ayesha Saran is migration programme manager at Barrow Cadbury Trust.
Alex Sutton is senior grants manager at Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

This blog represents the views of the two trusts and not the views of all funders of the New Beginnings Fund.

Foundations contributing to the pooled fund include: Comic Relief; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Paul Hamlyn Foundation; Pears Foundation; Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales; The Rayne Foundation; City of London Corporation; BBC Children in Need and Oak Foundation.

Rob Bell, Director of Strategy at Paul Hamlyn Foundation blogs about why society needs to support young people with irregular immigration status. This blog was originally published on the Paul Hamlyn Foundation website.
In the 1950s, American sociologist Charles Wright Mills noted a phenomenon that should trouble us today when we consider the precarious lives of young migrants. He argued that a good society should not abandon individuals to struggle alone with what he described as “personal troubles”. Some troubles, he argued, should not be private matters, but rather “issues”.


“An ‘issue’ is a public matter,” he elaborated “when values cherished by the public are felt to be threatened […] it is the very nature of an issue, unlike even widespread trouble, that it cannot very well be defined in terms of the everyday environments of ordinary men. An issue, in fact, often involves a crisis in institutional arrangements.”


There are an estimated 60,000 young people living in the UK who have irregular immigration status. This tag is no mere administrative burden. It compromises their security and safety, their health and wellbeing and our ability to support those who are vulnerable and exploited by others. If you are young, and without the correct papers, then you are likely to be extremely quiet about it: you will try to manage alone the problems this generates. You will be unable to get trusted advice and legal support. You will be unwilling to speak up about this for fear of being deported. You will be unsure about accessing the health and social support that most of us take for granted. You will not know who and what to trust. You will see both light and darkness in remaining invisible.


Last week, at a meeting of European charitable trusts at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, two organisations spoke to the assembled grant makers about what they were doing to make sure the personal troubles of so many become social issues that we address. Just for Kids Law talked about their work helping young migrant – many of whom have grown up as children in the UK – to access higher education. Swarm has developed a web portal through which young people and their families can work out how they can get help with their immigration status problems. Both charities are part of a wider collaboration, started by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy – two funders working in partnership. Supported Options uses grant making, research, convening, digital technology, story-telling and direct service development to shine a light on the lives of young people trapped by their status, and also to point to policy and practice solutions.


We are rightly transfixed by the continuing refugee crisis and in the UK there has been a huge mobilisation of interest and offers of help from the general public. But we must not lose sight of those – such as young people without papers – whose stories are not being told, and who are not in the limelight. They are as deserving of our attention and our support as any young person in trouble.


In the United States, a growing movement for change – led by United We Dream – has turned many undocumented young people into social activists and campaigners, and in this movement individuals find support and friendship. In the United Kingdom, a similar movement has been much slower in coming – but coming it is. Let Us Learn is a youth-led campaign that has already brought about a change in the law, with a recent Supreme Court decision securing access to higher education funding for many. We must nurture this movement and protect the brave young people who work selflessly for the rights and futures of others. ‘Coming out’ as undocumented and speaking up for one’s rights and the rights of others is to put oneself in peril, but it is probably the only way that young people’s troubles become our social issue. We should reward their courage and dignity by helping them to study and ensuring that they can access legal advice and representation in order to make decisions about their futures from a position of stability and security.


This meeting of the European Foundation Centre’s (EFC) Diversity, Migration, and Integration Thematic Network brought together EFC members for two days in October 2015, to network, learn from one another and identify potential areas of common interest. The Network is chaired by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.