Flying the flag for integration
Congolese-born Moez Nathu was an asylum seeker in 1997 with his wife and children. After learning English and receiving the support of the Red Cross to help secure his own settlement in Britain, he set up a drop-in support service with a friend especially for those seeking asylum.
The Promoting African Refugee Community Association, (PARCA), initially helped those arriving in Peterborough from the African continent, but its reach and support now extends to many different ethnic groups.
From offering help and guidance on the asylum processes, the charity has grown to offer a huge range of services to help promote social cohesion, integration and relieve isolation and poverty in some of Peterborough’s most deprived areas. It reaches around 3,000 people a year and around 100 people each week.
“People are genuinely suffering; you can feel their stress when you talk to them,” said Moez. “The issues that immigrants face when they arrive in a new country are so varied. They can’t always speak the language, they face hostility from some people, they can’t find the kind of food they are used to, they don’t always know the customs and expectations of day to day living in England and they may be seeking asylum due a really difficult situation in their home country.
“The asylum system can be quite a traumatic experience. We know how people struggle to get just a small solution. People can become isolated and stressed as a result of any combination of these things. We are here to help relieve some of that.”
English classes, a women’s group, IT classes, sewing classes, a translation service and support for coping with asylum applications are just some of the services offered, but with a grant, Moez has been able to launch a series of social events, called Round Table Talks, that help break down barriers between ethnic groups and encourage them to work together on ideas for a better community for all.
The first of these took place in early 2017 and at this event, among the 80 people who came, there were at least 17 different nationalities, including Chinese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Albanian and Syrian.
The event aimed to celebrate diversity by encouraging participants to share something about their culture. Different foods were shared and also experiences of local life in Peterborough. The wider circle of relatives and friends of those already involved in PARCA were invited too, to help them find out more about what is on offer there.
Three further events would encourage discussion on ‘Improving Cohesion and Integration’, ‘Improving Neighbourhoods’, and ‘Improving Self Confidence’. At the end of the series of events, an exhibition to showcase ideas is planned.
Moez explained: “Participants are invited to give their views about the area, what they need from their community and how they would like to see it improve. We are pleased that a local councillor comes along who is very interested and wants to listen. And the Hate Crime Officer comes too, which is a helpful and reassuring presence.
“We hope the exhibition will reach a wider public so we can show how much potential we have in this diverse community. We have the interest of the Mayor as well as the councillors, so there could be scope for real change as a result of some of the ideas that come out of it.”
But as well as the practical ideas that come out of the meetings, Moez is keen that people view them as fun, social occasions. He added: “Social events like this have a good, positive outcome. They offer enjoyment and laughter, which helps to relieve stress. People who come may start to recognise each other out and about and say hello. They get to know people and this is good for building relationships and relieving isolation.”
One of the participants, an Albanian lady, had been subjected to racial abuse from her neighbour, even spat on and told to go back to her country. The stress of this had made her feel isolated and afraid.
Moez said: “We supported her through this by filling in the necessary form with her to record the incident and handed it to a councillor who was here on one of the evenings. The very next day she was able to speak to the Hate Crime Officer and the neighbour was dealt with. Since then she has joined our English group, the Women’s group and brought some of her native food to the International Women’s Day event we held. She’s beginning to feel like she belongs again and gaining more confidence with speaking to others and building relationships.”
He added: “We have both paid and volunteer workers at PARCA, some of who were at one time seeking support from us themselves. They want to give back and help someone who is new in Peterborough to be all they can be – when they are happy, we are happy.”