May I begin this article by thanking the Lord Mayor of Bradford City, Councillor John D Godward and Lady Mayoress, Mrs Jean Godward for launching the Bradford Refugee Forum website on Monday, 29 March 2010.
Now that we have a website, there are a few worrying issues about the Bradford Refugee Forum [BRF] which I feel we need to address as members of the Bradford refugee community. The BRF, although formed in 2005, is virtually unknown to refugees, asylum seekers and the destitute because it has no office, office staff and No equipment. Although there is a lot of support accessed by other Refugee Forums in West Yorkshire our BRF does not have the knowledge and machinery in place to source support from institutions that have been formalised by the state and from the humanitarian community.
Is it not sad that we claim to represent refugees in the Bradford area, yet we do not even know how many there are, how to reach them, let alone how to help them. It is organisations that are supposed to be affiliated to us that have the numbers, assistance schemes and results. It is these organisations refugees go to because they help them with food, clothes, accommodation and legal advice and support.
May I appeal to the present leaders of the BRF to either come up with strategies to assist refugees or step down from office because there is a lot of talent in the refugee community that is being frustrated by people that seem to have the mentality of Third World politicians that hang on to power at the expense of their nations.
When the UKBA refuses to recognise the talents our members have, is it not our duty to help prove to the UKBA that these refugees are and will be useful to Bradford. Do you know that despite the hardships refugees and asylum seekers have faced here, they have nonetheless been asserts rather than liabilities in the Bradford community. The NHS and Care Agencies, cleaning and security companies and even some farms would not be operating were it not for the support of the refugee community. But I am not talking about these popularly debated contributions and their pros and cons. I am talking of silent contributions made by these people to the clothing and food industries and to the motor trade sector. Every Sunday Bradford churches are packed with neatly dressed refugees driving from half-moving to some of the latest vehicles in Bradford. The money transfer shops at nearly every corner of Bradford rely on refugee support. Half our refugee girls talk on the phone half their lives, so the cell phone and top up companies need refugee as well. All this is money contributed to Bradford by people not allowed to work! Finally there is the Hair pleating industry. The best hair platters are refugees and they have inexhaustible ideas. My friends Bradford would not be the same without refugees!
But refugee contributions to Bradford would be much more pronounced if BRF helped identify talents among refugees and helped place it where it is critically needed. While there are economists, engineers, teachers, nurses and doctors among refugee, theses are not the hidden talents I needs identified, I am talking of men with surviving skills. I talked to many refugees about what they are capable of and I chose these three to show you the unbelievable talent in the Bradford refugee community.
The first is Alexander Chipatiko. Although Alexander was never sent to school by his parents due to poverty and other reasons, Alexander somehow learned to drive. By the time he sought asylum Alexander could drive every type of motor vehicle from car to lorry, truck to bus. As Alexander drove trucks throughout Sub-Saharan Africa he studied all the major languages of the whole region. Today he speaks Zulu, Ndebele, Shona, Chewa, Nyanja and some Swahili. Incredible talent. When he got status he learned to drive the forklift. Before he got status, he joined the UK branch of the Zimbabwean MDC and reached the position of membership in the top executive. He formed the Bradford branch of the MDC and is now also vice chairman of the Zimbabwe Association in Bradford. He learned to play the guitar and the organ and leads the Zimbabwe choir. He is the leader of the Forward in Faith in Bradford He has also done training in care, security, photography and is currently studying English. This man and all his talent have not found a permanent job since he got status and we have done nothing to help him.
Another refugee of outstanding ability is Cathrine Ndiwenyu. Because I need to keep this article short I will not describe the heroic achievement Cathrine made in her native country of Kenya before meeting and marrying David of Uganda. Cathrine is true example of determination. Cathrine and David escaped the problems of the region and claimed asylum in year 2000. Although well educated and had got status in 2003 Cathrine could not get a job in the Leeds/Bradford area. She learned had to plat hair and to do care work. At the same time she went to College to learn to use the Internet, mathematics and business skills. She knew what she wanted, she had the talent but nobody knew her and could help her. Determined to demonstrate what she could do she started a cosmetic business with almost no money. Because no one could give her a reference she could not get support from the banks. On more than one occasions in Leeds she was forced to close. But people of the calibre of Catherine do not give up easily. She moved to Bradford where she set up the Beauty Station. Today the beauty Station in one of the few very successful refugee shops in West Yorkshire. She sells nearly all types of beauty products needed by women. She orders them from United States, Brazil, South Africa, China, Germany-everywhere. She sells on the Internet to the whole world. Yet she is still doing women’s hair, doing care work and nursing. She has recently registered to do a business degree at the Bradford University. She is an example of true talent. If her route had been shortened, she could be right now way ahead, giving more services to people of Bradford and employing more people.
Finally, the story of hidden talents cannot be completed without describing the life of Beatrice Botomani. In fact the women’s’ movement in Bradford and surrounding areas would not be the same if Beatrice had not been sent here by UKBA. She works tirelessly, organising women rights meetings especially through The Outcry Campaign. She has brought women from all walks of life to speak with one voice. She is also active in BIASAN, BRF, City Santuary and New Community Music Development. Throughout the day she is using the Internet to reach as many women as she can teaching them of their rights and how to stand for these rights. She has been detained and forced to stay in the detention centres for indefinite period but she has never looked back about who she is and what her rights are. She has made her teenage children that have been traumatised with her to speak out. Her 14 year old son has written a book about his life in detention. Perhaps her determination is built on a foundation of faith in God. She has a leadership role in the Christ Embassies Church. Through this Church she has turned round the lives of many refugees. Beatrice is a law student.
I could go on citing more examples of talented refugees who could do much more for Bradford if we all supported them and I know you have your own examples. What we need is a system to support all this world of silent talent within the refugee community. Let us make the BRF work.