The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, joined six fellow Commissioners from the Commission on the Integration of Refugees at its hearing in Glasgow on Wednesday 26 April.
Bishop Guli pictured at the Maryhill Integration Network as part of the Commission on the Integration of Refugees visit to Glasgow.
Bishop Guli, who is Vice Chair of the Commission was part of a smaller delegation who spent the morning at local project, the Maryhill Integration Network (MIN), before joining the other commissioners at panel hearings in the afternoon. At the project they learned more about its work and heard from the staff and those supported about what is and isn’t working to support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the area.
Bishop Guli was joined on the visit by fellow commissioners Hanna Kienzler, Professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and Co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, and Tony Smith, Chair of the International Border Management and Technologies Association and former Home Office Director General of the UK Border Force. During the visit they took part in a gardening activity at the project, where they planted seeds and plants whilst chatting with refugees to understand more about their experiences, the struggles they have faced and how MIN has made a difference for them.
Bishop Guli also met Yamam* who arrived in the UK from Iraq with her son who is now five years old. Yamam said:
“I feel like I’m part of this community, I go to the workshops, I volunteer and everyone here is friendly and tries to help each other. I dreamed about studying art all my life and am now able to achieve this. If I hadn’t gone to the art group I wouldn’t know that I could study and apply to college. I am so thankful for that.
“Being part of the community and the Maryhill group has helped me a lot. When I got here I didn’t even know how to use the bus. I have no family or friends here, it’s just me and my son. So these groups are extremely important to us. They are not just a project they’re a family.”
Bishop Guli, who arrived in the UK from Iran as a refugee when she was aged 14, said:
“It’s been a great privilege to spend the morning here at Maryhill. There is such important and meaningful work being done to bring together communities and support those building a new home here. Hearing their stories and understanding more about how the system effects lives so profoundly has been very moving. A huge thanks to all those who met with us, it’s enormously important for our work as commissioners.”
The three commissioners then travelled to the main hearing event in the City where Bishop Guli chaired a session to explore how the different routes refugees and asylum seekers use to arrive into the UK affects integration. The session also sought to learn from local organisations about the most successful approaches to supporting refugees to settle and successfully build a life in the area.
The Commission on the Integration of Refugees aims to improve the integration of refugees for a society where everyone, including refugees, feels welcome and part of a strong, cohesive community. It brings together conflicting viewpoints and diverse experiences to find common ground on how to fix the system. The Commission will run until the end of 2023 and hold seven hearings across the UK, as well as commission research and take written submissions from the public. The hearings are taking place in Birmingham, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Hereford. It is convened and funded by the Woolf Institute.
*Alternative name used