Remembering a community’s response to racism towards immigrants in East London

In Dr. Gina Netto’s recent post on this blog, she writes:

“Extensive work needs to be undertaken with existing communities, including investing in new accommodation for the local population and with community development in order to avoid racial hostility and tension. Local communities should be prepared for the arrival of refugees. Awareness of the reasons for forced migration should be raised. Local residents should also be assured that they would not be disadvantaged through increased pressure on services. The allocation of housing to refugees in these areas should be gradual, allowing existing residents to become accustomed to new arrivals over time.”

The importance of these considerations is evident when looking at the Isle of Dogs in the borough of Tower Hamlets, East London during early 1990s. Due to a sense of unfair housing policy and opportunist scapegoating by the extreme political right, a period of outright social conflict occurred. A councilor for the British National Party (BNP) was elected and a nasty spike in racially motivated hate crimes occurred. As a child growing up on the Island with parents involved in the movement against racism, some of my earliest memories were formed during the campaign to stop the BNP.

Context

The Isle of Dogs is surrounded on three sides by the Thames and on the northern edge by the artificial water of Docklands, so it’s a tucked away pocket of the city. Historically, Docklands was an important hub for Britain’s imperial trading system and for many island residents a reliable source of work, but the docks closure in 1980 lead to increased local unemployment. Thatcher’s solution was to develop Docklands into a financial district and up went the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf. In particular, there was a constraint on housing. The Conservative’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy had reduced the housing stock in Tower Hamlets between 1981 and 1993 by 28%, a factor which combined with long housing waiting lists created competition for and pressure on public housing. My dad, who was an Anglican vicar on the Isle of Dogs from 1988 to 1995, recalls that it’s “a place that’s been governed by things from outside that have had an impact on the local community and local people that they’ve not been in control of.”

Enter ‘Outsiders’…

During the 1980s Britain received an influx of Bangladeshi families fleeing armed conflict in their homeland. In Tower Hamlets, many Bangladeshi families were awaiting housing whilst living in harshly inadequate or overcrowded conditions, in some cases with settled relatives in the north of the borough or in some cases outright homeless. When these people were moved into social housing on the Isle of Dogs, local people who had been waiting for housing several years were aggrieved. The perception arose that these ‘outsiders’ received underserved preferential treatment. Motivated by more than simply fear or prejudice towards foreigners – although these were partly evident – the hostility was a result of a failure to communicate and justify that council’s housing policy allocated homes based on the highest need, rather than length of time on the list.

Extreme politics  

The perceived injustice was exploited by the BNP – a spin-off of the neo-nazi National Front – who stirred up the housing issue by overplaying its ethnic dimension. For the BNP, practically every problem relating to Island life was brought back to immigration. It was vulnerable ethnic minorities, rather than policy-makers, who became the scapegoats and faced harsh discrimination. And in September 1993, thanks to a split in the vote to the left, the openly racist British National Party were able to gain their first ever election victory by winning a council seat. During this time numerous acts of racist hate crime took place, including violence and arson. Indeed between January 1993 and January 1994, reported attacks on the Isle of Dogs increased by 300 per cent, 71% of the victims being Asian. Sadly, for some people the electoral result legitimised the discrimination. My mum, who was a secondary school teacher, remembers that following the election “it became OK to be racist. It was like a cloud hanging over the Isle of Dogs.”

Community response

School Uniform with Rainbow Ribbon – 1994 © Edward Werb

In response to an openly racist elected councilor and an increasing sense of a divide community, a broad based alliance of community institutions joined together, which included faith institutions (such as my dad’s church), unions, housing associations and community groups. The struggle was to come together around the agenda of social inclusion and challenge the discriminatory BNP whilst simultaneously addressing legitimate concerns about social alienation.

A community peace group was co-founded by my mum, which, as an act of positive symbolism, distributed thousands of little rainbow ribbons for locals to wear in support of multiculturalism. The group’s slogan was ‘Celebrate the Difference’. My mum says “head teachers allowed students to wear them and they loved making their uniforms more interesting. Teachers and the doctors wore them too. The ribbons changed the mood on the island- Bangladeshis could see they did have support.” The following year a higher voter turnout was mobilized and, in what was widely seen as a victory for campaigners, the BNP lost their seat at the first opportunity.

 Lessons

This case is an instance of how housing and immigration can combine to spark tension. A key lesson from the Isle of Dogs is that transparency is essential. Policy-makers and local government must communicate clearly what they’re doing, be understood and in return listen to local people’s views, especially when minority groups receive priority. Another lesson is that the role of civil societies institutions – in particular faith institutions, who tend to have both a physical and relational presence in every community – working alongside local government can be instrumental in achieving social cohesion. Furthermore, the success of distributing rainbow ribbons amongst the community shows a positive, visible way of rejecting discrimination and showing solidarity with newcomers. Is it time for those working to integrate today’s refugees to wear similar symbols of support?

Sources

Foster, J. (1999) “Docklands: Culture in Conflict, Worlds in Collision.” London: UCL.

Holtam, T. (2009) “How were the British National Party successfully warded off the Isle of Dogs after their local by-election victory of September 1993?” MA Thesis, Sussex.

Mayo, S. & Holtam, N. (1998) “Learning From the Conflict. Reflections on the struggle against the BNP on the Isle of Dogs.” Jubilee Group.

Phil

Phil Holtam

Recent Sustainability Science graduate based in Copenhagen

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.

Latest news!!

80.000
© UNHCR/H.Holland

UNHCR reported more than 80,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of 2016 – more than in the first four months of 2015, despite the rough seas and severe winter. In the face of the dangers, over 2,000 people a day continue to risk their lives attempting to reach Europe.

Read the full story.

 

 


© European Union / Wim Daneels

“Whether in my own municipality, or far away, I firmly believe that people who are forced to flee their country and leave everything they have behind, deserve our support.” And, “I believe that protection of refugees in their areas of origin must be part of a holistic approach to care for refugees. It should not be used as an argument to deny all people the right to apply for asylum in Europe.” Says Hans Janssen (EPP/NL), European Committee of the Regions rapporteur on the “Protection of refugees in their areas of origin: a new perspective 2016”.

Read full interview here.

 


Camp_for_Sri_Lankan_refugees_in_Tamil_Nadu40 Sri Lankan refugees returned to their home country, supported by Germany, along with the UNHCR after have been living in Tamil Nadu since the early 90s.

Read more on the Times of India.

 

 


 

scotland flagMedically trained and qualified refugees are being offered the chance to use their skills and contribute to Scotland’s National Health Service (NHS). The New Refugee Doctors Project is one of the most important initiatives recently undertaken by civic Scotland. The Glasgow-based project will help to prevent de-skilling, offer the opportunity to observe the NHS in action and opportunities to experience the reality of working as a doctor in Scotland.

Read more here.

 


 

IFHP_ones_Refugees_final (002)_Page_01In the second half of 2015 the IFHP Housing Refugee Programme has opened the discussion on how to provide adequate housing for refugees as the migrant “crisis” in Europe continues to divide political and societal opinions. We published two reports, identified three major obstacles and developed 7 considerations. Lastly, we have published a report, which wraps up the work in 2015.

Read the full publication here.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for our next posts! We will refresh the Latest News every 15 days. Contact us if you want specific content.

andreia fidalgo
Andreia Fidalgo

Member of the IFHP office in Copenhagen
Project Assistant of the Housing Refugees Project

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.

BLOG: A sense of belonging

To house refugees in an area by themselves will most likely lead to segregation and ghettoization which we normally try to avoid when we develop our cities.

Christina Krog, senior manager at the IFHP, has written a comment to the current political debate in the Danish parliament Folketinget. The parliament has requested the government to come up with proposals of how to house refugees in what is being called “refugee villages”.


“Allow me to start by saying that the idea of building so called villages exclusively to house refugees’ sounds like a very bad idea.

Among other topics at IFHP we work with housing of refugees, – both in Europe and in Denmark. We do so because it is part of our DNA to care about how we create better cities for people. We know quite a lot about social cohesive cities, about which tools and methods to meet the intended development and last but not least; Why the diverse city often is more innovative than the city in a pleasant comfort zone.

Since August 2015 IFHP has been working with housing of refugees in Europe, as several of our European members have pointed out we need to work together to deal with this challenge. That’s what we do: Work together to solve challenges. We share knowledge about problems and solutions, we help to translate them into own terms to make inspiration relevant locally. As professionals we believe we can contribute with solutions and perspectives unbiased and without political agendas.

It is intelligent, however NOT rocket science. But we feel obliged to sound an alarm in conjunction with the idea of establishing national refugee villages.

Normally we do what we can to avoid creating ghettos. There are few good examples of a neighbourhood created for a selected group of inhabitants. On the contrary, numerous examples exist of what it may lead to, when a neighbourhood with a specific population, albeit one that is in a minority, is isolated and detached from the rest of the city.

Just think of why we invest large sum in refurbishment of existing ghettos in most cities across Europe to dissolve segregation. Take a look around in your own city and you can probably easily find your own examples.

The segregated city with disconnected neighbourhoods is NOT the solution. Neither for the elite nor for the marginalised. In short; we simply do not have great examples of “gated communities” or ghettos being the source of creating prosperous cities. Which is why progressive cities today aim at developing cities with neighbourhoods which accommodate several functions and offer housing at different price range. So the idea to set up refugee villages isolated from the surrounding society is therefore not a good solution. Even if one assumes it is temporary. Firstly, because it almost always turns out that it becomes permanent. Secondly because there globally is a great demand for more affordable housing.”


The Danish government, as many other national and local governments, ought to solve the challenge of accommodating refugees by in general providing more affordable housing which is long-term sustainable and a benefit also for the existing population.

During the autumn 2015, the IFHP Housing Refugee Programme published seven considerations for when you work with housing of refugees, based on three main challenges. Read more about this in the report (http://www.ifhp.org/product/ifhp-ones-housing-refugees-programme-2015), and let us know what your current challenge is and share your approach and solutions with us all.

This is a shortened and edited version of the original comment, published at www.altinget.dk, 26 January

 

Christina Krog

Christina Krog

Member of the IFHP office in Copenhagen
Project Manager of the Housing Refugees Programme

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.

 

BLOG: To rehouse refugees

I read a blog post by Anne-Marie Slaughter about different ideas for how to rehouse refugees. It argues that

“[…] it is time to embrace the prospect not of camps but of cities – places where up to a million refugees of any particular nationality can live safely and learn how to build a better future.”

Further down in the text the author continues:

“ […] refugee settlements should be fundamentally re-conceived – as hubs of education, enterprise, and equal rights that
can anchor networks of relatives and friends that extend back home and around the world
.”

I could not agree more. Being part of IFHP which origins lie in the Garden City Movement in the UK and was founded in 1913, the social concerns for making cities better places for people are part of my DNA.
It is time to reflect and innovate the way Europe is dealing with the refugee and migrant influx. And luckily many feel the same way. One idea, currently pursued by an Egyptian billionaire, is to buy deserted islands and let refugees establish the society they need. Inspired by the Chinese urbanisation strategy another idea is to build cities in the neighbouring countries for the migrants/refugees, which also will benefit the existing population.

I wonder what it is I do not understand? We are discussing where to rehouse newcomers:
1. as if it is a thing that we can fix
2. because we have to as they already are here
3. for humanitarian reasons

Looking back to learnings from history, outstanding and prosperous civilisations taking a leap of faith often were exposed to either hostile take-overs or a more friendly influx of new comers. Civilisations succumbing often do so due to an inability to adapt to the impact, – it being climate changes, new inventions or learnings.

Part of adapting is to innovate and develop; Europeans’ life expectancy is rising while the birth rate is declining. So why:

– do our governments not argue we need newcomers?
– are we not competing to attract newcomers to adapt new challenges and to insure a prosperous future?
– Why do I seem to missing out on the explanation, explaining the current strategy?

 

Christina Krog
Christina Krog
Member of the IFHP office in Copenhagen
Project Manager of the Housing Refugees Programme

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.

BLOG: How IFHP is tackling the housing refugee crisis

In the wake of recent events, with Europe accepting the largest numbers of refugees ever and a common shortage of housing across the main European cities, the International Federation of Housing and Planning wishes to create a space that is open to debate, to raise awareness, and to promote participation amongst our society.  It is necessary to provide housing and support services to receive, accommodate and integrate refugees. There are currently 60 million refugees and internally displaced people across the globe who are fleeing violence, persecution, and terrorism who seek better conditions for living a decent life. The international community is committed to protect and host those who flee persecution and conflict.

It is our obligation and dedication to fight for increased assistance to all refugees who are in need of housing. Turning our backs to refugees and their needs is to close ones eyes to the development of future generations of Europeans citizens. We hope that you will join us as we work to promote the need for better housing and integration solutions for all.

These past months were the first of, what we hope to be a participatory and society-engaged process, as we want to strengthen the network of experts and people interested in this area. Both in our everyday lives and/or professions, we are all aware of this dramatic situation and it is our responsibility to act on it.

This blog is for all. Finding the next steps and actions is something we want to discuss and find out through your ideas.

What do you think we should do next?

Do you have an idea you want us to work on? Or help you with?

Our blog is a platform to share, discuss and listen. We realise we need to talk and work togehter on this matter.

The first step towards integration is housing! Has Europe been able to provide suitable housing for refugees? For the past 3 months, the IFHP has been working on this topic through debates, presentations and workshops to understand the current state of affairs and create the base for future developments.


So what have we been doing?
We have published two reports, conducted a workshop and participated in a congress and summit event.


How are we doing it?
Report 1. The IFHP Housing Refugees Report 1 assessed the status quo of housing refugee policy and provision across various EU member states. The findings were collated through a literature review and a questionnaire sent to housing experts and IFHP correspondents across EU countries. Participating countries were Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

r1Findings:
– Absence of a holistic European housing policy and differing national and regional policy and resources.
EU faces a housing shortage, particularly within the social and affordable housing sectors.

– Refugees face multiple obstacles in gaining access to adequate housing. Reasons for this include lower housing and social support subsidies as well as complex and differential housing allocation processes.

– Many EU States experience a lack of social considerations when approaching the housing of refugees. Including poor coordination of housing and integration factors such as employment, education and training, health and social services.


Workshop + Report 2. The IFHP Refugees Report 2 is a collection of the discussion and conclusions gathered during the 2-day workshop in the Netherlands based on the findings from
the Report 1. Three topics were the base for the workshop discussion:
Housing & Integration, Housing Policy & Affordable Housing Allocation, and Zoning & Planning Regulation.

The workshop led to a series of considerations, under the three above-mentioned themes, that the group present considered the most imperative.

R2CONSIDERATIONS:

Housing and Integration
– Housing Pathways. It should be considered that housing and integration services are combined in a ‘pathway’ approach
– Matchmaking. It should be considered that matchmaking solutions could better respond to both refugees and municipalities’ needs

Housing Policy & Affordable Housing Allocation
– Housing Policy. It should be considered that a multi-agent approach is adopted to honour diversity in policy-making
– Affordable Housing. When providing permanent accommodation the demographic of the existing population should be taken into account.

Planning & Associated Regulation
– Planning regulation. It should be considered that planning regulations allow for a certain degree of plasticity and flexibility within both spatial planning and housing regulation
– Reallocation of zoning. It should be considered that planning zones are reallocated to enable the increased provision of affordable housing
– Associated building regulations. It should be considered that associated building regulations could be met under a phased programme.


Participation on the 51st ISOCARP Congress. At the 51st ISOCARP Congress, the considerations from the workshop were presented. The attendants at the congress showed their engagement and will to participate in further discussions and workshops promoted by the IFHP.


summit1st IFHP Summit. The morning of the IFHP Summit 2015 was dedicate to the theme of Housing Refugees and Migrants, with a specific focus on the Federal State of Berlin, where the Summit was hosted. The presentations emphasized the growing pressure on the housing market in Berlin, especially on the affordable and social sectors, as the city has been seeing a growth of population and a deficit in housing provision. It was pointed that there is a need to create space for housing (in the existing stock) through refurbishment and renovation of the existing housing units and other spaces. It was possible to establish several parallels between the challenges faced in Berlin and the findings from the IFHP programme, which leads us to conclude that housing provision to refugees across the different European countries and cities, face comparable challenges.


Next steps?

We will use this BLOG as a platform to share information, knowledge, events, and generate ideas on this matter. Please stay posted on our latest developments on IFHP website and here.

Any information you would like to share with us is most welcome. Help us to keep the conversation going!!

 
andreia fidalgo

Andreia Fidalgo
Member of the IFHP office in Copenhagen
Project Assistant of the Housing Refugees Project

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.

BLOG: Welcome world!

I realize I’m very lucky. Just because my father chose a Dutch nationality, instead of an Indonesian one. My Indonesian grandfather came to the Netherlands to study and met my Dutch grandmother here. Now I am entitled to a Dutch passport. With that little booklet I’ve been able to get an easy visa upon arrival in 24 countries in 5 different continents. But that is just a fraction of the 171 countries that open the doors to Dutch citizens. Even with just my backpack budget I was warmly welcomed everywhere.

 

Just not here

How different it was when my cousin wanted to come to the Netherlands on short notice! He was born and raised in Indonesia, with an Indonesian nationality and passport. Ten years ago my Dutch grandmother passed away here in the Netherlands. My cousin wanted to attend the funeral, as the oldest son of her oldest son. In Indonesia that means something. Not to the Dutch embassy. He could get the visa after waiting 5 to 8 working days. Too late for the funeral.

Just to set things straight. My cousin is the son of a big business tycoon (my uncle) in Indonesia, who chose an Indonesian nationality. My cousin has more college credentials and money than I will ever get. Still his passport will only grant him access to 14 (!) countries, of which none in North America or Europe. Even in matters of life and death, he is met with distrust, lack of interest and a lot of red tape. Luckily it was not his own life on the line.

Other way around

Irony has it that it was my Indonesian grandfather, who had to smuggle German citizens out of Germany. Through the Netherlands, to the Belgian border, together with fellow Indonesian students. They were the ideal smugglers, because they had dark hair. It was the beginning of the forties, the German citizens were dark-haired Jewish children. My grandfather always took my uncle along, then a young boy. With a bit of flair and make-believe, they passed every checkpoint. The children were ‘his’ children when asked.

The fellowship of Indonesian students went back to Indonesia, with wives and children. And after a turbulent beginning, they experienced a relatively peaceful period. But that was shaken up violently with the coup d’etat of 1965. My father’s family had to flee and was shattered, spread over 4 different countries for the following 7 years. Communication was difficult, so they were mostly unaware of each others whereabouts. Eventually my father was forced to come back to the Netherlands and was re-naturalized as a Dutch citizen.

Building a beneficial future

Today I watch the news and it irritates me. Somehow the allergy to inequality was passed down to me. I’m working with my office Studio ROSA to develop existing slums in Latin America, Africa and Asia. We believe we should do this with respect to all stakeholders: inhabitants, land owners and governments. That is why we are developing tools for participation in urban planning in informal settlements. Basically we start with getting everybody to understand one another.

Working both inside and outside of ‘Fortress Europe’ has certainly broadened my perspective. I can still relate to the concerns of my Dutch neighbors about their jobs, housing shortage and fear of all the incoming strangers. I can also relate to the fear the newcomers must have experienced to leave their familiar life behind. I also believe that the first fearful encounters are just a phase, but a very unpleasant one. Once we get to know eachother we wil be fine.

 

This is where we can help as planners and designers. How can we make the encounter phase pleasant? How can we make hosts and guests understand eachother? And shape a life together, that is beneficial to both?

 

Kria Djoyoadhiningrat
Kria Djoyoadhiningrat
Architect and partner at Studio Rosa
Main editor of IFHP’s Housing Refugees Blog

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors of the blogposts and do not reflect those of the International Federation of Housing and Planning.