by Andy Brammer, Social Work Action Network
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies firstname.lastname@example.org
Social workers from across Britain came together to discuss how practical solidarity can be organised for refugees on the 4th and 5th of June.
More than 200 from Britain and across Europe began the weekend attending a conference in London organised in London by the Social Work Action Network.
We heard from fledgling social work organisation Social Work First and Social Work Without Borders who have been working in the refugee camps in France and Greece.
Both organisations have been sending social work volunteers to the camps to provide practical support and help to the refugees as well as building networks back in the UK of social workers who are able to link the work in the camps with the campaigns here to allow refugees entry into the UK.
Professor Michael Lavalette addressed the meeting and explained the direct link between the demonisation of refugees, the rise in Islamophobia and the attempt to force social workers to comply with the Prevent agenda in their duties.
The consensus of the conference was that it is essential for social workers to reclaim their traditional role of challenging discrimination and oppression and be part of the solution rather than working to the government’s racist agenda.
On 5th June social workers across Europe held an international day of solidarity with refugees. This included local events as well as solidarity visits to the nearest refugee camps. Up to 50 social workers, social work students, community workers and others from the UK visited the “Jungle” camp in Calais. They delivered practical aid to the volunteer aid organisation Care 4 Calais.
The visit gave social workers the opportunity to experience first-hand the living conditions in the camp. They could also hear directly from refugees about their painful experiences as well as their hopes for the future.
We met with other volunteers including teachers who are part of Trade Unionists 4 Calais, volunteer medics, lawyers and others. We heard heart-breaking stories from unaccompanied children and dislocated families.
We also witnessed the frustration of living in a camp with no official status, therefore no official aid agencies. Volunteers come and go and volunteer organisations struggle to ensure basic survival as well as ensuring a degree of normality through the school, youth centre, mosque and churches.
The day we were there we were involved in sports activities, discussion and art groups as well as teaching sessions in the school. This has given all of us food for thought as well as evidence to challenge the racist myths about refugees and the camps across Europe.
The day of solidarity has already started to bear fruit for future campaigns. Connections are now much stronger between social workers and social work organisations across Europe.
Social Work Action Network, Social Work First, Care 4 Calais and Social Work Without Borders are now regularly in discussion and we are using our networks on the ground to make the Dubs amendment (see page 4) a reality.
We hope to organise a conference later in the year and bring together social workers, students, academics,refugees and campaigners with the support of our trade unions and professional organisations. Refugees need our support and solidarity now but we also need to campaign to end the disgrace of unofficial, squalid and dangerous refugee camps across Europe.
No human should be illegal,unofficial or without status and the only way to ensure this to turn the slogan “Refugees welcome here” into reality.