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WHO WE AREThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) is part of the United Nations System as the leading inter-governmental organization promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. IOM has had a presence in the United Kingdom since 1995.
Our WorkAs the leading inter-governmental organization promoting humane and orderly migration, IOM plays a key role to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda through different areas of intervention that connect both humanitarian assistance and sustainable development. In the UK, IOM supports migrants through a variety of resettlement, support and protection activities.
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Kushinga left Zimbabwe in 1999 to seek sanctuary in the UK and uses her experiences to help support others going through the asylum system in her work as a Coordinator for the Reading Refugee Support Group and also with the inspirational Sing For Freedom Choir.
What does community mean to you?
Community means ‘togetherness’. It means being there for each other in challenging times but also being there to share the good times. It also means supporting one another without condition or judgement.
Is there one thing that you’re really proud of that you have done to make your community a better place for people?
I am not the best at recognising or acknowledging my achievements, it makes me feel uncomfortable. But one thing I’m immensely proud of, is my work with Reading Refugee Support Group, a small organisation in the heart of Reading that has been supporting asylum seekers and refugees for the last 27 years. We work tirelessly and with limited resources, to provide the local asylum and refugee community with a safe and welcoming space to access support, socialise and improve their English skills with the help of our dedicated volunteers.
We are seeing an increase in the number of new clients we see every week which is a very sad situation, but I’m glad a service like the Reading Refugee Support Group exists. Not too long ago, I too was a client of theirs and I will always be grateful for the support I received. I am very honoured to now be in a position of giving that same support to other people and to be part of the asylum and refugee community of Reading.
When did you first feel at home in your community?
I have been working for the Sing for Freedom choir with Together Productions since September 2021. When I turned up for the first face to face rehearsal of the term, I immediately felt welcome and part of the community, everyone was so friendly and warm. The choir have embraced me as one of their own. With them, I can truly be myself. No one asks me where I’m from because it doesn’t matter.
We have a Whatsapp group and share news regarding the choir, rehearsals, music and bits and bobs about our lives. A few weeks ago, I had to share some very unpleasant news regarding one of our members and everybody immediately rallied to support him. When I asked the member in question if he wanted me to share his news with the choir he said, “They’re like my family”. I was really touched, and it made me feel emotional.
The Sing for Freedom choir is made up of a truly remarkable group of people and I am incredibly proud to be part of it. Most of them have experienced unimaginable suffering and hardship but it hasn’t made them bitter or jaded, they exude such warmth and love. When we all get together every week to sing, it’s such a pleasure and I know it brings us all so much joy.
What made YOU want to be an ambassador for IMD?
Life or rather existence as an asylum seeker is one of great difficulty and every day is spent trying to overcome one obstacle or another. Things that many people take for granted like food, access to healthcare and adequate housing, basic human rights, are a luxury for most asylum seekers. The stigma and prejudice they encounter, exacerbated by right wing media outlets and hostile environment policies, make it difficult to live, to survive.
I wanted to be an IMD ambassador to show people that what they read or hear about asylum seekers in the media is not all it seems. I want to change the narrative around how people seeking sanctuary are viewed and for the world to know that refuges and asylum seekers do not risk their lives, spend months or even years, walking to a country of safety because you want £39.63 a week. No one crosses oceans on unsafe vessels, leaves their loved ones behind or risks imprisonment, unless it’s necessary.