Who we are
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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Nivek moved to the UK, when he was 18 to move away from poverty and gangs in South Africa. He worked his way up at various cultural institutions in London and is now Chief Exhibitor at The Tower of London – the first person of colour to live and work there as a head of household. He lives in an apartment inside the Tower with his wife and young child.
What does community mean to you?
Community means caring for one another, unreservedly.
Newcastle is just a small town in South Africa, my family didn’t have a lot of money, but what they did do was care for each other. I felt quite guilty because I was living in the UK and at 2am in the morning my 85-year-old grandmother could call on somebody to take my father to the hospital when he fell down in the bath. It’s that unreserved care without the expectation of it being reciprocated. There’s all of these people who I don’t know, don’t even know their names, and I’ll forever be appreciative for the things that they’ve done for my family in my absence, for nothing. Ironically it’s not in the space that’s seen as the most civilized.
Is there one really thing that you’re really proud of that you have done to make your community a better place for people?
I take up space and I try and hold myself to the highest account, so I can be proud of myself and my journey.
I’ve done a lot of work with young people from hard-to-reach backgrounds – it’s not that they’re hard to reach it’s that people don’t reach out to them enough. There’s a lot of issues in this country with food insecurity and the socio-economic gap between the haves and the have-nots widening. Through the lens of covid that has only highlighted that gap is only getting bigger. We’ve had to confront the uncomfortable truths of the inequalities that still exist today for lots of people.
I did some work with the British Council and we worked in Syria in 2009 and there was a young boy there who made a real impact on me because of his lived experience. Through all of that adversity, that we know that people who live in the global south experience every day, there is still a richness, happiness, joy, brilliance and excellence that we should be celebrating. People irrespective of these things still want to find the joy in things.
It’s unfortunate that we often view migrants or refugees as a burden and not what they bring to our spaces – which is that rich tapestry. There’s enough for us all!
I try to give my time to causes that I think are meaningful and I’m trying to be a better ancestor for those who are coming up – whether that’s to do with the Climate Crisis or equality or feminism. These are all things I can do to help un-learn what I’ve been taught in my communities and in my lived experience and try to educate myself.
How I volunteer my time is my way of taking action. Even if I help one person, that’s enough. It’s making an impact. If you can centre that in everything you do, irrespective of you you’re doing it, I think there’s always value in that.
Time is precious and we get so caught up in the doing of the day-to-day that we don’t have time for each other, to listen, and be present and care for each other and for ourselves. I’m learning a bit about self care – how I can be strong enough to do that work. Because it’s thirsty work and everybody’s dehydrated!
When did you first feel at home in your community – how did that happen?
I don’t think I personally ever feel at home in my community, but that’s okay! I understand that things change, people change and culture changes, and I am changing as things are changing around me. If I am constantly trying to seek acceptance from my community then I’m not accepting myself while I’m doing that. Then I’ll spend so much time thinking about what that journey’s like then I’m not trying to be present or doing the things that could make a difference. That’s not a good way of living, that’s an existence. I don’t want to just exist, I’ve been through too much not to talk about it.
What made YOU want to be an ambassador for IMD?
Migrants are people above all else and I believe we should treat them with humanity. Anybody who’s had enough privilege to travel anywhere or moved around knows that feeling of being displaced somewhat, feeling slightly different, that’s a universal thing. How people respond to you when you’re in an alien environment is important, and we should do everything we can to treat people with more humanity.
Until we understand what that means for everyone in all of those complexities, then we will do what is easiest – consuming the easiest media, what we’ve been told and we just follow things without challenging these narratives. Until we speak to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to try and understand where they’re coming from on a human level, we’ll never be open to having that conversation.
We can be seen as the most tolerant society in the world, but unless we have these conversations we don’t know. Things are changing all the time and we have to be accepting that things change. I want to learn from that journey.