”Freedom! that’s what I like about living in Britain,” says Salaam Al Farrah as she flicks some paint onto the canvas at a special migration art workshop for women held at the Library of Birmingham.
”Being at this workshop is important for me because I’m meeting people I would not usually meet. It’s difficult to meet people and socialise especially as a refugee,” she explained.
Salaam, like many other Syrian refugee women in the UK, fled her hometown of Homs to escape the ongoing conflict and has been living in the UK for two years.
”There was fighting and snipers in our street. I saw many people injured, the bombing caused a lot of devastation, buildings were destroyed and we could not go out of our homes,” she said while trying to hold back the tears.
According to recent local newspaper reports around 500 Syrian refugees are being accepted in Birmingham, those newly arrived are still struggling to integrate.
While Birmingham is a city which prides itself on diversity hosting many different migrant communities for decades, recent events such as Brexit and terrorist attacks have seen a rise in hate crimes across the city and the West Midlands region. More than 100 hate crimes were reported to West Midlands police in the week following the EU referendum, reports said.
Unlike male migrants, women are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and need specific support to help them resettle in a new environment, according to the United Nations Migration Agency, IOM, which supports migrants.
Female migrants, bring enormous benefit to the UK, according to the IOM’s London office. Whether they be Somali women working in the service and food industry in Birmingham, or Afghan and Pakistani women working to keep hospitals clean and functioning in London, or cutting edge female scientists at our top universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
At the creative workshop in Birmingham a group of 25 women paint their thoughts on what being British means to them. There were images of birds in relation to freedom, traditional British associations such as the English Rose and the flag, as well as creations related to protection of human rights.
”Integration is key in creating peaceful societies, in preventing hate crimes and ultimately prevents extremism,” Humanitarian Artist and workshop organiser, Salma Zulfiqar said. As part of her migration project creative workshops are taking place in Birmingham to bring people from all walks of life together to break down barriers between them and create greater understanding in communities.
”We live in a world where hatred in increasing and we know that art has the power to change the way people behave with one another. That’s why I’ve created this migration project to show the positive impact migrants have had around the world and to promote integration of migrants,’ she added.
The idea behind the workshop, supported by the IOM, the Amirah Foundation and Nasir Awan, the Deputy Leutenant for the West Midlands, is for the women to deepen their connection with the UK and share experiences of integration with each other to create deeper connections.
”With these kind of activities we can help female migrants turn their lives around,” said Shaz Manir, Director of the Amir Foundation.
Other participants, including Mariam Khalique, the long term teacher of Malala Yousafzai, who fled the Taliban and now lives in the UK, said that opportunities need to be available for women to be able to connect with others so they can fully integrate.
During the migration workshop Salaam Al Farrah put the final touches to her painting of a bird of peace and freedom while reflecting on what the future holds for her. ”I live in an area where there are Indians, Pakistanis and people originally from Jamaica and I like it. I know it’s important for me to integrate into society. I want to be part of this community and I want to learn more about the English culture so that I can support my family properly and so that we can enjoy our lives in the UK,” she said.