The problem 

Over 65 million people around the globe have had to flee their homes in recent years due to conflict or natural disaster – the equivalent to the entire British population having to leave their homes. The refugee crisis is the crisis of our time. And compared with other European countries, the British asylum system is one of the least generous in supporting refugees caught up in this crisis. Migrateful seeks to address the lack of support provided to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants living in the UK.

Firstly, several of our chefs are asylum seekers without the right to work, yet unable to access state benefits – leaving them with no way to pay for their basic needs. Only 34% of initial decisions made by the Home Office in 2017 were grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). The asylum process in the UK is long and drawn out. For example our Nigerian chef was trafficked to the UK when she was 16, she is now 34 and is still waiting to get her refugee status, meanwhile unable to work legally and with no recourse to public funds, she is unable to get on with her life. 

Secondly our chefs are refugees struggling to access employment. 50% of the 125,000 refugees living in the UK are unemployed, despite being more qualified and more educated than the average British person. This is often due to language barriers and their qualifications not being recognised. Our Iranian chef worked as a qualified psychologist in Iran, until she was forced to leave. Since arriving to the UK 8 years ago, she has been unable to secure employment because of her level of English and her previous qualification not being recognised.

Thirdly our chefs are migrants who have lived in the UK for 5, 10, 15 years yet are unable to speak English. There are 768,000 migrants in the UK who do not speak English well or at all, yet the government has cut the English teaching budget by 50% over the last 5 years. Without English these individuals struggle to integrate and access employment. Our Cuban chef has lived in the UK for 12 years but has a very poor level of spoken English – she says this is because she never gets the chance to speak to English speakers as she lives with her Cuban family. She talks about how isolating it feels to live in a country where you can’t speak the language. 

The lack of funding for initiatives which support the integration of the migrant community in the UK, such as English classes and opportunities for them to mix with other British people, has repercussions for the whole of British society. The foreign-born population in the UK has more than doubled over the last 25 years which is undeniably a huge change for society. In order to avoid the build up of anti-immigrant sentiment (as witnessed during the Brexit campaign), active policy is needed to support the process of integration between the newly arrived migrant community and the established white British community.

How we address it

Whilst government immigration policy is hard to change, as a society there are many ways that we can support the UK migrant population and attending a Migrateful cookery classes is one of those ways. Migrateful is a cookery and language initiative where asylum seekers, refugees and migrants struggling to access employment due to legal and linguistic barriers teach their traditional cuisines to the public. This project aids their integration process by addressing obstacles of destitution, unemployment and language barriers.

Migrateful chefs attend a weekly chef training group which offers them an important support network and a chance to share feelings and food in a safe environment whilst improving their English and cookery class teaching skills. They get to enjoy a delicious meal and Migrateful covers their travel costs. When they feel ready, they are invited to teach a cookery class to paying customers which take place in a cafe in Peckham on Tuesday evenings, or customers can host a class in their own home for themselves and their friends. Along with the weekly English class, the Migrateful chefs gain conversation practice during the cookery classes which has already shown to significantly improve their level of spoken English. Their experience with Migrateful also increases their chances of going on to future employment. They gain key employability skills such as time keeping, planning and leadership when leading a class.

When our chefs have the right to work we pay them for leading a cookery class. Yet some of our chefs cannot be legally paid due to their pending asylum claim. Through the cookery classes we are able to facilitate a network of support for those in this situation. For example, at the end of a class we explain to participants the various ways in which they can support the chef.

Migrateful acts as a bridge between different ethnic groups within the community by bringing people together to share the universal love of food. In so doing it helps to build stronger, more united communities. Extensive research on “contact theory” has demonstrated that direct contact between different ethnic groups can help to reduce ethnic prejudice and improve intergroup relations. Contact has been found not only to improve attitudes towards the individuals directly contacted, but that the effects carry over to other “out groups” as well. Migrateful offers a rare opportunity for those who would not otherwise meet the chance to do so, in a relaxed setting, on an equal footing and centered around the near-universal love of food. It is thus able to draw in people beyond “the usual suspects” who might be interested in supporting asylum-seekers. While one single cookery lesson may be insufficient to make a profound change, Migrateful is working on ways to encourage repeat custom, not only as a way of generating more business, but also to enable longer periods of contact.