Behind the Scenes: Interview with community leader Joseph

Interviewer: Lisa, SLRA volunteer; Interviewee: Joseph

Joseph is an active member of our men’s group and joined our 4-Week Community Organising Course in February facilitated by CitizensUk. He is also active in different campaigns of other charities. I met Joseph on one of our social Tuesdays during lunch time and had a really insightful and interesting conversation with him.

What is/was your motivation to join the community organizing course? 

“The reason why I joined, was to expand my knowledge about myself, also how to get involved, and how to go further. And to get all this information and knowledge that I did not know. I find the session really useful. Not just for myself but being part of the group and for everyone else.” 

What do you like about it? 

“The course was very, very helpful in the sense that there was some stuff that I did not know about until I joined the course. For example, this one aspect of what we did with snowflakes – where you haven’t left everything with one particular person but instead of that you can spread the responsibilities between different people; split up who reaches out, who does what etc.. If you leave this to one person, it just slows down the process and the campaign. That was what I found really interesting because before I used to think that one person could be an island but it turns out this is not the case.” 

You already mentioned something but what have you learnt?  

“Oh, I learnt quite a few things. What I mainly learnt is the idea of campaigning, and learning how to approach your target audience. And also… first of all, to know yourself. To see if you have got leadership quality in you, you know. We did a reflection about ourselves. This helps me to understand what leadership is and what skills I have.” 

Was there a session in particular that you liked/enjoyed the most?  

“Hm… What comes to my mind. Prior to this session, I was involved with that organization – do you know – Praxis. And there is that campaign that they are running right now. It is about ‘No recourse to public fund’.  And together we try to figure out how we can campaign about this at the Home Office. – Joining that session helped me how to achieve this. For me, I learnt a lot in terms like… Now, I know how to start a project or a campaign; what I need to do; what responsibilities will be there; and how to achieve certain goals of the campaign. And it also brings out the leadership in you. Because if you have leadership skills in you, it will show this. Because I remember some members of the course… we all had different outcomes when we did self-reflection. And some found out, they do not have leadership skills in themselves. But they have other skills and prefer to be part of a bigger group – active but not in the front line. Which is important as well and still needed because not everybody needs to be in the front line. Those who are in the front line can also delegate things to these people.”  

And what about you? Do you think you have leadership skills? Or where would you position yourself? 

“Yes, of course I got leadership in me. For one, leadership, for me – in my opinion – starts from within. And because I have a family and I am able to manage a home, and taking responsibility to show that my house is in order and fine, I am sure that you can trust that you are strong enough to build a community. To keep it short, I have leadership qualities.” 

No, it is really nice what you said and yeah – I think there is something about it that if you have a family and you take care of this family and have quite a lot of responsibility. There are many transferable skills to take care of a bigger group – of a community. Because a community can also be kind of a family.  

Ok, then: During the course you talked about many different campaigns and topics. So, is there a particular topic that is important? 

“For me, the Home Office, for me, is a huge… One of my sayings that I coin with Praxis is: I say that the Home Office is an octopus, a beast. It is an octopus with a lot of tentacles. These tentacles are tools in which they suppress migrants or whatever they do. So, the way you tackle such a problem is, you do not go after the beast itself. Because you are not going to win against a beast with more tentacles. You win if you fight it bit by bit. You cut off the tentacles bit by bit.  
Another thing I want to challenge is – do you know the 10-year route? The 10-year route for me is not really ideal because if you have a family. For example, if you have a family of 4 or 5 and you have to renew your status. – Because you know, what the Home Office does, it gives you 2,5 years. And for me, that 2.5 years before you know it… you have to renew it. You have to renew it 4 times. That is the 10-year route. – And it costs over 2.000 grant. And this is only for one person. And let us say you have a family of 4 or 5 – father, mother, and three kids – you look at huge amount of money every 2.5 years. And so, if you look at it over the 10 years…. In these 10 years, you will spend over 20.000 or more to renew your status. Over this time – these 10 years – you are basically working for the Home Office. So, that is one aspect that I want to tackle to stop that 10-year route. I do not say to completely stop renewing your status, because you should still renew it. But to decrease the amount of money …  

…. yeah or to shorten the route.  

“Exactly shorten the time frame and give a longer leave to remain in the country like 5 years instead of 2.5 years. In that way, you have time to set up a basis. For me, the 10-year route is criminal.”  

Yeah exactly. It is such a long time of insecurity and not knowing what will happen next.  

“Yeah, because you can’t save. And the amount of money increases every year. Even it only increases a bit, it is much for an individual.”  

Ok. Two more questions: What are your next steps? Your hopes for the future?  

“I mean like I said: It is a never-ending fight with the Home Office and institutions. In the future, I am sure there are going to be other policies set up by the government to make life harder for migrants and refugees. So, in the future I hope I would love to do or hope to do, is being part of an organization that constantly works in the front line. That is tackling the Home Office to ease the pressure on migrants and make life doable and pleasant for migrants. Because people do not just leave their countries to continue suffering. You know? If you are aware that most migrants come from countries that the foreign policies of this country – foreign policies mean how they deal with other countries – these foreign policies influence the policies of the other countries and affect the people who live there and force them to leave to seek safety somewhere else. So, some of the main things that I want to do – is to control the foreign policies of especially the UK – because if you look at what is happening in Libya or happening in Kongo or other Arabic countries, they are full of foreign policies. They go there and create problems, destroy the country and the people are forced to leave their countries. And if they do that, they come to the UK to get shelter.” 

The last question is really open. Anything else that we did not cover and you want to share?  

“There is always room for improvement. I wouldn’t say that there is nothing that we can’t improve. There is always room for improvement. I do not talk about things as if they are black or white. There is always a grey zone. And if you want to relax, you do not improve as a person. Hopefully, SLRA will be able to continue with similar projects. Because there is always another Joseph after this Jospeh. You know? As I said earlier it is a never-ending battle. Because there is always another Joseph. So, the first thing is to continue. And I know that SLRA also – they also depend on fundraising. I hope this financial support comes in because without this, it does not work. That this continues. And then… the opportunities continue for other people as well. But what I hope mainly is that … because for me to say: I hope for suffering to stop – I be delusional. Because as I said this world is not black or white. There is always going to be suffering, there are always going to be good times and bad times. But let the good times be more than the bad times so that way you can enjoy the essence of life. I have been in the system now for years. When I say system, I mean the immigration system. And it is not funny. It is not a funny situation to be in. I hold my resilience and my nature. Because I remember telling Hannah and other guys in the men’s group what kind of animal I am. So, I said I see myself as a Honey Badger.” 

What is that? What is a Honey Badger? 

“Do you know what a Honey Badger is?”  

“Do not worry. No one knew what a Honey Badger is. It is everywhere – only a few people know what a Honey Badger is. It is an animal found in Africa. It is a small animal but – I think it is part of a weasel family. Very small animal – but very bold and fearless and very, very resistant. They are even bold enough to confront a lion. Not that they can beat a lion but they are bold enough to confront a lion at least. They even kill and eat snakes. Even if a snake bites them, they do not die because they build anti-venom to deal with the snake poison. They also eat honey and to do that they need to go to the honeycomb. They are stung a lot but their system can deal with these stings. That is why they are called honey badgers. It is black on the outside but it has blond black fur.  

Yeah… That is my prospect. And I hope the best for everyone who goes through the immigration system. When people are not in that situation to go through the immigration system, application and all that, I find it a bit difficult that these people can empathize with me. If you are not in my situation, you can feel sympathy but empathy is very, very hard. But if you are in my situation, like in our case – You and I. We can never go through the same situation – immigration wise. You have the opportunity to go everywhere at any time because of your passport. But for me, I have to go through a lot – a lot of questioning, a lot of answering – you know. I understand why because I do not believe in open borders. I have never believed in open borders, because you need borders for protection. You do not need everyone to come to the country. This would be chaos and there has to be order. But they have to relax a little bit, especially if people are fleeing danger. This is one aspect. If they are running from danger, then you have to create an open-door policy because they need protection. This is exactly the case for the Ukraine. They are running from danger. I absolutely support that open door. Let them come in. Because they are running for their lives, they have fear, and probably lost a lot during that process. That is good. But for non-Europeans who are running from the same or even more dangerous situation, you have these barriers they need to go through. That is not just.” 

Big thank you to you, Joseph. I really enjoyed meeting you and our conversation even after the interview. It was really interesting.