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How can we help refugee journalists?

LONDON Freelance Branch membership applicant lists tell us that more and more freelances joining us have come to us from another country - which usually means coming with a first language other than English and from a different media culture, in terms both of how journalism itself is done and of the business side of freelancing.

Our group of asylum-seeker members1 is surely in the toughest position - because UK law prevents them working for money. But there is probably a larger, unknown number of LFB members who, over recent years, started out as asylum seekers and then got leave to remain in UK as refugees for a given amount of time, during which they can work for money. That, of course, is hardly the end of their problems.

The issues facing refugees and asylum seekers were raised briefly in a recent branch meeting. The Branch committee followed that up and framed some ideas - which are up for further discussion (even decisions!) at the March branch meeting:

1. Help with cash and kit

Asylum-seeker members, and those who are refugees at the stage of trying to establish themselves as freelances, often have their own acute variation on the basic freelance challenge of making ends meet. It can mean deciding whether to “heat or eat” and then some - because in order to work they need expensive hardware and software, and if they were not able to bring these tools of the trade with them or if they break down in the UK...

Can LFB solidarity, purchasing power and resourcefulness be of any help? For instance, could we:

  • enable members to donate, swap or sell laptops, cameras, and other pricey digital gear they are no longer using to other members?
  • negotiate discounts with hardware or software suppliers, including maybe specialists in reconditioned machines?
  • work with other organisations, such as the Refugee Journalists’ Project (which we’re hoping to hear from at the March 14 branch meeting) to amp up our oomph?
  • work on the main relevant charities - NUJ Extra and the Journalists’ Charity - to possibly loosen rules that currently block asylum-seeker/refugee members (and arguably other struggling newcomers) by demanding variations on a theme of two years professional work in the UK before grants or loans can be considered?

2. Language

Written English can obviously be a problem. Broadcasting is simply more forgiving of the discrepancies that print and online subs love to moan about. Further, thinking of key potential markets, as freelances must, refugee LFB members who look for commissions from written media in their homelands often find the standard fee levels do not translate into the UK’s cost of living.

As a result, working for English-speaking media becomes more of an imperative. But journalistic English is neither classroom nor street English, it’s a subtly different beast...

Maybe the Branch or the Union nationally and other concerned organisations could, for instance:

  • come up with a useful and viable way of presenting English As A Foreign Language For Journalists courses?

3. Training

Undertaking freelance business in a new country also introduces all sorts of new factors with regard to seeking work and negotiating fees.

Maybe LFB and the NUJ could, for instance:

  • embrace asylum-seeker/refugee members in existing training courses and mentoring schemes, or adapt these, or devise new ones to meet needs?

If any of the above, and/or other suggestions, actually happen and work, it will surely be because the members affected and involved have taken the lead in saying what’s needed and then in organising it.

It seems to the LFB membership secretaries writing this piece that most of these suggestions are much more widescreen than they may appear. In other words, most of the bullet-point suggestions outlined above - and other approaches yet to be proposed - could benefit not only asylum-seeker/refugee members but many others for whom English is not a first languag2e... In addition to any newish or oldish member encountering one of those freelance “bad patches” where they have lost a couple of clients and then their laptop packs in too!


1 As of 4 March, LFB had 19 registered asylum-seeker members, and the rest of the NUJ another 83.

2 See also the germinating All The Voices of the NUJ project.

3 No editor in the UK will accept articles with footnotes.