“Just by sharing your positive experiences with the Albanian community, that could be the biggest support. Please share your story, share your journey and be with us in spirit.”
Luljeta Nuzi – Shpresa Programme
We sat down to speak with her and other leaders, Lediana and Flutra, ahead of this year’s Albanian Independence Day; a moment they are marking with both celebration – due to their 20+ years of Organising success – and action, in response to increasingly dehumanising language in the media and by politicians in recent weeks.
Here, Luljeta reflects on the importance of solidarity with refugee and migrant communities as we build a more welcoming Britain for all.
HOW DID SHPRESA PROGRAMME GET INVOLVED WITH CITIZENS UK?
In 2004 we were not yet a member of Citizens UK but we got involved in South London Citizens’ Enquiry into Lunar House – the Home Office Immigration centre in Croydon where families faced awful conditions and possible detention. We knew manyplenty of people that were in those positions and waiting very long hours, sometimes in the rain, to go to the Lunar House. It was not welcoming place at all. People willingly shared their story because they trusted us as our partners. We started to join East London Citizens meetings with the Newham member organisation Aston Mansfield.
Two of our board members went to a Citizens Assembly and fed back to the board that it was the most powerful mayhem they’ve ever seen! So, I said we should go and understand them more and we started to be a part of the alliance. Seeing broad-based Organising in practice, the power of it and how that could help our vision, we made a decision to join East London Citizens and have the right to vote on the agenda, too.
So, Shpresa became members of London Citizens and for me it has been eye opening and a great learning opportunity for our team and members. Shpresa is built on two sets of models. It’s a combination of the School for Social Entrepreneurs philosophy, and the empowerment, campaigning and organising aspect of Citizens UK. The learning from these two institutions have carved me as a leader, and I think Shpresa has found the right model to bring about the positive change we want to see.
We as a team don’t just deliver a service. Together with our members, we go to change people’s lives and attitudes, or the environment around them so they have the ability to bring that change. With Citizens we have seen migrant issues become forefront, and sometimes other campaigns are on the agenda.. I think the Albanian community has built its presence and voice via partnership work and by being an active member of Citizens UK. Our campaigns so far have shown that when done well, organising leads to the change we want to see . We have always used that as a tool to train people and to have a culture shift, believing in a power-based approach through listening.
As an alliance we should keep building stronger and stronger membership in terms of addressing refugees and migrants’ issues. This is the most vulnerable part of the community, where they often feel they don’t have a voice and where the bad legislation tests are done.
HOW HAS HOSTILE RHETORIC IMPACTED THE ALBANIAN-SPEAKING COMMUNITY?
The hostile rhetoric has immensely impacted our community, people of all ages, including those that are working, their children and young people. At Shpresa we work with some very vulnerable people – victims of domestic violence or trafficking, people who are unemployed, single mums or those with mental health issues as well as well established members of the community. This has just added stress to their lives. We saw with the recent demonstrations that people are angry. They didn’t belong to institutions, they were individuals that felt hurt and want politicians to have a moral responsibility to not use such a language. Crime does not have a community.
Across social media you see anger and frustration, and sometimes we are scared of that because already the community is so fragile. It’s new; only thirty years old. If politicians lose the trust of those that voted for them or those they represent, they lose the community. The community becomes segregated and won’t trust the structures put in place.
This is not the first time that politicians and the media have done this – it’s always the most vulnerable community they pick on, to hide the real issues and failures of different policies. We have seen this with Irish, Polish, Romanian communities, for example. Now Albanians are targeted and another community will be next.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO TO MOVE FORWARD FROM HERE?
A lot of partners from the communities we work with have sent me cards or have contacted me asking ‘what can we do?’ And I said, we just need to be organised. Every threat has an opportunity, and I strongly believe that Albanians get together when there is a crisis like this.
Firstly, I think there’s more work to do on hate crime and hate speech, which we need to target in all directions. The demonstration was good to show that people care, but we need to maintain the energy for a long time; change does not happen overnight . It will likely be one of the main campaigns that we want to take on next and it will involve training our community, training leaders about hate crime, so people are aware what their rights are and how to report crime. Across different parts of London including where we don’t currently operate, and outside of London.
We shouldn’t let young kids fear the playground. It isn’t right for our young people, workers, nurses, builders, teachers and professionals to feel they must hide their identity. They have made Britain their home. They are living here and contributing every day. If we are serious about upholding values of British democracy, then this is an opportunity for us to all be part of it. We report it, we challenge it. We never accept it.
We also want to build partnerships to understand the bigger scale of the problem. Shpresa Programme supports between 2000-5000 people per year, but we know the Albanian community is over 140,000 people.
Finally, we hope to work with other Citizens member institutions in solidarity. The Living Wage when it started, for example, wasn’t the biggest priority issue for us. But we fought alongside others for it and trained our leaders to understand that it was for other communities. It has been a good journey because it established that change can happen if you organise together.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO OTHER LEADERS AND INSTITUTIONS?
Well, our dear members of Citizens UK, we’ve been together on a journey for over 20 years. We’ve stuck to most of the campaigns that we have seen, especially those in London. Now more than ever before is the time where you can help Shpresa members.
We know hateful rhetoric targeting minority groups is an established technique to unify and mobilize political supporters, deepen polarisation and hide policy failures. We can prove them wrong, even with just putting a status on social media against the statements put out there about Albanian people. Just by sharing your positive experiences with the Albanian community, that could be the biggest support.
Our team is working on getting the strategy right as we go along and having your help to get this campaign right and backing our actions will be a great support. And we seek support from partners with research skills who can help us assess the impact of this in our community – it is important to understand that whilst today it is the Albanian community being attacked, tomorrow it will be another.
Only together will we be able to stop this, be able to fight crime and help communities flourish.
When we ask you to write letters, please send them. When we have social media campaigns, please share your story, share your journey and be with us in spirit.