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In support of refugee journalists

Our speaker at the June London Freelance Branch meeting was Vivienne Francis, director of the Refugee Journalism Project, which is based at the London College Of Communication. She spoke in advance of the United Nations' Refugee Week, which is on 20-26 June, about the Project's work for journalists who are exiled (including refugees and asylum-seekers).

Vivienne Francis

Vivienne Francis

Vivienne worked for years as a current affairs producer at the BBC and as a news reporter with the Voice. "Then in 2016," she recalled, "I was volunteering at a charity and came across many experienced exiled journalists who had, for example, been editors and working in newsrooms, who couldn't find work."

"At the same time," she reported, "my students at the London College Of Communication were very engaged in what was going on in Syria. Some wanted to go to Calais," where there were refugee camps. "So I looked for ways to involve them in the issues."

Vivienne is "passionate about diversity - especially in a time such as this, with all the negative portrayals of refugees".

The Refugee Journalism Project offers those it takes on mentoring and workshops, some delivered by the College and some by industry - for example the Guardian Foundation and Bloomberg. It offers work experience - and pushes for refugee journalists to get paid opportunities.

The Project always needs to be mindful of the trauma that many refugees have been through: "During workshops we've had people get really bad news about the places they came from being bombed and family members being killed."

So they've recently been working with DART Europe, the European office of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which offers support and training, and with the Rory Peck Trust, which also offers support for freelance journalists in conflict.

Because of the way the UK asylum system works, few who are formally seeking asylum status are in London. They are likely to be sent to Glasgow or to much smaller places. So the Project recruits throughout the UK.

Vivienne says it is "very keen on an ethical approach to journalism. I think there's a way of delivering that by getting students to work collaboratively with exiled journalists."

The meeting room with on-screen participants

This was the first Branch "hybrid meeting"

Because of the way the Project's funding works, it has fixed dates on which it can recruit people. "Last year," Vivienne reported, "for the first time we were frustrated at the lack of paid opportunities on offer. So we set up more fellowships within organisations." These had refugee journalists working for three months at one organisation and then moving on to another. But given "the barriers these journalists face in terms of language and culture and understanding British journalism - I think that they need to spend longer in an organisation."

Among the placements, "one was offered a role after a few weeks, and another after a few months."

The Project is also able to pay some journalists to come to the College as guests "to talk about working in Yemen or living in Syria or being a woman in Afghanistan."

So "how do you take someone from having basic English to being fluent in 'English for journalists'?" Vivienne is "not sure we've come up with a full answer yet."

"We know journalism is tough," she reminded us. And "when a participant reports back that they feel valued and have built confidence, that's an an achievement. When a UK editor reports to us that the programme has changed their view of their journalism, or of reporting of refugee issues, that's an achievement."

Infinite regress

The present author photographs himself, in the meeting room, photographing himself, online...

Questions

A member asked: when is the next intake?

That depends on funding. Vivienne asked those interested to send their CV now to go on the list (see below).

"We tend to take only people with refugee status. That's because of the government rules forbidding asylum-seekers from working." The Project was able to take on a couple who were about to get refugee status - for example one who got his status in six months."

Julio Etchart asked whether the Project takes on people working in lens-based media too.

Vivienne replied that "my background is in TV - and we have had photographers. In the current cohort we had companies asking for photographers but we didn't have any applying."

Social media officer Nika Talbot asked whether the Project publishes refugee journalists' work.

"Yes, we do post stories online. Some want to write about their experiences - for some our website is the first opportunity they've had to publish in English. At the moment we're working on a piece for World Refugee Day, by a woman journalist who left Afghanistan last summer.

Matt Salusbury wondered about ways of getting money to asylum-seekers. Vivienne responded that "even where we try to get someone to work in a voluntary capacity, there are problems with the government. We need to work with advocates to change the legislation."

Phil Sutcliffe asked Vivienne whether the Project has any Ukrainian journalists. "Yes - and we hope there will be demand for their expertise."

And, Phil continued: "can you cater for people who want to be freelance too?"

"Yes. There is education to be done around freelancing and what it means. Freelancing is the hardest thing to do: I know, I've done it." But we need to remember that many refugee journalists have difficulties with, for example housing, and supporting dependents - so "they need security - but freelancing can be a way in."

Ukraine

Olga Parashchuk is a television journalist from Ukraine with several years of experience. She found it "a pleasure to be here" and thanked the Branch for the invitation: "I hope my English is well enough to talk to you."

"Why am I here? In Ukraine we had about 10 TV channels - but when the war started they were merged into one. Many colleagues are not able to work. I had experience working in Brussels and I decided to come to London. I hope to help my country from here. I hope to go back to Ukraine as soon as possible and to go back to journalism as well."

Olga believes "this war will change journalism." People are getting used to getting updates online and doing nothing. "I ask you to continue to cover the war in Ukraine - people seem to be turned off the coverage - but it is not over."

Dapo Ladimeji asked Olga whether journalists in Ukraine have solidarity for journalists in Yemen and Afghanistan and Mexico - who are also dying?

Olga replied that "I and my colleagues have covered these conflicts. I don't personally have any contacts in those countries - but, yes."

A member asked: what is the climate for Ukrainian reporters in their own media? And when it was announced that men liable for military service were not allowed to leave the country, did that include journalists?

Olga stated that "all journalists are united. Before, there were outlets with different politics. Now they are united. They accept the rules on not reporting, for example, immediate casualties or missile strike locations." Some colleagues have been allowed to leave the country, with permission of the government.

Phil picked up on Olga's mention of coverage of conflicts tailing off and asked Vivienne for her impressions. "It's terrible that conflicts fall out of the news agenda. We must carry on reporting on Ukraine - but we cannot forget Sudan and Syria and Afghanistan and Gaza. Perhaps "we can use what's going on in Ukraine to remind people of those other conflicts."

A member suggested that Ukraine and Russia were getting on OK "until the West intervened..." Olga responded that "you are invited to visit Ukraine to see what Russia has done to my people." The countries had certainly not been "getting on" since the Russian invasion in 2014.

Deborah added that as journalists we "have a responsibility to report truth to power ."

Branch Committee member Mel Lambert noted that the Committee is now working closely with the Project on the Branch initiative to assist exiled journalists and he hopes there can be a blooming of joint ventures between us.

In conclusion, Vivien thanked the Branch for the invitation and invited members to get in touch directly.