Child Migrant Stories set out to collect first impressions of East London at the Fun Day in Stepney Park, part of the Festival of Communities. Richard Lue, aged 7, only knew the day before that he was flying to join his mother in East London. ‘It was the wickedest winter I can ever imagine. I was trembling. I remember the horsehair blankets. I had 13 of them.’ Gabriela, our resident artist for the day, was inspired to draw Richard wrapped up in blankets dreaming of sun and sea in Jamaica.
Two people who came over as children were happy to be interviewed. Abdul came over from Bangladesh aged 10 with his mother and sister to join his father who himself had come over at the same age to join his father. Abdul remembers thinking, on his way from the airport, that Britain seemed more organised. People were not sounding their horns or ringing their rickshaw bells. He was not ‘over the moon’ when he first arrived as, from what people had told him he thought it would be a, ‘fairy wonderland.’ Now he loves East London – ‘so diverse, so dynamic’.
Rahima came to East London at the age of 17 after an arranged marriage in Bangladesh to a man who already lived in the UK. She liked nothing about East London when she arrived. It was cold, there was no sun, space or leaves on the trees. She missed people. Now she doesn’t miss anything or anyone – her parents in Sylhet have died. She’s settled. Her children and grandchildren are here and her children hate to go back to Bangladesh because of the mosquitoes.
Two women, one from New York and one from Australia, who migrated to the UK as adults thought East Enders were, ‘friendly, welcoming and nice neighbours’. A woman from the Congo wrote that, ‘Although a language barrier people were helpful.’ A woman from Bangladesh wrote, ‘ Shopping are Bengali style here … feel like living in our own country.’ One woman told us of how she was brought from India to do housework but was thrown out by her employers. The local police, court and others all helped her find food and shelter. One man, originally from Bangladesh, who moved from West London thinks East London, despite being more run down, beats Notting Hill for parks and there are, ‘a lot more activities for children.’ Two East Enders, who moved out of the area, wrote, ‘East End community is more friendly and supportive. That’s why we moved back from Essex.’
For one person migration is something that affects us all. ‘We are all drifting in one way or another. If you embrace it God’s love will bring us together on an amazing wave.’
But we weren’t just interested in first impressions of people who’ve moved here. We wanted to know what people who have always lived in East London like or hate about it. Here is what they said and drew.
Drawings of hearts and smiles underlined the words of how people love the multicultural nature of East London.
Sultana writes, ‘ I love East London. I was born and bred in Stepney. There’s lots to do and good public transport and a diverse community.’ Mahbub wrote, ‘ I love the community, the mosques, the people from other cultures and other faiths. I love Britain and Stepney because it’s a place of peace and joy.’ Someone else wrote, ‘I can be who I want to be. It’s friendly, cool and cheap.’ Sahima wrote that she is happy that, ‘strangers support others.’ Fatima and others wrote about what the area has to offer. ‘East London has everything in it. From doctors, hospitals, markets, schools and parks right on your door step.’
As if in response Meriem of French Algerian origin, whose mother was cooking delicious crepes for the festival revellers, sat down and drew a beautiful fair ground in the park (Gabriela, watch out you have some competition!)
Someone else wrote that there is, ‘Lots to do for all. From going for a curry down Brick Lane to getting a samosa in Whitechapel to the arty hipsters.’ This prompted Gabriela to get out her drawing pad again.
Freya thinks, ‘ East London smells good’. There are places to ride bikes, the marathon, the Olympics, a safe environment, music, good schools, good universities. A very assured Candy Lin, whose mother originally came from China and who benefits from her daughter’s brilliant bilingual skills, wrote, ‘What I like about East London is that London is a city with different people. This makes London unique because many people have different cultures and traditions, London has a variety of landmarks too for tourists to see.’
Wendy Simps seized my pad of post it notes and summarised her likes and dislikes.
She likes Brick Lane, 24-hour shops and Victoria Park. She doesn’t like living on a main road, the landlord and the Central line – I could not agree more!
There were other dislikes. East London is ‘busy, higgledy piggledy’, ‘food costs a lot’, ‘crime and drunk people on the street,’ ‘young people getting into drugs’ and ‘I don’t like sweet stealers!’ This prompted Gabriela to get out her drawing pad again.
But the overwhelming response was positive.
“Would find it hard to live anywhere else. Love London.”
East London has a tradition of welcoming people from abroad who are fleeing conflict, war, poverty and discrimination. When we asked East Enders what they thought about the UK accepting 3,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Europe they rose to the challenge.
‘ Of course – children’s safety and rights come first – and you know there’s plenty of space. If you’re opposed then address the wars forcing people to flee.’
‘Children’s rights are UN-DISPUTABLE!!!’
‘The EU is slacking and should do way more if people are terrified, worried enough to leave their own homes. We should help them from the safety we have.’
The woman who came as a child from Poland, now studying at QMUL, spoke from her own experience.
‘ I feel blessed to have the opportunity of growing up in London and strongly support having migrant children brought here. London is now my home and I want to share this city with others.’
3,000 is the number put forward by Lord Dubs in his parliamentary amendment. Lord Dubs has reason to be passionate about this issue. He came to the UK on the Kinderstransport scheme that rescued children from the Nazis. Save the Children says as many as 26,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe in 2015. The EU’s Criminal Intelligence Agency estimates 10,000 are missing, many feared to have fallen into the hands of traffickers. Given these facts and the numbers of migrants that countries surrounding Syria are accommodating, 3,000 seemed a paltry number for one festival goer.
‘3,000 is a ridiculous low number to even debate.’
This prompted Gabriela, daughter of Henry Bran, a child asylum seeker from El Salvador, to get out her drawing pad again.
If you would like to see how we have captured more experiences of children who have migrated to East London come to our next event for the Festival of Communities. We will be screening short films based on child migrant experiences at the Floating Cinema on QMUL Campus day, Mile End from 12 noon to 5pm on June 4th. If you are interested in booking a place email firstname.lastname@example.org.