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VOICES ACROSS BORDERS Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development



This report aims to deepen understanding of diaspora communities in the UK and improve partnerships between diasporas and policymakers on peacebuilding and development policy and practice. It explores how the experience of diasporas in the UK is affected by conflict in their countries of origin, the nature of their continuing connections with these countries, and their perceptions and mobilisation around international engagement on development and peacebuilding processes. The report is based on the outcomes of focus group discussions and interviews with members of the Congolese, Pakistani, Somali and Sri Lankan Tamil diasporas together with interviews with desk officers in the EU and UK governments.
Policymakers and diasporas in the UK
working for peace and development
Lucy Holdaway, Hen Wilkinson, Phil Champain and Paul Hoggett
November 2012
Understanding conflict. Building peace. THIS INITIATIVE IS FUNDED
About International Alert
International Alert is a 26-year-old independent peacebuilding organisation. We work with people who
are directly affected by violent conflict to improve their prospects of peace. And we seek to influence the
policies and ways of working of governments, international organisations like the UN and multinational
companies, to reduce conflict risk and increase the prospects of peace.
We work in Africa, several parts of Asia, the South Caucasus, the Middle East and Latin America, and
have recently started work in the UK. Our policy work focuses on several key themes that influence
prospects for peace and security – the economy, climate change, gender, the role of international
institutions, the impact of development aid, and the effect of good and bad governance.
We are one of the world’s leading peacebuilding NGOs with more than 159 staff based in London and 14
field offices. To learn more about how and where we work, visit
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are
the sole responsibility of International Alert and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the
European Union.
© International Alert 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without full attribution.
Layout and illustration by D. R. ink,
Policymakers and diasporas in
the UK working for peace and
2International Alert
Research partners
About the research team
This research was carried out by: Abdul Rahim and Sam Tedcastle – Centre for Good Relations;
Olau Thomassen, Sarah Shaw, M. Kamran Rashid and Ben Mussanzi wa Mussangu – Community
Accord; Hen Wilkinson – Community Resolve; Tanya Hubbard, Beverley Martin, Marie Godin,
Odia Wabenga and Thanges Paramsothy – Conflict and Change; Lucy Holdaway and Phil
Champain – International Alert; and Paul Hoggett – University of the West of England.
This report was funded by the European Union. We would like to thank them for providing
the opportunity to conduct this study. We are indebted to all the individuals and organisations
from the Congolese, Pakistani, Somali and Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora communities and the desk
officers in the EU and UK governments who took part in focus groups, interviews and the survey.
Without their support and participation, this research would not have been possible.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
Acronyms 4
Executive summary 5
1. Introduction 8
1.1 Why this report 8
1.2 Methodology 9
1.3 Challenges and limitations 9
1.4 Report structure 10
2. The diaspora experience – a shared struggle 11
2.1 Congolese community 13
2.2 Pakistani community 17
2.3 Somali community 21
2.4 Sri Lankan community 26
3. Engagement between between diasporas and the UK and EU governments on 31
peacebuilding and development
3.1 Diaspora engagement with desk officers 31
3.2 Desk officer engagement with diasporas 33
3.3 A partnership approach? 38
4. Recommendations 39
DEVCO Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid
DFID Department for International Development
EEAS European External Action Service
FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office
MEP Member of European Parliament
ONS Office for National Statistics
4International Alert
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
Executive summary
This report aims to deepen understanding of diaspora communities in the UK and improve
partnerships between diasporas and policymakers on peacebuilding and development policy and
It explores how the experience of diasporas in the UK is affected by conflict in their countries of
origin, the nature of their continuing connections with these countries, and their perceptions and
mobilisation around international engagement on development and peacebuilding processes. The
report is based on the outcomes of focus group discussions and interviews with members of the
Congolese, Pakistani, Somali and Sri Lankan Tamil diasporas together with interviews with desk
officers in the EU and UK governments.
Experiences of diasporas
The diasporas we interviewed maintained strong connections, practical and emotional, to their
country of origin. The legacy of leaving, particularly for those experiencing an abrupt departure
because of conflict, left scars of dislocation and loss. Dealing with this as individuals and within
families and communities was often presented as an ongoing challenge and one that in some cases
led to inter-generational conflict and community tension. For many participants, this legacy of
trauma continues to affect their ability to rebuild their lives in a country of safety. For others,
it means that life is still not safe even in the UK. Dynamics within, and hostility and tensions
between, communities, together with the targeting of some communities as potential state security
risks, have all become part of the legacy of leaving the country of origin and affect diasporas’
sense of belonging to the UK.
Connections between diaspora members and their country of origin on the whole remain strong
throughout the generations. Relationships with family and communities “back home”, fuelled
by concern for family members, ongoing financial support and business interests, ensure that
life overseas is as much a part of daily life as other aspects of life in the UK. Widespread use
of the internet, Facebook and mobile phones for news and contact offers the opportunity for
both positive and negative interactions. It provides unprecedented levels of communication, both
personal and political, through instant access to, and flow of, information between countries.
However, it also has negative repercussions, communicating in minutes conflicts from one part of
the globe to another – which, on occasion, has facilitated the violent replaying of neighbourhood
disputes “back home” on the streets in England. Political lines of connection remain visible. In
some cases, political involvement by diasporas in their country of origin is extremely strong. For
example, in the case of the Transitional Government of Somalia, which has four members who
are British passport holders. In other cases, the culture and practice of politics is integrated into
life in the UK, with lines of influence and allegiance in the country of origin mirrored in local
politics in the UK.
Engagement on peacebuilding and development
International engagement with the country of origin was, on the whole, viewed with cynicism
by the diaspora. It was perceived as being driven by self-interest on the part of the international
community, whether that be jobs in the aid industry or political or investment opportunities for
6International Alert
Yet diaspora members also spoke of the opportunity that engaging with government could
present. The power and influence of the UK and EU governments was recognised as a force that,
if interests are shared, could be harnessed for improving sustainable opportunities for peace and
development in the country of origin.
Engagement is not without its complications. The different, sometimes competing, agendas of
diaspora communities and the UK and EU governments, coupled with poor levels of awareness
around priorities and agendas of the different parties at the table, have made the relationship between
diasporas and government somewhat challenging. This is compounded by very different cultures of
engagement. Working with diaspora groups from a variety of political cultures leads to unfamiliar
modes of engagement and styles of lobbying. Similarly, for the diasporas, the British civil servant
presents quite a different face to what they are used to. Finding compatibility and understanding in
this is a challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure more effective working relationships.
Underpinning engagement is a set of assumptions that both the desk officer and the diaspora
bring to the table. Assumptions about what each other can and can’t do, the value and purpose
of the engagement, and the risks and benefits this brings. Assumptions are influenced by
wider societal stereotypes associated with both the diaspora community and international
involvement overseas. This is complicated by the focus of single communities as security
threats. The experiences that diasporas have domestically have an impact on their trust of,
and ability to engage with, government authorities. Similarly, seeing the diaspora through a
security lens changes the nature and purpose of engagement by the government with diasporas,
infusing it with underlying suspicion of the community.
Interaction with diasporas has most often been led by single teams within government. There
was little evidence of coordination of knowledge, information and approaches between teams
or government departments. This restricts learning from experiences of engagement and
improving on this. It also fails to take into account the holistic nature of the diaspora experience;
interactions, influences and challenges domestically (whether housing or security) are part of the
same “diaspora continuum” that extends to interests overseas.
Currently, engagement on peacebuilding and development is done to, rather than with, diasporas.
The diaspora and the desk officer see each other as potential lobbyists, information sources and
investment opportunities, but rarely as partners in improving conditions overseas. This needs to
change and a partnership approach adopted if all parties are to fulfil their self-declared mandate
of improving conflict and development overseas.
Conclusions and recommendations
This report demonstrates the immediacy of impact that events in the country of origin have on
life in the UK for diaspora communities. It also highlights the lines of influence and interaction
between these communities and the country of origin. The conventional borders that demarcate
our sense of place, belonging and engagement do not apply to these communities. Being able to
both understand and engage with the complexity of the diaspora experience is key to maximising
the opportunities evident in building processes for better practice overseas.
The interviews conducted with diaspora members highlighted ongoing interest, concern and anxiety
related to these contexts. This intersects to differing degrees with policymakers who have a responsibility
for international engagement in the countries concerned. If at the basis of their engagement is a
concern for improving the impact of peacebuilding and development interventions in the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka, then seeking collaboration offers the
opportunity to utilise knowledge, skills and experience. Such collaboration can deepen the impact of
interventions for both groups. The following recommendations are made to support this:
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
For policymakers:
Map and analyse the different diaspora groups, their agendas and relationships with their
country of origin in order to be able to establish appropriate partnerships with individuals
and groups;
Better utilise and analyse existing information within and outside of government to improve
understanding and build a case for partnership with diasporas; and
Collaborate across government to assess the impact that both domestic and foreign policy have
on the diaspora experience and the implications of this for peacebuilding and development.
For the diaspora member:
Strengthen ways of presenting the diversity of diaspora interests and needs so that policymakers
can more easily engage;
Seek to better understand the policies and priorities of the UK and EU governments in order
to identify the fit with diaspora priorities; and
Engage on peace and development interventions in regions that have the greatest need in
addition to places with personal connections.
8International Alert
1. Introduction
1.1 Why this report
This report aims to deepen understanding of diaspora communities in the UK and improve partnerships
between diasporas and policymakers on peacebuilding and development policy and practice.
Drawing on the experiences of those living in the Congolese, Pakistani, Somali and Sri Lankan
Tamil diaspora communities, the report explores:
The impact of external conflicts on these communities;
Their current responses to conflicts in their countries of origin;
Their aspirations for how they could contribute to development and peacebuilding processes;
How engaging with diasporas can help inform and improve the foreign and development
policies of the UK government and the EU.
The conflict dynamics in these communities’
countries of origin are extensively written
about and we do not attempt to explain them
here. Instead, this report focuses on: the lives
of those affected by these conflicts and now
living in the UK; the impact that this experience
has on daily life in the UK; their relationships
within their communities; and how they
identify with their countries of origin. This
holds significance for policymakers tasked with
shaping the nature of international engagement
with conflict-affected countries. The report
therefore also reflects the views of different
desk officers within government and the nature
of engagement between these desk officers and
diaspora groups.
The content is based on the outcomes of focus
group discussions, interviews, and a survey with
members of the four diaspora communities,
together with interviews with desk officers in
the EU and UK governments.
We will take this report back to those
interviewed in the diaspora communities and
the UK and EU governments as a stimulus for
further discussion and dialogue. Through these
discussions, we aim to deepen understanding of
diaspora communities and improve partnerships
between diasporas and policymakers on
peacebuilding and development policy and
A note on terminology
People use a variety of terms to refer to concepts
relating to the diaspora. We have tried to set out
a clear list of the terms we will use throughout
this report. We use them with the caveat that
they can often be imbued with political meaning
and that none of them is neutral.
Community: Used to describe a group with a
common country background, e.g. Pakistani.
It is not reflective of any other assumed
Country of heritage: More commonly used by
second- or third-generation diaspora members
who have direct family links to their country of
Country of origin: Used to describe either
the country of one’s birth or one’s parents’ or
grandparents’ birth. For the purposes of this
report, we use the term “country of origin” to
cover all variations.
Diaspora: Used to denote a recognisable
group that has settled away from its ancestral
home. Qualities that distinguish the diaspora
include political ties with their homeland,
thoughts of return and relationships with other
communities in the diaspora.
Home: Used to describe country of heritage,
ancestral home, country of origin and homeland.
Host country: Used to refer to the country of
residence – in this case, the UK.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
1.2 Methodology
The research sought to compare the experiences of different diaspora communities in the UK,
while also recognising that these communities are not themselves homogenous. We endeavoured
to strike a balance between sampling different geographical concentrations of the same diaspora
community and comparing different diasporas. The research was conducted in the following
areas and with the following communities:
Congolese diaspora in London and Bradford;
Pakistani diaspora in Bradford and Briereld;
Somali diaspora in Salford, Manchester; and
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Newham, London.
Overall, 11 focus groups and 21 key informant interviews were held, involving 80 respondents
across the four communities. Of this, 43% were female and 57% male. A questionnaire was
circulated in the research areas and more broadly for completion by diaspora members not
participating in the focus groups or interviews. We received 296 completed responses from these
four communities, of which 41% were female and 59% male.
In conjunction with this, we conducted interviews with 17 desk officers in the UK and EU
governments. These individuals were identified because of their specialist country or diaspora
knowledge of the four countries of origin.
All interviews and group discussions were recorded (digitally or in written form) and partially
transcribed. Transcription and analysis was guided by the research aims.
1.3 Challenges and limitations
The research was bounded in its scope by the limits of time and resources, which contributed to the
challenges described below. As such, we do not pretend to offer a denitive study. Notwithstanding
the provisos set out below, we are confident that the data presented provides some novel, rich and
valuable insights relevant to the aims of the research. In addition, the provisos indicate important
areas for future research.
Community selection: Selection of the diaspora communities was based on: (i) links to a country in
continuing conflict; (ii) the diaspora’s continuing engagement with that country; and (iii) research
partners’ existing access to communities in their locality. As a result, the selection interviewed is a
snapshot of a particular community in a particular location. It cannot be taken as representative
of all perspectives from these communities.
Community access: Working with local voluntary organisations as research partners enabled us to
have links and trust with the four communities chosen. This was critical to building relationships
around this research and being able to gather the depth of information. In the case of Bradford and
London, community members working alongside the research partners built trust and facilitated
access to the communities. In Manchester and Brierfield, the research partners conducted the
interviews and focus groups themselves. While this approach enabled more effective access than
conventional researchers would have had, we still encountered four specific difficulties:
a. It proved extremely difficult to engage Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims in the
same group discussion. This, coupled with the Sri Lankan demography in Newham (which is
predominantly Tamil) where the research was conducted, resulted in the sample consisting of
members of the Tamil community only.
10 International Alert
b. The result of the Congolese elections in November 2011 led to widespread demoralisation
within much of the Congolese diaspora in the UK. As a result, this community was harder to
engage than expected.
c. Female community members, particularly within Muslim communities, were reluctant to
engage with male researchers. Where possible, we offered female researchers. However, fear of
their discussion having repercussions within their communities held back their participation.
d. Our researchers had to overcome mistrust of the process and purpose of the research,
particularly from the Pakistani and Somali men who had significant fears that the data would
be used for domestic security purposes. Even in the cases where the researchers were known
to the community, the history of targeting this community under agendas such as Prevent1
had led to an erosion of trust in external organisations.
Working with community organisations as research partners: Research partners were community
organisations selected on the strength of their links with communities rather than being trained
researchers. Back-up for the researchers via a “research support pack” and two full days’ training
plus close monitoring of progress was effective. However, this approach also generated some
difficulties. Small local voluntary organisations during a period of public expenditure cuts faced
much uncertainty and financial and staff turbulence, providing greater challenges to undertaking
time- and labour-intensive research.
Gender balance: We endeavoured to get equal participation of men and women in our focus
groups and interviews. This had various levels of success. In addition to the above issues of gender
and security, we experienced a degree of reluctance by some women to participate due to fears of
how this would be reported in their communities. This accounts for a gender disparity in some
of the case studies.
UK and EU focus: The research specifically focused on desk officers in the UK and EU. It did
not attempt to contact counterparts in the British High Commissions or European Commissions
in Kinshasa, Islamabad, Nairobi (for Somalia) or Colombo. The policy engagement approach is
therefore limited to a Brussels- and UK-based perspective and does not attempt to comment on
types of engagement with diasporas from in-country offices.
Home-host focus: We kept a specific focus on home-host country without looking across other
networks, e.g. the relationship between Pakistan and Somalia, or DRC and Rwanda. This inevitably
carries limitations, as a number of dynamics discussed have far wider regional and global implications.
For example, Congolese respondents would discuss dynamics in the wider Great Lakes region, while
Somali respondents would talk about wider dynamics affecting other Muslim countries.
1.4 Report structure
We begin with the stories of the Congolese, Pakistanis, Somalis and Sri Lankan Tamils with whom
we spoke. They paint a picture of the nature of these particular diaspora communities in the UK, the
nature of the connection between the UK and their country of origin, and the level of engagement
with government. The case studies are followed by a section exploring the relationship between
policymakers and diasporas around peacebuilding and development. This section is built on
interviews held with policymakers in the UK government and EU and seeks to assess motivations for
engagement, approaches to this engagement and implications for peacebuilding and development.
We end with recommendations for both the diaspora community and the policymaking community.
1 The Prevent Strategy is the preventative strand of the UK government’s domestic counter-terrorism strategy.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
2. The diaspora experience – a
shared struggle
This section offers a case study on each of the four diaspora communities: the Congolese, Pakistani,
Somali and Sri Lankan Tamil, using their words to illustrate their experiences in the UK and their
continuing connections with their country of origin. While these diaspora communities come from
very different backgrounds, they shared a number of common experiences. The main commonalities
are: the legacy of leaving their home country with the devastating impact of losing family and culture
that entails; the experience of living a life where their ongoing connections with their country of origin
are as much a part of daily patterns as is life in the UK; and a disillusionment with the international
engagement of other countries in politics and development “back home”.
Legacy of leaving
This study turned up a profusion of stories about the confusing impact on sense of self and
belonging that participants had experienced as a result of moving to the UK.
Among the newer arrivals, loss and dislocation was repeatedly expressed, related to exile from
their country of origin and their families. Challenges of integration into UK society included
a lack of opportunity for work and progression; language barriers; a completely new cultural
framework and understanding, from food to values; a lack of trust of both their own community
members and the mainstream, and rivalries within the diaspora, and with other minority groups
living in the UK.
For all communities, anxiety about losing their culture has generated conflicts between generations.
These internal family and community conflicts are significant, and are illustrated in this study
through stories of shifting gender and parenting roles, traditional power and discipline hierarchies
in flux, and children that are more fluent in English than they are in their parents’ mother tongue.
In this world, young people become interpreters for their elders, and women go out to work for
the first time with impacts on marriages and child–parent relationships. For Congolese women,
in particular, there were stories of how embracing a campaigning role around sexual and cultural
violence against women has led to family frictions and breakdown. For the women, this role of
rebuilding the community and addressing sexual violence provides a constructive channel for
their despair and loneliness.
The impact of conflict and violence in countries of origin is clearly felt by those within the
diaspora communities we spoke to. Many participants spoke of ongoing trauma due to their
personal experience of conflict or out of deep concern for family and friends left behind. This is
carried silently among the wider community and, in some cases, remained taboo within families.
86% of respondents cited conflict as the main difficulty affecting their community “back home” with
75% saying this affected their lives in the UK. (Survey Q15)
British government policy, both foreign and domestic, has also been shaped by these conflicts and
by the wider post-9/11 context. The “War on Terror”, in particular, was referred to as having
radically altered relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities globally and affecting
both public and institutional attitudes towards participants.2
2 Polls show that interrelated issues of external security (e.g. terrorism) and internal security (e.g. crime) became far more prominent public
opinion concerns after 9/11. There also emerged significant levels of public anxiety over immigration, and the presence and integration of
Muslim communities. Ten years on, governments and political elites have barely begun to understand this trend, and its implications. See:
M. Goodwin. ‘9/11 ten years on: European public attitudes and party politics’, Chatham House, 1st September 2011. Available at http://
12 International Alert
Connections with their country of origin
Connection with their country of origin was strong among all participants. Communities talked
poignantly of the struggle to stay in touch with their families in war zones, or who had been
dispersed across the globe. By far the most significant reasons for connection we came across were
immediate concerns for safety, staying in more regular contact with families and financial support.
Social media and new technologies play an enormous part in maintaining contact, through mobile
phones, the web and television. These technologies were described as having both benefits –
easy to stay in touch – and drawbacks. For example, Somalis spoke of the propaganda shown
on television both on UK and Somali channels, which promotes only negative imagery of their
country and exacerbates anxieties about the dangers of visiting relatives. Pakistanis spoke of how
local clan-based conflicts within Pakistan or the UK could quickly escalate to include people on
either continent in the blink of an eye – “real time” – thanks to social media and mobile phones.
83% of respondents kept in touch with events “back home” by phone; 58% via television and the
internet; and 51% cited Facebook as a regular form of contact. (Survey Q12)
Many participants spoke of the occasional burden of staying in such regular contact, mostly
related to their feelings of financial responsibility for those left behind. They described the poverty
they lived in created by sending a large proportion of their income overseas to support others and
the conflict this generated within families.
When asked about connections to their overseas community, 45% identified financial support as their
main form of connection. (Survey Q10)
The expectation of financial support was often as true for new arrivals as it was for long-established
families, who were still required to contribute to weddings, education and general life costs, even
when relatives back home were wealthier.
Distinct strands of cultural and religious connection linked diaspora groups and their countries
of origin. In DRC, for example, music plays an important role as a vehicle for passing on news,
for celebration or for mourning. Faith connections, whether through church, temple or mosque,
provide a significant and, in some cases, pivotal link between the separated diaspora and “home”
A further significant area of cross-over and connection came around local and overseas politics.
A number of those we interviewed spoke of the impact of overseas politics on their lives in the
UK. For example, Pakistani participants spoke of the “biraderi” – meaning kinship or caste –
influence, discussing the clear links between political life in Pakistan and the UK. Voting patterns,
leaderships and voice were cited as a mirror image of political dynamics in the regions they came
from. Similarly, a number of Somali participants gave examples of those in the UK continuing
to play an active and influential part in Somali politics both among the Somali diaspora and in
Respondents generally kept in close touch with politics in their countries of origin. The political
nature of business and property interests were discussed in the Congolese, Pakistani and Somali
case studies, with business interests crossing the UK/country of origin borders and being cited as
providing political influence “back home”.
78% preferred direct personal action such as sending money; 57% fundraised more broadly; and 35%
lobbied for political support. (Survey Q17)
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
International engagement
Within all of the diaspora communities we spoke to, we heard repeated expressions of frustration
at the perceived lack of international community action to address the internal conflicts in their
countries of origin. In particular, there is resentment at the extent to which self-interest of the
UK and international community is perceived as shaping their involvement in these countries.
Involvement is seen to be determined by geo-political interests, aid and access to resources. This
perceived double standard has a continuing corrosive effect on the trust between some of the
diaspora communities and governments.
2.1 Congolese community
Our research focused on Congolese diaspora members in London (mainly Newham) and
Bradford. The migration of Congolese people to the UK is relatively recent, with the first wave
starting in the late 1980s (the last years of President Mobutu’s reign) and early 1990s and the
second occurring in the late 1990s (the beginning of the war in the East). The Ofce for National
Statistics (ONS) places the Congolese-born population at 20,000 at the end of 2011.3 However,
this doesn’t account for births in the UK. Community leaders provide higher estimates of around
30,000–40,000.4 The Congolese participants in this research had originally come from Uvira and
Bukavu (in South Kivu Province), Bandundu, Ituri in Orientale Province, Bas-Congo, Kasai and
Legacies of leaving DRC
A number of those we interviewed left DRC because of conflict – ‘somewhere somehow, because
of a problem’. Dealing with this legacy continues to have a profound effect on our respondents:
‘I left my child when he was five years old. I came here in 2003… Now he is 13 years old.
When that thought crosses my mind it affects me a lot… If the country was fine, we would
have never [thought] about leaving our country.’
This is manifested in a combination of pressure, stress and poverty for the individual: ‘the conflict
on Congo is affecting me psychologically and mentally, financially and materially.’ Despite this
strain, respondents told us that the reasons for leaving are rarely spoken about among families,
creating a veil of secrecy around what happened in DRC and the continuing impacts this has on
individuals in the UK:
‘In our household a lot of the time those things are taboos. We don’t talk about those things
because people lived through a real-life situation that’s like nothing off a movie… that was
someone actually shooting at your mum, your cousin, your auntie, you know?’
An older community member indicated that this silence contributed to inter-generational tension,
with the younger generation unable to understand the experiences of their families and so blaming
parents and/or grandparents for fleeing the Congo rather than standing up to the government:
‘In my view, a young person who blames their parents for fleeing the war is just showing
their ignorance of what the war is… A young person who has experienced the brutal Congo
war – even as a child – will never blame their parents for fleeing to save their life as a family.
3 ONS (2012). Population by country of birth and nationality report August 2012. Newport. p.13. Available at
4 Demographic data and phases of migration are drawn from: International Organization for Migration (IOM) (2006). DR Congo. Mapping
exercise. London.
14 International Alert
Younger diaspora members themselves spoke of their sadness at not having the freedom or
safety to visit their country of heritage unlike the younger generation from other places. They
acknowledged that the move to Europe gave those Congolese born or raised here greater
opportunities, such as the chance of a better education, but it also carried the cost of a loss of
connection to their “home”.
A continuing legacy of the conflict is the scale and degree of sexual violence against Congolese
women and girls in the Congo by men from neighbouring countries, as well as by Congolese
men. This was a major concern for participants, and especially the women, who spoke of how
rape – used as a tool of war – destroys the women and their communities, with the statistic given
of ‘a woman/girl raped every 8 minutes for the last 16 years’. For those we interviewed, the
purpose of rape was to destroy women and girls in ways that unravel the fundamental community
infrastructure of the Congolese people. The psychological injury of rape is not easily healed and
the trauma of these experiences has continued to affect a number of the women we interviewed.
Incidences were discussed of how sexual violence has continued within the community even
within the safety of the UK, placing many women under both physical and psychological stress:
‘Imagine you’re punching a brick wall and then it’s getting through then it covers up again,
I think that’s what’s happened so many times and people are frustrated, their sense of hope
is lost, their sense of direction is lost, you know? They’re just absolutely in almost a chaotic
state in terms of mentality.’
An avenue out of this for some was through campaigning on the situation for women in DRC.
One woman discussed her role in this, but described how the choices she felt compelled to make
created deep tension within her family. She told us that the birth of her grandchild coincided with
the day of a protest she was leading. She chose to attend the protest over being with her daughter
and new grandchild, which resulted in great tension in her family, who were unable to recognise
or understand the conflict between her competing commitments.
The isolation of being a new arrival in the UK and the legacy of trauma from the war has created
barriers to integration, described as poverty, culture, incompatibility of educational background
and language. One participant told us, ‘If we were able to speak English that good… we would be
further up there, because we certainly do have the heart.’ She continued, ‘Because we don’t speak
the language we tend to be at home or we tend to be within our circles.’ Participants expressed
particular concern about the isolation from British society experienced by some young Congolese,
initially because of language, but then because of a negative cycle of involvement in, or being
victims of, crime: ‘For my generation here in London, we’ve seen friends get stabbed and friends
going to jail and people getting kidnapped.’
Isolation was compounded by what respondents saw as the complete ignorance of most British
people of the conflict and its roots in European colonialism. They felt that they are seen as
“scroungers” who have come to the UK purely to benefit from the welfare system. This lack
of understanding or empathy generated intense feeling both on a personal and political level
grounded in frustration at the perceived lack of interest in the situation in DRC.
As a community, the ability to rise above a certain standard of living has been hampered by the
dual financial responsibilities experienced as a diaspora. Participants talked about needing to
work long hours to be able to generate enough money to support their families in the UK and
abroad, sometimes needing to split their money in several different directions: ‘All the money I get
here, it’s as if I live in Kinshasa, although I live in Bradford.’ This has not always been the case:
when one family first left the Congo, they still had profitable businesses there and a relatively
easy life. Over the last 10 years, the political situation and conflict have forced the end of these
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
‘At the moment as my father died, I have become like the father figure now. I have a very
large family. Every end of the months they know that something has to come up. Every day
I am affected by it. If I don’t send any money or any instructions for someone to go and get
money from one of the tenants they are in troubles. Even before the end of the month they
will call you, even just to send $10 or to remind you of their presence.’
Family tensions are caused by the demands on finances by relatives back in the Congo, where
money is needed for education, healthcare or just to live. Parents spoke of having to negotiate
with their children’s requests for new things versus their need to send money home, causing
conicts between husband and wife as well as parents and children. Not everybody is in a position
to support their relatives left in DRC; however, the obligation and expectation remain:
‘If you send money to your own sister and your cousin does not get anything. If she finds
out then there’ll be problems. So you must work to send money again to the other person to
avoid conflicts in the family.’
The conflict in the Congo has a big impact on businesses and the ability to do business within
the Congo and beyond. ‘Corruption is the only way for survival,’ said one participant, while
another spoke of the destroyed infrastructure and financial instability of the country, which means
constant inflation and increase of prices on the local DRC markets day by day. This was returned
to with incredulity repeatedly, drawing the comparison between DRC’s natural resources and the
living conditions of its people:
‘The semolina cannot be grind. Food is hard to get. If you hear about some story, there’s no
electricity, there’s no water. How can people live with no water and electricity? You see how
we Congolese are suffering in such a rich country [DRC].’
Business was also cited as remaining a key tie between the diaspora and DRC:
‘With commerce and business, the way that functions is that there are some people here who
might have 2 stores, but in the Congo they have 20 of them and they do trade and business
etc. In terms of family, family never forgets family and you can’t change who will be in your
family, but this thing is politically driven, it’s more of a systematic thing, it’s not necessarily
within the context of family. It’s more to do with power, positions etc. It’s nothing to do with
the family nucleus or anything of that nature. Commerce is possibly one of those things that
ties the community together.’
Connections between the UK and DRC
The political nature of conflict back in DRC continues to have an impact within communities in
the UK, with divisions between the diaspora in the Great Lakes region being mirrored within the
communities in the UK. In our survey, 74% of Congolese saw links between events in DRC and
differences or conflicts within Congolese communities in the UK. Of these, 87% said this was to
do with politics.5
Those we interviewed talked about the connection between those in DRC and those in the UK
being close, especially for the older generation:
‘There is an essential bond of Congolese people when they get together. It’s always been
there, always will be there… You just know you’re home, you know these people have got
your back 110%.’
5 Survey Q25 and Q26.
16 International Alert
However, this is contradicted somewhat by 80% of Congolese surveyed stating that there are
differences and/or conflicts with the Congolese community,6 demonstrating that divisions are felt
within and between communities in Britain.
The need to have real-time connection to DRC was very evident, with respondents describing
constantly calling family members to check for news. They stayed in touch with the political
dynamics predominantly through the TV and internet. However, this doesn’t always bring
comfort, and, in fact, can add to the continuing psychological strain on families:
‘We have TV channel here: Shot One, created by Papa Bony. My wife and I will often go to
bed in sadness because of the things we see in the documentaries.’
‘There’s a particular Congolese channel on Sky, they’re promoting the businesses, promoting
those that are doing good things, people that are putting together barber shops… And I am
thankful for the links that they keep between the Congolese community at home, and those
over here.’
The church and music are two other strong connections, with music driving the culture and
providing people with a way of forgetting what they have been through, as well as maintaining
current links with DRC. However, many Congolese pastors and singers who used to come to the
UK no longer come for fear of violence due to being supporters of Kabila. This was seen as a loss
for the UK diaspora: ‘Now there is only a narrow place in which to live our lives.’
International engagement on DRC
Many dream of positive change that will allow them to return to DRC, but these dreams “vanish
every year”, with examples given of intellectuals and researchers ready to go back but discouraged
by the actions of the political leadership. Participants talked of the need for spiritual support and
prayers to give encouragement, hope and faith to the Congolese people that one day things will
change for the better, but also of their nation being “cursed”.
In this study, the view was repeatedly expressed that the international community is and has
been too uninvolved in the conflict in DRC. The frustration, pain and incomprehension of
the continuing conflicts in DRC was evident with the desire that the influence of international
organisations, Western governments and multinational companies would be able to change this.
Little was known or mentioned about the aid DRC receives7 or global efforts around human
rights violations and mineral extraction.8 Instead, participants felt isolated in their efforts to
promote awareness of what was happening in their country of origin.
There is mobilisation around a voice on DRC in the UK, through campaigning and the
establishment of community groups. Respondents talked of using music within their community
and among the wider public to mobilise awareness of the situation in DRC. They spoke about one
woman, signed with a record label, who uses her own experiences of sexual abuse to campaign
for awareness and justice in the Congo. This was linked to other strategies to spread awareness
to a wider audience. Demonstrations, campaigns and lobbying through the UK government were
all activities creating links and engagement with international policy.
6 Survey Q22.
7 DRC was the largest recipient of aid in 2010. Global Humanitarian Assistance website, ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’, accessed 3rd
September 2012. Available at
8 For example, please see: US Department of State (2011). 2010 human rights report: Democratic Republic of the Congo. Available at http://; ‘Human cost of mining in DR Congo’, BBC News, 2nd September 2009. Available at; United Nations Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (UNHCR) (2010). ‘DRC: Mapping
human rights violations 1993–2003’. Available at
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
2.2 Pakistani community
This study talked to individuals from the Pakistani diaspora living in Bradford and in Brierfield
and Nelson. The rst generation arrived in the North of England in the 1950s and 1960s to work
in the steel and textile mills. As they settled, they were joined by spouses and family members.
Pakistani migrants continue to arrive in Britain for marriage and family purposes or on student
and work permit visas. The ONS estimated the Pakistani population to be 1,007.4 million in
mid-2009.9 However, discussions with community members and officials have placed this figure
closer to 1.2 million.
Most of the Pakistani residents in Bradford10 come from the Northern Punjab and the Mirpur
District of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. In Brierfield, the majority of the population originates from
the same villages around Jhelum/Gujrat in Pakistan – just 20 miles from the Kashmir ceasefire
Legacies of leaving Pakistan
The Pakistani diaspora community now has several generations settled in the UK. This presents
a marked contrast in the nature and degree of connection to “home” that is revealed in the other
case studies. Another difference between case studies is the motivations for leaving the country
of origin. In this case, the majority of the diaspora left Pakistan for economic rather than conflict
reasons. Despite this empathy, concern and connection to “back home” was still strong. While
elder community members we talked to felt that the younger generation had less empathy, this
was not reflected in our conversations with younger diaspora members. One younger participant,
who had never visited, spoke of ‘a real connection, I’m in contact every other day with family who
call me’. A second said she based her identity on Pakistan – it was ‘important to have a sense of
where you come from’ – and talked of a ‘spiritual connection rather than a physical one’.
Research participants discussed a number of ties between Pakistan and its UK diaspora – through
family, land ownership, marriage, status, politics, bigger families, culture (including food), sports
and spiritual links. Those with an idea of returning “home” keep a strong connection, including
investment in property and active engagement in Pakistan politics – ‘It’s very easy to connect via
Skype, via Facebook, all manner of social network. Very occasionally I’ll read the English section
of a Pakistani paper.’
One person talked of how people want to return to Pakistan to hold on to status, ‘because here
they work in restaurants’. This issue of status recurs repeatedly, suggesting it is a key reason why
there is huge interest and involvement among the UK diaspora in local Pakistani politics:
‘People enter into politics because it’s leverage – landowners will get involved in politics, we
have access to levers of control and power.’
Participants commented in a number of ways on the conservative nature of the diaspora
community, giving examples of how their peers in Pakistan have “moved on” culturally, while
their own communities in the UK are less liberal. One spoke of how ‘Elders want us to be
influenced by Pakistan culture – “a good way it used to be”’; another stressed his British-Pakistani
identity, having spent most of his life here. This inter-generational split repeats itself in a number
of spheres, as younger Pakistanis forge a “UK” identity and as fluency in languages such as Urdu
9 ONS (18th May 2011). Population estimates by ethnic group 2002–2009, accessed on 3rd September 2012. Available at
10 Bradford has the largest proportion of its total population (15%) identifying themselves as of Pakistani origin in England. See: The
Change Institute (2009). The Pakistani Muslim community in England: understanding Muslim ethnic communities. London: Department for
Communities and Local Government. p.6.
18 International Alert
Negative stories in the UK media on corruption in Pakistan, radicalisation, terrorism and
international political dissent have a direct impact on the Pakistani UK diaspora, according to
one participant. It is the yardstick that they are measured against, often portraying them through
a single lens associated with this perception of Pakistan rather than their lives as both British and
Pakistani. This provided extra motivation for wanting Pakistan to “succeed” in order to have
a positive impact on the community’s standing in the UK. Another participant, speaking of her
concern about a negative focus on the Pakistani diaspora, asked UK authorities:
‘Not to marginalise communities… extremism and conflict are in all communities and we
need to address it as a whole and not focus on just one community. All these problems
and issues happen in all communities, Irish, Pakistan, the Blacks, Whites – it’s across all
Faith was cited as playing a central role in negotiating challenges faced in the UK. Participants
emphasised how great the influence of religion and traditions are on day-to-day lives. Talking
about spiritual guidance, one suggested:
‘They look partly to Pakistan and the Middle East and increasingly the UK, with more and
more scholars born here… but there are specialist scholars, for example in Islamic sciences,
we don’t have those in the UK so you go globally for that.’
However, participants spoke of the mismatch between the plurality of local religious practice
in the UK – with a number of mosques and denominations and people free to choose how they
wish to practise their faith – versus the violence seen internationally in relation to Islam. These
misperceptions compounded the sense of being misunderstood by the wider British community
and, as a result, fed isolation.
Those from poor backgrounds in Pakistan described an obligation to provide for their family,
as the “lucky few” that made it to England. Those “left behind” in Pakistan expected to be
financially supported by the diaspora. This included extravagant events such as funerals and
weddings, placing an enormous financial burden on their families.
Contrary to this, one participant described how he felt that the expectation was as much from the
diaspora members themselves, who remain too concerned with small issues in Pakistan and hold
on to these links tightly at the cost of settling themselves in England. Other participants discussed
an overall shift in focus from investing back home to building lives in the UK. These contradictory
perspectives indicate that the tightness of connection is more complex than length of time out of
the country.
The increase of wealth in Pakistan has a significant impact on connection with the diaspora.
Whereas in the past the diaspora community felt their contributions meant they should have a
say in the way those in Pakistan lived their lives, many people in Pakistan are becoming more
materially independent, causing tension between the two communities as the balance of power
Even so, financial issues that fuel different conflicts in Pakistan continue to be played out in
England, for example, tensions around land ownership and marriages. Participants talked about
marriages between families in Pakistan and the diaspora being based on a desire to get family
members to the UK to benefit those left behind. One participant argued that this has held the
community back, affecting their lives in the UK:
‘Culturally it’s been acceptable for your parents to arrange a marriage with your cousin… a
lot of people are beginning to challenge the status quos…’
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
In our discussions, issues such as these were described as a motivating factor behind a shift within
the younger generation to move away from marriage to Pakistanis from Pakistan and towards
marriage in the UK. This may also be a response to marriage without consent:
‘I think, forced marriages is one issue, it goes against Islam but culturally it seems to be
accepted; the rights of women, Muslim women, I think have been denied… of Pakistani
women… in terms of education, profession, seeking a partner, just the woman being her own
individual personality and allowing her to grow and giving her that space. What too often
happens in Pakistani culture is the mother-in-law dictates to the daughter-in-law, who has
to do what she’s told.’
The tension between tradition, culture and expectation was one that came through clearly in our
conversations. It was a source of conflict and negotiation between generations with their different
experiences and the expectations born out of them. This is supported by our survey in which 47%
cited generational difference as a key source of conflict within the community in the UK.11
Connections between the UK and Pakistan
According to participants, there is a direct link between British politics and issues in Pakistan.
Most respondents spoke at one point or another of “biraderi politics”, referring to family
associations and a culture of kinship brought from Pakistan that has dominated community
politics in the UK:
‘[Biraderi] is very deep rooted in the Pakistani community unfortunately, and politics play
a big role in that as well. It’s not what the politician is capable of, it’s because [of] which
family he belongs to and what caste he belongs to… which is wrong…’
Pakistan political parties have a presence here in the UK, and both the Pakistan Muslim League
and the Pakistan People’s Party, one of Pakistan’s main political parties, have offices in Bradford.
They campaign on both local and Pakistani websites, demonstrating the cross-over in interests. At
a local level, Pakistani councillors in the UK are seen as playing Pakistani political games:
‘There’s a direct impact on what’s going on in the streets. We know biraderi politics operate
in Bradford for last 30 years – probably origins in mobilising people, first 10 years a good
way of organising people, then became a self-serving system, creating this conformity and
elite reinforcing its position. Biraderi politics in Bradford is nothing to do with policies, it’s
all to do with status and position.’
In the survey we conducted, 77% of Pakistani respondents said that there was conflict and/or
difference within the Pakistani community in the UK, with 60% citing class/caste as the reason
behind this.12 The influence of biraderi politics has been challenged by the recent by-election in
Bradford, where the standing British Pakistani MP lost to Respect candidate George Galloway.
It is yet to be seen how far this goes in disrupting the current connections between politics in
Pakistan and politics in England. For the time being, though, political links and happenings in
Pakistan continue to be played out in England.
Tensions between Kashmiris and Gujeratis in Brierfield are one specific example of ‘politics inherent
in Pakistan’ operating in the UK, according to one respondent, which results in much vying
for power ‘among the boys’. Back in Pakistan, “Raja” and “Gujjar” families were landowners
and “well-off”, whereas Kashmiri families were lower status. When the Kashmiri families found
themselves in the UK, they sought to address their disadvantage and, as a result, “progressed” in
terms of their economic position and status beyond the other families. These historic clan lines
11 Survey Q35.
12 Survey Q34 and Q35.
20 International Alert
and tensions and the change in status in the UK is a continuing source of conflict in Brierfield,
sometimes manifesting itself in actual violence.
This is enabled by technology, which has affected contact with Pakistan in both positive and
negative ways. While families are able to have regular contact through the internet, phone and
messaging, it also allows instant engagement with “back home” tensions or family disputes. This
then has an immediate ripple effect, whether the issue began in the UK or in Pakistan – it is fed
back in real time, which can result in heightened tensions at local levels and issues being felt much
more acutely than previously.
Interest in political happenings in Pakistan itself remains high. Many participants talked of a desire
for political change in Pakistan, expressing optimism in the upcoming Pakistani elections and the
former cricketer Imran Khan. There was disagreement among participants as to whether or not
the military’s role in politics was beneficial. Some expressed the view that military intervention at
key stages in Pakistan’s history had been essential for Pakistan. Others disagreed, with one seeing
the military as ‘one of the most powerful interest groups’.
International engagement on Pakistan
‘Foreign policy, I think it affects people here because it’s like double standards, the War on
Terror, and you begin to ask questions about who the real terrorists are.’
Participants spoke of the problems caused in Pakistan by “international interference” and the UK’s
and others’ foreign policy. One participant spoke about how external interventions and attacks
in Pakistan make it look like a ‘proxy nation’ of the West. There was a feeling that the country
should be left to its own devices to deal with its issues in its own way and that interventions that
supported the country in this would be more beneficial:
‘Give the country a chance to sort itself out, don’t impede the country from being able to
make changes, maybe stop foreign aid, which falls into the hands of the few (except perhaps
medical aid), and allow the country to work its own problems out.’
Among the Brierfield community, the key aspects of foreign policy raised related to the conflict
over Kashmir, military conflicts and the War on Terror. The US government was believed to have
a lot to answer for, and, as their key allies, it was felt that the UK/Europe should be more active
in communicating the concerns of the Pakistani community to the US. There was a strong feeling
that the country had been let down by foreign governments and the international community,
which has had its own negative effects on security.
A couple of people spoke about extremist narratives, both in terms of UK government policy in
its approaches internationally and nationally. They cited 9/11 as a point in history where things
have significantly changed in terms of Pakistan dynamics and repercussions in the UK. Frustration
was expressed with how the nature of the West’s engagement in Pakistan makes the UK diaspora
community feel powerless:
‘Frustrated young people might then decide to take the law into their own hands, and then
you see 7/7, which isn’t to justify actions… but I think if young people are channelled in the
right way so they can express their views…’
On the other hand, participants spoke about how recent natural disasters and the subsequent
international responses have provoked a wave of financial and practical support from the diaspora:
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
‘I wanted to make a change, a difference, for those who’d lost their homes, so I raised
awareness among women in our community, raised funds, charity dinners, charity events to
raise funds for earthquakes in Pakistan. I made a difference by supporting existing charities
who do work out there.’
For participants, this provided a clear positive outlet through which the diaspora could support
Pakistan. Asked what they would focus on as priorities going forward for Pakistan, they talked
of law and order, social development, economic development and political change. These were
described as problems that hinder Pakistan’s development. However, one participant suggested
that a lack of strong leadership within the UK diaspora hinders the exploration of these issues on
a larger scale. They described the diaspora as being in ‘sleep mode’ thanks to their comfortable
lives in the UK. However, another felt it was an issue of voice, saying, ‘Diaspora community
voices need to be heard’, adding that diasporas can facilitate discussions about Pakistan that
could not take place there ‘because it is safe’. ‘The question is,’ said a third, ‘what are we actually
prepared to do?’
2.3 Somali community
This case study was drawn from interviews and focus groups with members of the Somali
community living in the Salford area of Manchester. The total figure for the Somali population
in the UK is not known. At the end of 2011, it was estimated that there were 102,000 overseas-
born Somalis in the UK.13 The population in Manchester is small, with official estimates at
5,000–6,000.14 However, local community leaders believe the actual figure is much higher at
approximately 20,000 due to continued migration from Somalia to the UK and births of the
second generation. Migration has been mainly a result of the civil conflict in Somalia over the last
20-plus years. Consequently, a large proportion of the population are women and children (with
the men staying behind to fight, disappeared or killed). The community in Manchester includes
people from across Somalia, who initially settled in different parts of Africa such as Djibouti,
Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia to escape the civil war.
Legacies of leaving Somalia
The impact of the conflict on the members of the diaspora we spoke with was felt in both practical
and psychological ways. It affected the physical passage of the diaspora from Somalia to England,
with stories of disrupted journeys, separation of families and the carving out of life in very different
places. A familiar story participants told us was of a migration route from Somalia to Kenya (with
a number of participants spending time in refugee camps) to another European country before
finally arriving in England:
‘I moved from Somalia 1989. I moved to Kenya where I lived for a year and after that
we moved to Holland, I moved there first and my two sisters and my mum moved with
us afterwards, we lived there ’til 2001 and then we moved to England and we’ve lived in
Manchester since then. My dad’s mum is still there, my grandma is there and my cousins are
there… Some have moved to Yemen, Norway, Holland, England, Sweden, Australia, Kenya,
South Africa – anywhere you can find as long as you can get out of the danger zone, just get
out, take your family out so no one gets killed, take any boat.’
Participants talked with sadness of the separation of family members across the globe over
generations and the continuing effect of this on their lives. One participant described the
community as a nation of people that are still ‘not settled’:
13 ONS (2012). Op. cit. p.13.
14 Figures from 2007. See: The Change Institute (2009). Op. cit. p.29.
22 International Alert
‘…the majority of my extended family migrated, we’ve got families all over the world now
– UK, USA, Australia, parts of Europe, Somali, Ogaden – so it’s all scattered… that has an
effect on us because in our own culture we sort of look after our own people, so it affects us
both financially and emotionally, our wellbeing.’
The pain of separation is compounded by the stories of loss and death that participants carry:
‘I was in school and you know one day everything fell apart, people running in all directions,
we lost family members, some were in the market, some were in the school, some at home,
people were lost, people were killed. You did not expect that, it was hard to deal with. The
only good thing is as the youngest you are energetic and think “I can do this.”’
Participants talked about having to manage the legacy of their personal experiences alongside the
challenges of negotiating a new life:
‘We’re still surviving, life’s not easy, all of a sudden you enter a new culture, new language,
new people, new weather and you don’t know how to cope with these things.’
There was a sense that “settling in” was more difficult because of the different identities assigned
to them as “Somali” and “Muslim” by the wider community. They talked of the stereotyping that
they felt labelled their community as “militant” and tarnished the reputation of “normal Somali
folk” by associating them with the Somali Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab:15
‘Al-Shabaab is not a tribal thing, it’s just a group of young men that get together, that want
‘It’s people who have grown up and been born during the war and so been exposed to nothing
but the war so they’re using that to their advantage and gathered people from a poorer living
and paid them to do things like suicide bombing, kind of like a gangsta, gathering their own
troops, going out and terrorising.’
Participants felt that the misconception around the links between the Somali community and al-
Shabaab affected relationships both between communities and with authorities such as the police
– where they were vulnerable to surveillance as a security threat.
In addition, relationships between migrant communities were described as fraught. Participants
talked of incidences of what they perceived as racial hatred experienced from other diaspora
groups. A group of young women gave an example of being in the sauna with women from the
African-Caribbean community:
‘Most Somalis don’t, sometimes Somalis, uh, they don’t get along with the black community,
cos every time we go to the sauna we have problems, we don’t know why… they say how
could we have long hair or different features, it’s not our fault… we let it slide, we can speak
but better to let it slide than causing problems.’
Women we spoke to acknowledged that the Somali community do keep themselves to themselves
– ‘in school I might sit with different people and chat with them but outside school it’s just Somali’
– with one young woman talking about her first experience of mixing with ‘White’ or ‘English’
telling us: ‘I had to learn to adapt, to know how to conduct and behave around people I’d never
been round all my life before.’ As a result, many diaspora members find themselves carrying
multiple identities:
15 Described as a group in armed opposition to the interim government and its supporters. See: ‘Q&A: Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?’, BBC
News, 23rd February 2012. Available at
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
‘Obviously I’m British now, but I’ve got various heritages. I’m lucky to have that in some
ways. I regard myself as British, then I’m Black African, I’m from Somalia originally, then
my great-great-grandfather came from Ogaden. I’ve been a refugee three or four generations
you know.’
Other participants spoke of how straddling different identities was in itself problematic,
particularly in the context of inter-generational relationships:
‘Sometimes you speak to your parents in Somali and English mixed together and they get so
confused… when I’m speaking Somali, I add some English words to it cos I don’t know the
words in Somali.’
Women, in particular, identified the younger generation as adopting more of an “English” culture.
Younger siblings speak only English and not their native language, which leads to parents and
children conversing less, causing tension and affecting how Somalis relate to their country of
‘I feel I’ve been here in this country so long I’m actually forgetting my own language, when I
speak to my mum I speak to her in English… when you go Somalia and don’t speak Somali
they’ll look at you… how come you don’t speak Somali, how come you don’t speak your own
language, they look at you like trash.’
One result is a number of people running projects to maintain their history, culture and traditions,
not wanting them “to be lost”.
‘The biggest problem [for the youth] would be to lose their identity, and if you lose your
identity then I believe you’ll be lost because you don’t know where you’ve come from and in
the bigger society you’ll be confused…’
Connections between the UK and Somalia
Participants in this study all talked of close connections with the various regions of Somalia:
‘The relationship is strong to a big majority of the people, because there is always that
responsibility that if we have kind of escaped all the atrocities and harshment and difficulties
there it’s our responsibility and duties to look after those who are suffering… everyone had
to contribute something towards that and send it back home.’
Whatever takes place “back home” was described as touching those who are now in England.
Participants worry about those who suffer in Somalia, and feel responsibility towards those
left behind. A differentiation is made between families in the relative peace of the north, where
there are “smaller” family-based disputes, and those in the south who are at the raw end of
the ongoing war.
Terms such as “sense of duty” were used to describe the relationship with those back home.
Fundraising and sending money to help families is commonplace: ‘They do it individually; every
single person has a family member and they get calls from them.’ Participants talked of the raising
of funds being done on a clan basis; however, it is also known that there is cross-Somali diaspora
fundraising. What was not clear was how much of a clan element this had to it.
There was discussion about the cross-over of political activity between Somalia and the UK:
‘Some of the people who are in charge in Somalia, i.e. some of the ministers that are there at the
current time, some of them are from England, some got houses in Sheffield, some got houses in
Birmingham, some even got houses in London, they’ve got their families settled here
24 International Alert
With concern raised about both how Somalia is currently being governed and the motivations of
political representatives living in the UK, participants spoke strongly about those in power being
driven by personal gain rather than the needs of the country: ‘It all comes down to no knowledge,
selfishness, greed, it’s just unbelievable, it’s all about power, maintaining that power.’
The absence of clear governance in Somalia was seen as creating an atmosphere of lawlessness,
making it very difficult for diaspora communities to maintain the link with family and friends as
they would want to. The nature of the connection was therefore dependent on the individual and
the type of interest they have in Somalia.
People talked of staying in touch via phone and the web: ‘Internet, that’s it. There’s nothing else.
There’s all sorts of news coming in from the internet and keeping people informed. Somali news
in Somali language, there’s quite a few websites.’ Participants expressed frustration about the
lack of reliability in reporting on Somalia, but also how this still influences their perception of the
realities on the ground. One young woman said she preferred Somali channels as they reported
things differently and included positive stories. This was contrary to the BBC who, she believed,
only show negative pictures and stories. Many participants talked about the confusion caused by
Somali state TV, who appear to exaggerate the dangers back in Somalia:
‘They control the media, most of the time you see suicide bombers on the TV and that, you
call home and they say there is nothing in the city… Everywhere, they are destabilising the
country, the people, all this negative is happening, it leaves you with all these worries, all
these negative things… it leaves us thinking, what is going on?’
‘Some of my family members from England went back a couple of months ago, and when
they went there they were, like, we’ve been told a lot of lies, we were going to get robbed, this
and that, they were absolutely fine, they had the best time of their life.’
Because of confusion about what to believe and what not to believe, participants were, on the
whole, reluctant to travel out to visit their families, as they were not sure whether it would be
safe to do so. Some maintain links through the refugee camps in Kenya. A couple of participants
highlighted the difference between Somalia and Ogaden (the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia).
They talked of being unable to access information about families in Ogaden or the situation they
are living in due to the tight control that Ethiopia has over the region and expressed frustration with
the lack of direct communication with people back home in Ogaden. The nature of connections
“back home” is reflected in a lack of cross-community “cohesiveness” in England. One young
woman commented that it’s ‘very, very tribalist, the Somali community, which isn’t a good thing’,
while another described the divisions he sees:
‘The clan and tribe issues are everywhere, in Manchester itself there’s many clans… Everyone
here, for example, they’ve got their own café, each goes to a certain café, you’ve got the
Somali café here, you’ve got the Somaliland café there, but they speak the same language
but they go rather to this one ’cause they’ve got more of their own people there… there’s
a community called Bravo community and there is a Somaliland community, a Djibouti
community… those small little things do make a difference ’cause if you live in Manchester
and you’re still separating them I’m sure there’s no solution for anything in the near future.’
However, we heard different views on the impact of tribes or clans. One participant described the
different tribes as being like ‘branches on a tree’:
‘Good thing is that there is not that much differences in the Somali community in here, even
though the tribe is there, but there’s not a big difference…’
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
‘I think in all fairness the tribal stuff is all a myth… It’s fine here but in Somalia it has been
a problem, because others want to divide and rule.’
And yet:
‘Problems are tribal […] because you know different culture, different colonial cultures,
that’s the conflict and the impact.’
Female participants talked about the accents and dialects that identify the different areas people
come from, and explained, ‘We have so many similar names people are recognised through
their tribe, their family name, that’s how they get their recognition, it’s part of their identity.’
Most of the women who took part said they had married within their tribes. The contradictions
in opinions about the impact of tribes demonstrated an overarching view of participants that
dynamics and tensions from the connections and traditions with Somalia remained in the UK
Somali communities. Discussing this openly was controversial and risked causing offence.
It was felt that the UK and EU governments’ support in this regard was sometimes
counterproductive, entrenching tribal difference and ignoring the needs of young people:
‘I was quite disappointed, not with Somalis but with the British government and England
for… funding different communities [in the UK], but they are one country – why don’t we
just open one big community centre instead of having these separate ones?’
International engagement on Somalia
‘If we can improve Somalia I know there’ll be a lot of people going back.’
The impact of war on communities “back home” and in the UK was the key issue for those we
spoke to. Despite efforts to bring stability and progress to Somalia, there is a sense of betrayal
among participants for what some see as inexplicable support by “the West” for a corrupt regime,
and for the lack of recognition by international governments where their efforts are paying off.
One man originally from Somaliland told us: ‘You establish something for good they ignore it…
it wasn’t highlighted by the British, because we wasn’t British colony.’
Looking to the future, there was a call on the “West” to pay more attention to the internal
workings of authorities in Somalia, to engage with how they operate and to apply pressure on
them accordingly to effect positive change:
‘England, specifically, must [remove the government] because they are the ones who are
funding these guys…’
Examples were given of how external decisions were impacting negatively on the country, with
calls for the international community to look at the impact of policies:
‘…this is something that happened recently, when the Puntland oil or something was found,
some British embassy people, or one of the ministers went to Somalia supporting them…
[yet] Somaliland has not been recognised after 20 years of development… some people kind
of felt betrayed and think, why not?’
A number of people we spoke to felt that more investment in Somalia would have a positive
impact in the UK. They highlighted cross-country dynamics through picking up on similar needs
in Pakistan and Somalia and how they affect policies and agendas in the UK: ‘If you invest and
sort out the issues in Pakistan and Somalia, there will be peace here in the UK.’
26 International Alert
Many had mixed feelings about current UK and EU policies towards Somalia itself:
‘I believe it’s been good and bad. In terms of helping Somalis, it’s been fantastic, given them
hope, given them a lot of education… But a few years ago I was disappointed with the British
government, because there was on Channel 4 Dispatches, it showed… British government
funding Somalian government and “bad guys”… it could also be that they do not know who
they are giving it to, unfortunately they are giving it to the wrong people’s hands and it’s not
reaching the poor, it’s just being used to buy guns and weapons and what have you.’
Despite this, most participants felt that the responsibility to end the violence lies within Somalia.
Different views were expressed about the role of the diaspora in supporting this. For some, there’s
a need to highlight the situation in Somalia and to try to influence change from outside, while
others felt that there was only so much that they could do given the state of the country. One
wondered how welcome help would be ‘even if they [the diaspora] wanted to help I don’t even
think, to be honest, Somalis who live there would class us as Somali’.
2.4 Sri Lankan community
Our Sri Lankan data comes largely from group and individual interviews with members of the
Tamil community in East London. This presents one particular perspective on the conflict in Sri
Lanka that inevitably differs to that of other Sri Lankans, including members of the Sinhalese and
Muslim communities in the UK.
Sri Lankans settled in the UK in what can be seen as three waves, each with distinctive features and
inter-group relations. Between the 1950s and 1970s, migration was among the highly educated Sri
Lankans who took up professional roles. Throughout the 1970s, migrating groups became more
diverse in terms of skills. As the conflict escalated, particularly post-1983, increasing numbers
came to seek asylum16 and were predominantly Tamil. Official estimates suggest a total UK Sri
Lankan-born population of approximately 120,000.17 However, the figure cited by officials and
community members is closer to 300,000, accounting for second and third generations.
Legacies of leaving Sri Lanka
The end of the war in Sri Lanka in May 2009 has done little to heal the diaspora community in the
UK. The manner in which the war reached a conclusion, with a complete military victory of the
Government of Sri Lanka over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has sharpened community
divides between Tamils and Sinhalese in the UK. Research participants spoke of the great strain on
these relationships (86% of Sri Lankans we surveyed said there was a correlation between events
in Sri Lanka and conflicts in the community in England18) and, what they felt to be, longstanding
prejudice towards them by Sinhalese:
‘…their inborn character “we are Sinhalese and we are the owners of this country”, it was
felt by me even in the streets of East Ham… sorry to say, I hope you don’t think I am a racist
but even the Sinhalese people here think they are better than us and their way of talking,
their attitude is changed, before 2009 it was not like that… I don’t know what is wrong with
our people but sometimes we think we are second nation to the Sinhalese nation.’
On the other hand, on a personal level, there is some evidence in our data that relations between
Tamils and Sinhalese in the UK are able to remain friendly despite the conflict:
16 C.Y. Thangarajah (2011). Working paper II: The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and the challenges for ethnic reconciliation. International Alert.
17 ONS (2012). Op. cit. p.13.
18 Survey Q31.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
‘Personally, I have a very good Sinhalese friend. Personally OK. He’s very close to me, we’re
very together. When I studied… To study you have to go to Colombo. And in Colombo you
can’t study separately… Still we moved; we are together. If it’s politics only, it’s pointless. We
are like family friends.’
The survey we conducted highlighted that the main difference between communities in the UK
was seen as political (86% of Sri Lankan respondents cited politics as the main difference) rather
than ethnic or religious.19 This indicates that, while allegiance is seen along ethnic lines, it is
primarily driven by political rather than ethnic difference.
Although the tensions between the different communities came through strongly, so did the
emotional impact of the conflict on participants. One man spoke of the ‘defeatism’ of the Tamils
and the blow to the community that the end of the war has had. The nature of war, being
played out along ethnic lines, with the Sinhalese community being perceived as the “victorious”
community and the Tamil community the main victims of the fighting, has led to a depth of
feeling among participants that the concerns for Tamils in Sri Lanka is only a Tamil concern and
not shared by the wider Sri Lankan community. According to one Christian Tamil pastor, this
had had a profound impact on many members of the community: ‘it affects a lot of people who
are here… many in my congregation have lost loved ones.’ Participants spoke of the daily strain
this has on their lives:
‘My wife, she is searching for her elder sister and three kids… and my wife is highly
traumatised, she wakes up in the night, screams, and she is having so many disorders now,
she was very healthy but she is no more now… she last spoke to her [sister] on the mobile on
May 19th [2009].’
This disrupts all areas of life with one participant commenting on ‘how much I feel displaced,
whether it is internally or externally’. Managing this trauma is something that is extremely hard
to do in isolation and, as a result, the community has tried to find ways to support each other.
One participant spoke of how he noticed he was not alone in his experiences. He decided that
he could take action on this and ‘I set up a home for mentally ill people, for Tamils, because of
the loneliness, the restrictions on visas…’ Another respondent set up a telephone helpline for the
Tamil community called “Breaking the Silence” to support those suffering from the trauma of
the war.
As with the other diaspora communities, the legacy of the conflict is different throughout the
generations. With a third generation of Tamils now in the UK, there is a sense from older Tamils
that the young are breaking away: ‘children have more rights, you don’t have any control over
the children… there’s a fear that as they grow up… of gang culture, [or] will they marry a non-
Tamil person’.
Despite this, there is evidence from participants that the younger generation is highly politicised.
One respondent remarked that ‘most of the campaigns [here] are run by Tamil youth… they were
brought up in the universities and colleges… the young people know about how the political
system works here’. Another thought that youth street conflict in England has sometimes occurred
along political lines, ‘between Tamils, different gangs, [reflecting] different movements that were
there back home… they thought even here we can carry on these beliefs’.
Connections between the UK and Sri Lanka
Many we spoke to found it difficult to obtain clear information about events and conditions in
the war-affected areas of Sri Lanka – as one participant put it:
19 Survey Q29.
28 International Alert
‘…always it will be difficult to find out what is actually happening there, the true picture,
there are so many stories going on.’
A number of families and communities are still displaced and, according to one participant,
‘the entire north east is deprived of productive resources, oil, electricity, tractor parts, fishing is
banned.’ Nevertheless, regular communication between the UK and back home does occur, with
people using mobile phones as the main method of communication. As one put it, ‘they like to
hear a voice… they like to know that there is somebody, they are not completely left alone and
forgotten.’ However, there is also considerable fear surrounding the whole process of contact,
with some of our respondents feeling that it was not safe to speak freely on the phone as this could
endanger relatives in Sri Lanka. Several people mentioned that they were unable to travel to Sri
Lanka because of fears for personal safety or concerns that files on family members still living in
Sri Lanka would be reopened.
Participants talked about high levels of activity on the conflict within their community. Their
response can be divided into two main approaches – humanitarian and political – but there also
seems to be a consistent view among these respondents that the way in which the conflict has
been framed by the international community and the media has undermined these efforts. Some
recognise that this is partly a result of the strategy pursued by the Tamils themselves during the
conflict. As one respondent put it, ‘our mistake was to side-line the political struggle, so that the
world branded us as terrorists… so all the international countries, including India, supported Sri
Lanka.’ Others see this as a deliberate ploy by the Sri Lankan government to appeal to the West:
as the “War on Terror” got going, ‘we were branded as terrorists… since the Twin Towers… state
terrorism was not understood by the international community’. Consequently, participants have
found it hard to mobilise political and humanitarian interest in the UK, as they believe that many
have seen the Tamils as the perpetrators rather than victims of the conflict.
The most direct and immediate reaction is a humanitarian one, with much evidence of a wide
variety of responses from straightforward fundraising to more complex support strategies. Some
fundraising focuses upon very basic needs such as food. Some respondents felt there was a need
to ensure humanitarian support was given in a transparent and independent manner. According
to one participant, ‘because there has been a lot of misuse of grants in the past… we try to be
completely transparent.’ He added,
‘…we especially avoid anyone with political motives… [because] we have to work with the
authorities in Sri Lanka… so they should not have any suspicion of us… the persons who are
receiving [the aid] need to know that we are doing it for their welfare and not for political
One method to try to ensure independence and transparency, while also tackling the issue of
isolation and displacement, has been to channel support directly from family to family between
the UK and back home. As one participant put it,
‘…sometimes the fundraising gets into the wrong hands, you know, any community you find
that, so what we are doing is we are linking one-to-one, pick one family from there in need
of support, and ask here if anybody would like to support.’
A similar scheme sponsored by Tamil Christian congregations was mentioned by a pastor we spoke
to: ‘we have another programme connecting families to families here and in Sri Lanka… it can
be monitored by our church workers there.’ Another response we were told of involved medical
resources, including the supply of prosthetic limbs and visits made by UK-based plastic surgeons.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
Participants spoke of attempts to support economic regeneration. As one participant put it,
much of the north east has been reduced to a ‘self-reliant economy’ and so many in the diaspora
are trying to support micro-level forms of regeneration that may involve simple solutions such
as providing sewing machines to women who have lost their homes or basic livestock such as
chickens to families who have been driven from their land.
The political response of those we spoke to focuses on spreading awareness of the plight of the
Tamils in the UK, through political lobbying and campaigning. The existence of a small number
of elected Tamil MPs in Sri Lanka was cited as a resource for these activities:
‘There we have about 14 MPs, parliamentarians… Those MPs are all from one party. One
party means it is a coalition. Like three or four parties together, it’s called the “Tamil National
Alliance (TNA)”… So we have a branch here of the TNA. So to that extent we have links.’
Tamils in our study provide practical support to their parliamentarians when they visit Europe
and work closely with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils who take a close interest in
the situation in Sri Lanka. Some respondents felt there had been a small shift in the attitudes of
Western governments post-2009 concerning the transition towards peace and democracy in Sri
‘The Canadian prime minister openly said… they should be brought to investigation for war
crimes. Even Britain has said… They supported thinking that he [the Sri Lankan President]
would bring the solution after the war. But he didn’t bring anything, now they have to do
something for the Tamil community because they can’t just say “sorry… just keep quiet”.
That is due to our lobbying and agitation.’
Political campaigning has been well organised by the Tamil community in the UK and has included
lobbying the Oxford Union in 2010 (the Oxford Union had invited the Sri Lankan President
Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the Union, which was cancelled due to security concerns posed by
the threat of protests by Tamil activists); blockading Parliament Square in Westminster in early
2009 to draw attention to the fighting in Sri Lanka; supporting boycotts of firms such as Marks
& Spencer because of their continued trade with Sri Lanka; and protesting against alleged war
crimes and human rights abuses by Sri Lankan armed forces.
International engagement on Sri Lanka
Many Tamils who took part in this research study expressed outrage at what they felt to be the
hypocrisy of the European response to the Sri Lankan government’s prosecution of the war in the
North and East of Sri Lanka. One man engaged in campaigning in the UK in the nal days of the
conflict reflected:
‘The international community said, you go and surrender, but what would happen to the
surrendered because of the violent nature of the [war]… We know what would happen to
them, it happens now, it is not a post-conflict, it is a post-war and the conflict is still there…’
Criticisms were made by participants of what was felt to be the softly, softly approach of the
international community in the application of the Geneva Convention to Sri Lanka. Comparisons
were often made between the West’s response to the Arab Spring and its response to the conflict
in Sri Lanka:
‘…but the West has to do a lot more because when it comes to Libya, when it comes to
Syria… you gather all the resources and hammer them hard… but we lost [people], [and]
there are… war widows… we don’t understand this, is it because we don’t have oil?’
30 International Alert
Finally, there were some expressions of optimism that the situation in Sri Lanka was slowly
coming to light. Participants expressed hope for an improving humanitarian situation and greater
accountability for events that took place during the war. As one participant put it, ‘we are
more hopeful now because of the slow process, we can see some light through the actions of
international humanitarian organisations…’
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
3. Engagement between diasporas and the UK and
EU governments on peacebuilding and development
The case studies demonstrate a depth of concern about peace and development “back home”
among the diaspora communities we spoke with. The question for desk officers with a mandate
for working on these countries is how best to harness this concern to inform and improve the
foreign and development policies of the UK and EU governments.20
At the centre of approaches to diaspora-policymaker engagement is a set of assumptions upon
which all the different groups involved base their interactions: assumptions desk officers make
about who and what different diasporas are and their ability to engage; and assumptions diaspora
groups and individuals make about what desk officers are able to do for them, and the ability
they have to influence events in the country of origin. This is often based upon inaccurate notions
of the value of engagement, the level of influence of each party and preconceived ideas about
These assumptions are partly shaped by the different cultural practices of engaging with “power”.
In some cases, desk officers talked of the lack of tailoring of responses and approaches to the
particular audience, for example, a minister would be approached in much the same way as
a desk officer. This deficit in culturally applicable advocacy skills is evident on the part of the
diaspora. To engage effectively is to engage on the terms and methods of the government.
In our interviews with diaspora groups, the level of frustration they felt with attempts to engage
the government on issues of concern came through strongly. The deficit in recognising and working
with different practices by desk officers is also evident. The easiest route to engagement is along
the cultural norms of the UK government, yet this does not harness the value that the diaspora can
bring effectively. Developing a solid understanding of the context from which the diaspora have
come and the context within which they sit is critical to being able to create the most constructive
methods of engagement.
This section explores this issue through interviews with desk officers from the UK and EU
governments, while also drawing on the case studies and survey. It looks at both diaspora
engagement with these desk officers and desk officer engagement with diaspora communities. It
does not look at the roles played by High Commissions in the countries of origin, for example,
the British High Commission in Nairobi or the European Commission in Sri Lanka.
3.1 Diaspora engagement with desk officers
For diaspora communities with connections to conflict-affected countries living in the UK,
relationships with the UK government are more often than not complex and difficult. As one
points out, ‘we were branded as terrorists… since the Twin Towers.’ Despite this, 35% of the
diasporas we surveyed said that they responded to events in their “home country” by lobbying for
political support.21 Such engagement is underpinned by their continuing experience both in the
20 In this section, we refer to teams by their country names for simplicity e.g. Sri Lanka desk. The official terms used are: for the FCO:
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives Team, South Asia Department; Pakistan Bi-lateral Team, South Asia Department; Somali Unit,
Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa Directorate. For DFID: Strategic Communications Team, Civil Society Department and Africa
Directorate, Africa Division. For European Commission, DEVCO: Desk Pakistan, Asia, Central Asia and Pacific; Geographical Coordination
for East and South Africa. For European Commission, EEAS: Division Horn of Africa, East Africa and Indian Ocean; Desk Sri Lanka; Desk
21 Survey Q26.
32 International Alert
“host” country and in relation to their “home” country. Their reasons for leaving, the prevailing
conditions “back home”, the level and type of international intervention, their level of belonging
in the UK and the challenges they do or don’t face in the UK.
Motivations for raising awareness of issues in the country of origin are varied. For some research
participants, it is a deep personal mission. For others, it is born out of a sense of obligation
to improve the situation back home, an opportunity for investment or a chance to support
development. Motivations can be broadly categorised as follows:
• To raise awareness of a particular issue of concern;
• To inuence UK/EU position on action towards the country of origin;
• To seek facilitation for investment routes; and
• To seek support for diaspora-led development in the country of origin.
The case studies reveal that participants have regular contact with their country of origin, keeping
them politically informed and engaged. This connection offers direct channels through which
diasporas can observe the impact and perceptions of UK and EU policies. In our survey, 38% of
the diasporas felt that UK and EU policies and interventions had a negative influence on events
in their country, with 16% disagreeing, believing the impact has been positive and 25% thinking
it is both positive and negative.22 Attitudes towards interventions varied from country to country
and across time, depending on how engaged or not the UK or EU government was on the issues
of concern to the diaspora and whether the UK or EU adopted a similar stance to the diaspora on
key issues (such as allegations of war crimes by government forces in Sri Lanka).
What has been clear from our conversations is that diaspora communities recognise that
engagement with the UK government, in particular, can offer opportunities for channels of
support that would not otherwise be available. On the other hand, discussions with desk officers
also indicated that there was often little awareness among diasporas of what international
intervention was actually taking place. This is evident in the case of DRC, for example, where
participants felt strongly that there was a lack of support for the country, although other
information demonstrates that DRC was the largest recipient of aid in 2010.23
Desk officers reported to us that engagement from the diaspora side can be sporadic and ad
hoc, making it difficult for the desk officer to know how to best engage. We were told that
diaspora engagement is formed around predominantly single-issue agendas, which do not take
into account either UK influence or policy priorities. Weak understanding of the mechanisms of
influence within government; what can and can’t be achieved; and how to go about it stunt the
effectiveness of engagement. This serves to reinforce the civil servant perception of a limited role
for diasporas and affects how strategic diaspora engagement is able to be.
Examples of the multiple and shifting agendas of diaspora groups were given to us by desk officers
as a barrier to better engagement. As such, there have been several endeavours to encourage
diaspora members to create platforms that bring together different interests in one voice. One of the
more prominent ones is Africa UK,24 supported by the Department for International Development
(DFID) as a mechanism to coordinate African diaspora approaches to policy and development.
This eases engagement for the desk officer side, but is not always the case on the diaspora side.
The varied motivations of diaspora members and groups do not lend themselves easily to the
creation of common platforms, particularly where there are more politically motivated agendas.
22 Survey Q19.
23 Global Humanitarian Assistance website, ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’, accessed 3rd September 2012. Available at http://www.
24 Africa UK website, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
From both the diaspora participants in the research and the desk officers, we heard of a number of
lobbying and campaigning strategies by diasporas in the UK. However, there is not much evidence
in our research of diasporas lobbying on EU strategies (although the Sri Lankan Tamil community
has demonstrated some capacity to target the European Parliament). This was reflected in the
interviews with desk officers in Brussels, who did not have the level of engagement that their
British counterparts did. It appears this is a channel often neglected by diaspora groups. One
desk officer in the EU talked about how diasporas could better exploit their Member of European
Parliament (MEP) to ensure that issues of concern are raised at a European level.
3.2 Desk officer engagement with diasporas
Approaches to engagement with diaspora communities differ across government departments in
the UK and in Brussels. Our interviewees on the UK side placed a value on engagement with their
respective diaspora groups. However, the level of priority and action given to this varied significantly
from practical need (due to the number of requests for information or the lobbying of constituency
MPs) to a strategic need (due to the priority of the “home” country for the UK and the size and
potential security risk of the resident diaspora population). The main approach to engagement was
described by desk officers as being for the purpose of harnessing knowledge and social and financial
capital for development purposes overseas. More specifically, the diaspora is regarded as:
A potential investment or nancial resource – increasing business relations, promoting
investments between countries, providing support through remittances;
A potential development channel providing mechanisms and resources for undertaking
A lobby group with specic interests/political allegiances tied to a “home” country that needs
to be responded to;
A recipient of and promoter for UK role overseas; and
A domestic security risk, or groups in contact with those vulnerable to being a security risk.
Out of the four countries we focused on, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Somalia
and Pakistan desks had embedded liaison with the diaspora as part of the job description of a
desk officer, demonstrating a higher priority of these diaspora groups to the UK both domestically
and in terms of foreign policy. Very recently (after our interviews took place in April and May
2012), the Sri Lanka desk appointed a civil servant with a brief including diaspora liaison.
In our interviews with Brussels desk officers and with the Sri Lanka and DRC FCO desks,
engagement was described as an additional component of their work, with minimal resources
behind it, which was juggled alongside competing demands. This does not mean that the diaspora
is not actively seeking out these desks; indeed, both the Congolese and Sri Lankan diasporas have
been very active at lobbying the UK government on issues concerning their country. It is more a
reflection of the low capacity for, or priority given to, engagement with diaspora groups.
Department for International Development (DFID)
Since its creation in 1997, DFID has worked to engage more effectively with diaspora groups.25
There have been endeavours at different points in time to increase understanding of diaspora
groups and their interaction with their country of origin and to explore ways to engage diasporas
in awareness of and development “back home”. This has comprised of different research and
mapping processes (often internal and so not available to us) as well as working groups and
roundtables around specific themes, such as remittances.26
25 Clare Short announced as part of its creation that DFID should endeavour to work with a wide range of civil society organisations, including
diaspora organisations.
26 DFID funded a Remittance Working Group in 2005 to explore remittances as ‘a fast and effective way of shifting resources to the developing
world’. UK Remittance Working Group 2005.
34 International Alert
As well as direct engagement through the Civil Society Challenge Fund and the Global Poverty Action
Fund, since 2009 DFID has supported diaspora organisations through Comic Relief’s Common
Ground Initiative. This programme works with diaspora organisations to undertake development
projects in “home” countries in Africa.27 Indeed, much (but not all) of DFID engagement was
described to us as focusing on the African diaspora – mainly because this is the continent where
most of their support goes. For example, in 2011 DFID held a number of events involving African
diaspora groups designed to explore how DFID and diaspora organisations might work better
together in the future. One such event was a roundtable (November 2011) organised by the Business
Action for Africa, and included representatives from the African diaspora and other organisations.
This looked at supporting more strategic engagement through business links with Africa. However,
the desk officer we interviewed told us that the initiative has slowed down due to a lack of clear
objectives arising from the events and low capacity within the team to work on this.
DFID officials highlighted a number of challenges when engaging with diaspora organisations.
For example, diaspora groups often work with specific communities in the areas from which they
originate, which are not necessarily the communities that DFID works with, partly due to higher
levels of development in these areas. This results in less opportunity for convergence between
diaspora interests and DFID priorities. It is unlikely that this would be the case for a number of
the diaspora participants in this research who originated from conflict-affected areas where there
are high levels of humanitarian and development need. It therefore raises the question of whether
these groups approach formal DFID mechanisms for support and/or whether DFID’s scope of
engagement is able to encompass these groups. Where there is a cross-over in geographical focus,
working with diasporas as a vehicle for development was acknowledged as beneficial. We were
told by a DFID official it is ‘where their hearts belong’, and so the motivation, energy and potential
for engagement is high.
An additional area of relevance for DFID is in working with diaspora groups to help communicate
its UK Aid policies and to raise awareness of the context in countries in which they are present.
The DRC case study is one example of the gap between perceived and actual engagement in
development support (the participants believe that DRC is a low development priority for the
UK). There is therefore some way to go to change popular perceptions. DFID officials described
the work they did investigating diaspora media to ascertain key media outlets, networks and
individuals for engaging diaspora communities. They then used these channels, for example, to
put out messages about the Pakistani floods. They believe this worked well in terms of raising
awareness of the humanitarian crisis and mobilising financial support. In the Pakistan case study,
participants mention the call for support around the crisis but do not attribute any of this to
DFID. Again, there appears to be a gap in communication on the role of the UK government.
Other topics DFID is interested in broaching are more “difficult” issues such as sexual violence
in DRC. Our case study on DRC interviewed women who campaign on sexual violence and
look for, but are unaware of, strategic alliances with government around this issue. This offers
potential opportunities for collaboration in this area.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
The nature of engagement of the FCO with diasporas differs across the country teams we
spoke with and is particular to the specific country contexts in which they work. Despite this,
all interviewees mentioned that, while they did not know how extensive the influence of the
diaspora was in their countries of origin, they have a strong “hunch” that influence exists. The
level and depth of impact in the country of origin is something that the UK government needs to
understand if diaspora engagement is to benefit development and peacebuilding processes in the
country of origin.
27 Comic Relief website, ‘Common Ground Initiative’, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
One of the focuses of the FCO Pakistan desk is on increasing the information flow to the diaspora
about positive interventions in Pakistan. They have a number of outreach projects, working
predominantly through digital media, to promote positive relations between the UK and Pakistan,
for example, using video blogs and social media through the “celebrating connections” project
that targets the younger age group,28 or the campaign “Speaking up for Pakistan: What would
you say? Join the video debate”,29 which is an attempt to raise the profile of the UK’s wider
engagement in Pakistan beyond the US and UK political engagement that we heard about in the
case study. However, this type of engagement remains problematic and controversial. The desk
officer we spoke with recognises that the many roles the UK plays in Pakistan complicate the
UK’s relationship with the diaspora. The impact interventions in Pakistan have on the domestic
security agenda add to this complexity, highlighted in the case study where participants described
feeling under surveillance because of their identity as Pakistani Muslims.
It might be partly due to this suspicion that the majority of the Pakistani diaspora that approach
the FCO tend to come from a business background and have an investment interest in Pakistan.
It was described to us that these groups argue for an equal relationship on a trade footing, rather
than engagement on aid or development. During the visit of the Pakistani foreign minister in early
2012, the message carried by the diaspora was for a focus on “trade not aid”. This aligns with
the interests of the UK government in increasing avenues for investment overseas and, as a result,
there is a significant amount of engagement around diaspora investment through formal groups
such as the Pakistan–Britain Trade and Investment Forum. The FCO team provides information
and contacts but it is UK Trade and Investment that take these relationships forward.
Outside of the investment forum, we did hear about the contact that various diaspora groups
and individuals have made with the FCO. The desk officer described this type of engagement as
being divided equally between formal and non-formal groups. Agendas and approaches differ
widely and, we were told, could be formed around very specific requests for specific communities
or broader desires such as creating better relations within Pakistan. The range of issue areas
make it difficult for the FCO to engage strategically with diasporas on these matters. Trying to
identify the right individuals and groups to work with was identified as a key challenge, given the
minimal resources available to support work and the lack of knowledge about group formations,
backgrounds and agendas.
The evidence of strong connections and links “back home” was described as an asset, in particular
because of the extensive diaspora media broadcasting in both countries. While this is currently
not harnessed for development or peacebuilding purposes, the desk officer suggested that this
could be a channel through which to influence processes.
The FCO Sri Lanka desk at the time of the interview did not have anyone with a specific mandate
for engagement with the diaspora. This obviously limits the nature and extent of engagement
that can take place. However, as we heard in the case study, the Tamil diaspora, in particular, is
very well organised in lobbying and campaigning on issues concerning Sri Lanka both directly
and through MPs. These were most often around allegations that the Sri Lankan armed forces
had committed war crimes and human rights abuses. Much of the time, the response of the
FCO Sri Lanka desk is reactive, responding to pressure from MPs and lobby groups rather than
proactively seeking engagement. Typical forms of engagement are through letters, meetings and,
on occasion, reaching out to diaspora groups. For example, they invited the diaspora to a meeting
to discuss the findings of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee and the Channel 4
documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.
28 FCO website, ‘Celebrating Connections’, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
29 FCO website, ‘Speaking up for Pakistan: voices from the UK’, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
36 International Alert
The FCO Sri Lanka desk does see a value and need to engage the diaspora on peacebuilding in
Sri Lanka. It uses the Conflict Prevention Pool to fund a programme of work delivered through
International Alert with the Sri Lankan diaspora to support peace processes in Sri Lanka through
expanding the channels for engagement on peace and development and engaging the second-
generation diaspora in this process. However, the FCO Sri Lanka desk does not always harness
this to its advantage. We were told, for example, that these newer players had not yet been
included in discussions with the diaspora. Nor were resources developed by NGOs that provide
information about group formations within the diaspora being used. Instead, the default was
towards engaging with the same groups that approach them, rather than seeking out different
actors. In the interview, we were told that this was due to the limited capacity of staff and
resources, but that there was the intention to redress this and to increase their understanding of
how the diaspora operates and develop their approach to engagement.
The FCO Somali desk emphasised the importance of the diaspora as a political actor in its
own right. The desk officer informed us that four of the ministers of the Transitional Federal
Government are British passport holders. A number of broadcasting stations active in the UK
are headed by a Somali diaspora member and the diaspora is already engaged in business, social,
cultural and development activities in Somalia with remittances estimated at between $1.3 and
$2.2 billion annually.30 The desk officer was clear that the FCO needs to be both aware of and
engaged with these developments in order to identify the best way to work with the diaspora.
A major focus of this engagement in 2011–12 was around the London Conference on Somalia
chaired by the Prime Minister. A number of satellite events were organised to engage the Somali
diaspora around this event, including a day-long event at Chatham House in February 2012,
together with a number of closed and open meetings surrounding this with the diaspora to jointly
explore future possibilities for Somalia.31 This included a roundtable, a reception hosted by the
Foreign Secretary the night before the conference and a meeting with the Prime Minister at 10
Downing Street. The desk officer told us of the huge amount of outreach to the community this
entailed to gather people’s views and inputs to feed into events, the focus of which was to listen
to the diaspora’s experiences, thoughts and opinions on ways forward for Somalia.
The FCO sees a need to engage the diaspora on policy partly because, we heard, they don’t
have access on the ground in Somalia in many areas and want a link to the knowledge that
the diaspora holds. However, despite all the outreach described above, it was noted that, with
an absence of information about British foreign policy, what tended to fill the vacuum were
rumours and conspiracy theories that are counterproductive to engagement. The FCO believes
that this vacuum needs to be filled with accurate information and, the desk officer argued, ‘policy
engagement needs to be a two-way street with the Somali diaspora helping to inform British
policy and the FCO explaining what this is.’
This is complicated – as highlighted by the Somali case study – by the diaspora coming under the
domestic security lens in the UK. Such attention has led to grievances relating to the perceived
severity of justice meted out to Somali young men, the intensity of surveillance of the community
and the failure of the government to provide adequate support around needs such as education (the
lack of language provision, in particular, was emphasised by both the desk officer and diaspora
research participants as a barrier to integration). Understanding and addressing the continuum of
experience of the diaspora (i.e. what happens domestically affects international engagement and
vice versa) would appear key to working effectively alongside the diaspora for peacebuilding and
30 L. Hammond, M. Awad, A.I. Dagane, et al (2011). Cash and compassion: the role of the Somali diaspora in relief, development and peace-
building. United Nations Development Programme. Available at
31 FCO website, ‘Conference on Somalia’, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
The FCO DRC desk appeared the least well resourced to engage with or respond to the diaspora.
Despite this, the desk officer interviewed emphasised that engagement was important and was
sought out where possible. For example, a meeting was organised after the DRC elections in
November 2011 to gather the perspectives of the diaspora. The heightened level of emotions and
the strong allegiances that people held made this a very challenging event for both government
officials and diaspora members. This was coupled with a myriad of different groups approaching
the UK government, posing difficulties in knowing whom to invite and when. Moving forward
with engagement would require a deeper understanding of the different types of groups and
agendas within the Congolese diaspora in order to know who to engage on different issues.
The European Commission in Brussels
This institution had quite a different response overall to diaspora engagement. A Parliamentary
Assembly of Council of Europe recognised the need for working with diasporas as follows:
‘…the interaction between migration and development could be most successfully achieved
through co-development policies… co-development policies aimed at involving migrants as
actors of development who strengthen cooperation between home and host society should be
actively promoted at the EU level.’32
However, this commitment was not echoed in conversations with desk officers in Development and
Cooperation – EuropeAid (DEVCO) or European External Action Service (EEAS). The majority
of civil servants interviewed did not place a great value on diaspora engagement. This was partly
because diaspora representatives are not as common in Brussels, due to the first port of call being
host-country governments and the activities of Brussels seeming one step further removed. As a
result, relationships with diasporas are considered marginal and take place when diaspora groups
and individuals seek out meetings, rather than being instigated by the departments themselves.
Desk officers thought that the best way to engage would be through MEPs or through the in-
country European Commission office rather than at a Brussels level. Where this differed was in
the case of the EEAS Horn of Africa team, which covers Somalia, which recognised the Somali
diaspora as a key stakeholder in the development and conflict dynamics of Somalia and, as such,
had increased its capacity to understand and liaise with the Somali diaspora.
Collaborating across departments
Interviews with desk officers often highlighted a lack of awareness of what counterparts in other
government departments had done, were doing or were planning. At the same time, desk officers
expressed an interest in learning about approaches colleagues had taken and taking lessons from
this. Large bodies of knowledge and experience have been gathered within different parts of the
UK government. However, pulling this together centrally, coordinating existing and developing
knowledge and even sharing approaches that are taking place rarely happens outside of the higher-
profile events such as DFID’s roundtable on diaspora business engagement in winter 201133 or the
Somali conference in February 2012.34
An exception to this was the Somali desk, which chairs a cross-departmental working group
designed to bring together different government approaches to Somali engagement in the UK.
This highlights the fact that collaboration across the UK government could be developed more
strategically. A strong domestic agenda helps to drive this, and the additional interest in resident
Somalis from a Home Office counter-insurgency perspective, in addition to the foreign focus,
32 D. Ionescu (2006). Engaging diasporas as development partners for home and destination countries: challenges for policy makers. IOM
Migration Research Series, No. 26. Geneva. p.25.
33 In 2011 DFID held a number of events involving African diaspora groups designed to explore how DFID and diaspora organisations might
work better together in the future. One such event was a roundtable held on 24th November, organised by the Business Action for Africa,
and included representatives from the African diaspora and other organisations.
34 Chatham House website, ‘International engagement on Somalia’, accessed 2nd August 2012. Available at
38 International Alert
pushes this diaspora group up the list of priorities. This, in itself, carries complications. It
underpins engagement with a level of suspicion and information gathering, which, in turn, risks
changing the nature of the way in which the diaspora interacts with government. An echo across
the Somali, Pakistani and Sri Lankan case studies was fear and mistrust of what is often perceived
as a double agenda of the government in its engagement. This restricted interest and access for
engagement and limits the possibilities for cooperation.
3.3 A partnership approach?
While motivations for engagement are diverse, the notion of diasporas as peacebuilding or
development partners was absent from most of our discussions with desk officers in Brussels
and the UK. Diasporas were more readily perceived by our interviewees as having the potential
to affect development on the ground at a micro level than being able to affect policy or politics.
Interviewees spoke of their engagement with diasporas being fed into strategic discussions
around policy development. However, this was presented as an added extra to other forms of
engagement rather than a purpose in itself. Mechanisms that could have supported channels for
policy engagement, such as DFID’s Country Assistance Plans, have, we were told by interviewees,
dispensed with civil society consultation, effectively closing a formal mechanism for engagement.
Despite this, there remain ways for diasporas to potentially influence policy. One such means
is through the advocacy strand of the DFID-supported Common Ground Initiative. This offers
opportunities for diasporas to influence UK development debates and international development
practice. The European Commission’s increased prioritisation of civil society consultation offers
another such potential opportunity for better engagement. This, however, will require first a shift
in approach from desk officers to recognise diasporas as a legitimate stakeholder in development
and peacebuilding.
The diasporas often saw the government as an actor to be critiqued, lobbied or engaged with
on particular issues rather than partnered with. A shift by both parties in their approach could
enable the integration of diaspora engagement into broader development policies that would
place diasporas at the crossroads between “home” and “host” interests and look to marry these.35
This has the potential to lead to a useful channelling of both the financial and social capital of
diasporas. However, this picture is somewhat more complicated when conflict is taking place
within the country of origin. In these circumstances, the legitimacy of engaging with the “home”
country government can be questioned by parts of the diaspora. Furthermore, political allegiance,
direct experience and ongoing concerns regarding the welfare of friends and family “back home”
challenge the suitability of having a genuine shared development or peacebuilding approach
between “host”, “home” and the diaspora.
Despite these added complications, “host” governments have the ability to change the structures
available for diaspora contributions in such a way as to channel these contributions towards
peacebuilding.36 This would include ensuring that partnerships are made with individuals and
groups in diasporas that promote peace, supporting engagement with the country of origin and
working in partnership with diasporas to ensure applying the right policy at the right time both
“in origin and in destination countries”.37
35 D. Ionescu (2006). Op. cit. p.21.
36 H. Smith and P. Stares (Eds) (2007). Diasporas in conflict: peace-makers or peace-wreckers? New York: United Nations University. p.12.
37 Khalid Koser in Ibid. p.12.
Voices across borders: Policymakers and diasporas in the UK working for peace and development
4. Recommendations
This report demonstrates the immediacy of impact that events in the country of origin have on
life in the UK for diaspora communities. It also highlights the lines of influence and interaction
between these communities and the country of origin. The conventional borders that demarcate
our sense of place, belonging and engagement do not apply to these communities. Being able to
both understand and engage with the complexity of the diaspora experience can be an important
contribution to peacebuilding practice in conflict-affected countries overseas.
The interviews conducted with diaspora members highlighted ongoing interest, concern and
anxiety related to these contexts. This intersects to differing degrees with policymakers who
have a responsibility for international engagement in the countries concerned. If at the basis
of their engagement is a concern for improving the impact of peacebuilding and development
interventions in DRC, Pakistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka, then seeking collaboration offers the
opportunity to utilise knowledge, skills and experience. Such collaboration can deepen the impact
of interventions for both groups. The following recommendations are made to support this:
For policymakers:
Policymakers face the challenge of acknowledging the diverse nature of different diaspora groups.
Working towards engagements formed around collaboration and partnership would harness
more effectively the skills, knowledge and connections that diasporas bring. Policymakers should:
Map and analyse the different diaspora groups, their agendas and relationships with their
country of origin in order to be able to establish appropriate partnerships with individuals
and groups.
Information about diasporas accumulates, yet analysis remains in shorter supply. At the same
time our research demonstrated a lack of evidence around the impact of diaspora intervention in
the country of origin. Policymakers should:
Better utilise and analyse existing information within and outside of government to improve
understanding and build a case for partnership with diasporas.
Engagement is framed through a development lens, an information lens, a security/diplomacy lens
or a single country lens. In reality, all these dimensions overlap. The research demonstrates the
fluidity of connections and experiences in the UK and overseas. Policymakers should:
Collaborate across government to assess the impact that both domestic and foreign policy
have on the diaspora experience and the implications of this for peacebuilding.
For the diaspora member:
Approaching engagement as collaboration is also necessary from the diaspora side in order to
improve the quality and impact of engagement. The diaspora should:
Strengthen ways of presenting the diversity of diaspora interests and needs so that policymakers
can more easily engage; and
Seek to better understand the policies and priorities of the UK and EU governments in order
to identify the fit with diaspora priorities.
40 International Alert
Engagement is framed through single-issue lenses or focused on a specific place or region in the
country of origin. Broadening this out to look at supporting development and peace across the
country, rather than where individual allegiances lie, can generate a more sustainable and far-
reaching impact. The diaspora should:
Engage on peace and development interventions in regions that have the greatest need in
addition to places with personal connections.
Walking in the Dark: Informal Cross-border Trade in the Great Lakes Region
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This book is an interdisciplinary examination of several interconnecting aspects of migrant communities in the context of contemporary conflict and security. The book illustrates that within this globalised world, migrants have become key actors, living in the spaces between states, as well as within them. Arguing that migrants and their descendants are vital and complex constituencies for the achievement of security in this global age, the volume uses a number of case studies, including Palestinian, Sri Lankan, Irish and Somali diaspora communities, to explore the different ways that such groups intersect with issues of security, and how these attitudes and behaviours have evolved in the context of political transnationalism and the global economy. Comparative and econometric studies of migration can provide a wide lens but at times fail to capture the depth and complexity of these communities and attitudes within them. At the same time, empirically focused studies are often case-specific and, while rich in local detail, lack comparative breadth or the ability to make connections and see irregularities across a number of contexts that might be of interest to scholars beyond that specific area. This book connects these literatures together more thoroughly. In particular, it demonstrates that political, cultural, economic and social factors all play important roles in helping us understand the actual (and potential) roles of migrant communities in conflict and the establishment of sustainable security within contemporary society. Lastly, given this context, the book seeks to examine the challenges and opportunities that exist, for such a sustainable security strategy to be developed. This book will be of much interest to students of migration and diaspora communities, peace and conflict studies, security studies and ethnic conflict.
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