Refugee Week: Why our welcome has to be more than words

As Refugee Week begins, Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, looks at why welcoming refugees to Birmingham has to be more than just a greeting.

Birmingham is a friendly city, proud of the warm welcome it offers to people from all corners of the globe, but in Refugee Week it’s worth pondering what we are doing to help new arrivals settle and make their own stories here.

Not only do we live in the most ethnically diverse city in the UK, with a population made up of 187 nationalities, but Birmingham is also a City of Sanctuary, offering a place of safety to all – including refugees from war-torn areas.

However, the challenges they face when arriving in the West Midlands put them at risk of exploitation - as they may face challenges in finding work, lack knowledge of public health messages or awareness of their rights needed to access services effectively.

So our welcome has to be more than just a greeting: it must mean inclusion, participation, recognition and appreciation. So being able to support newly arrived communities in the city, enabling employers to tap into their potential and helping migrants to play an active role in their local community and economy is vital. 

Later today I’m looking forward to meeting some inspiring people, each with different stories and backgrounds, who have truly carved out their own success stories since arriving in Birmingham. Omran Al Habbal is just one example, arrived in the UK in 2012, then came here as a refugee to study three years ago – he set up his own business platform, is a director of a creative agency and also mentors future entrepreneurs at Aston University. 

As well as helping new arrivals develop and hone new employment skills, our welcome must also be about helping them to find opportunities that fit with their existing experience, qualifications and skills.

National research commissioned by the Centre for Entrepreneurs revealed migrant entrepreneurs are responsible for creating one in seven jobs and for businesses that have created 14 per cent of all British jobs.

Similarly 40 per cent of doctors registered in the UK have overseas qualifications - which is a reminder of how vital the migrant workforce is to the health service, think back to the Caribbean nurses who played a critical part in the NHS’s early workforce

To help open the doors to such opportunities, we are working with regional partners involved in MiFriendly Cities, a regional initiative launched in March 2018. This forms part of the work we do to support migrants arriving and establishing themselves in the West Midlands. Eleven partners from public, private and voluntary sectors in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton are working together to unlock opportunities for refugees and migrants, and to enable communities to recognise the benefits migration brings when this is done well.

A series of events are being staged across the city during Refugee Week (17-23 June) celebrating the skills and talents within these communities, as well as highlighting the challenges they face. For more information visit the Refugee Week website:

This post was published on 17 June 2019

Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.


The blog of Birmingham City Council

Recent posts



Social Links