“In a World that is often unkind to people of African descent, it is important to remind everyone of the value that we have added and continue to add to the World. It would be truly devastating to imagine a World where Black people never existed, and our contributions were completely erased.” – Victor
To mark Black History Month, Victor Iringere shares his story of resilience to inspire other migrants to never lose hope.
Victor travelled from Nigeria to the UK in 2013, excited to attend university in a new country. During his 4 years as a student, he was able to come out and live openly as a gay man for the first time. Happy to return to Nigeria, Victor was dismayed to find he no longer felt at home, with his life even threatened due to his sexuality. Conflicted but concerned for his safety, Victor made the hard decision to seek asylum when he returned for his graduation ceremony. Although he would miss his home, he had no doubt he could no longer stay there.
As a student coming to the UK Victor had faced very few challenges. He found the country welcoming and excelled in his learning. However, returning as an asylum seeker was a new process. He now found the UK a very unsympathetic environment.
“While I had been treated with dignity and respect as a student, I was treated with suspicion and hostility as an asylum seeker”
In the UK, asylum seekers are unable to work. As a result, Victor faced destitution, sleeping in a night shelter.
“My mental health deteriorated as I tried to fight to gain status in a country that had once been the place where I felt the most free in the World – where I learned to love myself and live unapologetically”
The country that taught him that ‘his rights mattered’ was the same country now treating him like an outcast. Victor was shocked at how the label ‘asylum seeker’ had changed everything for him. He was left feeling distraught and depressed.
Victor started to attend a support group for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers – ‘OUT in the UK’. It was here that he first discovered the MiFriendly Cities project. Determined to make the West Midlands migrant friendly, project staff talked to the support group about getting involved in its activities.
In the lead up to Refugee Week and Pride 2019, MiFriendly Cities project partner Migrant Voice delivered a special Media Lab session for ‘OUT in the UK’ members. Media Labs empower migrants by providing training in communications tools including social media, film making and podcasting. This helps to ensure that policymakers and the public hear migrant voices and the issues that affect them.
Wanting to use his voice to tell the stories of asylum seekers in the UK and having “immensely enjoyed” his experience at the Media Lab, Victor returned to further sessions. His aim was to bring to the fore the things that people like himself go through, which most of the population are unaware of.
Along the way, Victor was happy to make friends with a common understanding.
“It was refreshing to talk to people who had an understanding and empathy for the issues I had faced”
After finally receiving refugee status in 2019, Victor was driven to make a difference in the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. He applied to be a Co-ordinator for Spring Action Cleaning, a local social enterprise. The enterprise was supported with funding by MiFriendly Cities to deliver a cleaning service and help migrants through training and employment.
With his application successful, his role focused on relaunching the social enterprise following the MiFriendly Cities funding. In order to achieve this, he created a strategy to make the business more sustainable and profitable. This allowed him to make huge progress for Spring Action Cleaning, moving towards more automated administrative functions to free up resources, introducing new HR processes, upskilling the cleaning operatives and securing new contracts. All his hard work paid off, increasing Spring Action Cleaning’s quarter-on-quarter income significantly and providing a secure foundation for future growth.
Victor also hosted a relaunch event as part of the CWChamber’s Business Festival, and delivered a session targeted at business owners and executives within Coventry. He used this to showcase how businesses can diversify and increase revenue by utilising the power of entrepreneurship, and to raise awareness of Spring Action Cleaning’s service.
With Spring Action Cleaning expanding successfully and still inspired to support migrants, Victor focused his attention elsewhere. He secured a job as Co-Ordinator of the night shelter where he had once found solace as a destitute asylum seeker, whilst also finding employment as a MiFriendly Cities project manager at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre. This diverse role has allowed him to really showcase his skillset. He supports the communications staff, employment brokering, various social enterprises, manages the delivery of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the construction of a new purpose-built social enterprise and exhibition centre to support integration within the region.
As well as general management duties, he took a leadership role in Coventry to help manage a new health resource developed by MiFriendly Cities, called Community Health Champions – roles designed to support migrant communities and others with key health messages, support and advocacy, and to share understanding of how to access health services across the region.
For Victor, it feels like the difficulties he faced are now useful for helping others. In all his roles, Victor has helped clients apply for work, training opportunities, UASC and right to work applications, and offered a friendly face for those facing the same challenges he did as an asylum seeker in the city.
“It’s as simple as offering a hand of friendship and a hot meal”
“MiFriendly Cities has given me the tools I need to create the change I want to see in the World”.
Going forwards, Victor wants to help others by being vocal during Black History Month. He hopes to celebrate the achievements of role models that look like him and inspire him with greatness every day. Amongst these is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author. Her work has encouraged Victor to challenge the way he views himself and the World, for the better.
Above all, he wants to encourage others to embrace their history. Black people, like most people from ‘migrant backgrounds’, often have their individuality stripped away – encouraged to be like their new communities. Victor wants to raise awareness of this lost value, instead arguing that diversity brings amazing depth and richness.
“The diversity of [migrant] experiences and approaches to problem solving are an unequalled source of value that every community would be lucky to utilise”
His advice to other Black migrants or those struggling to ‘fit in’ in the UK?
“Do not be afraid. Do not cower in fear and silence. Seize every opportunity that is given to you and allow yourself to shine. Believe in your worth.”Back to news posts
This project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative.