Refugee Council’s Enver Solomon: ‘Management is one thing you’re continuously making an attempt to enhance’



Since Enver Solomon turned chief govt of the Refugee Council in December 2020, Kabul has fallen to the Taliban and Russia has invaded Ukraine, each scary a flood of refugees. Twenty-seven folks, together with three youngsters, drowned when their boat capsized crossing from France to England in November final 12 months. The UK parliament handed the Nationality and Borders Act, which penalises asylum-seekers who don’t come to Britain immediately from their dwelling international locations. And the UK authorities launched its plan to deport migrants to Rwanda — though that is at the moment being challenged within the Excessive Courtroom.

“It’s been a rare interval,” Solomon says. He had been warned that UK refugee work could be intense. “However this has been like no different interval in current instances.”

We’re talking in his North London household kitchen. The first college class photograph and instances tables charts tacked to the partitions communicate of a home normality far faraway from the phobia of these risking their lives to achieve UK shores.

The Channel crossings — greater than 28,000 folks have made the crossing in small boats up to now this 12 months — offered a lot of the impetus for the UK authorities’s current actions. However whereas Solomon describes the Nationality and Borders Act as “one of the crucial vital items of laws regarding asylum, refugees and immigration for a lot of, a few years” and the Rwanda plan as “a watershed second”, successfully outsourcing an essential authorities function to a different nation, he says it might be mistaken to dismiss folks’s worries concerning the enhance in Channel crossings.

“It’s no good occurring the radio and saying the numbers of individuals making an attempt to return to the UK isn’t an issue. As a result of then folks will instantly not interact with you in the event that they assume it’s a drawback. So you need to assume very fastidiously about the way you talk.”

The Refugee Council — an impartial charity arrange in 1951 — offered help, assist into employment and English language and vocational coaching to fifteen,000 refugees final 12 months. It additionally campaigns for a extra humane method to those that have fled their international locations. Solomon believes 25-30 per cent of the UK’s inhabitants are sympathetic to refugees. The same quantity are implacably opposed. His goal is to deal with the 40-50 per cent within the center, the folks he calls “persuadable”, who’re anxious about numbers, however are sometimes supportive of refugees in their very own communities.

What does he say to those that are genuinely puzzled that individuals make life-threatening journeys to the UK from France, a secure and democratic nation? Many risking the crossing have household or mates within the UK, he says. France has practically twice as many asylum seekers because the UK; Germany 3 times. We additionally have to keep in mind that most refugees don’t get so far as France or the UK. The most important numbers find yourself in international locations subsequent to their very own: Ukrainians in Poland, Afghans in Pakistan, Syrians in Lebanon.

How would he cope with the Channel crossings? It wants detailed, affected person work, he says: easing restrictions on household reunions, offering humanitarian visas and dealing with the French authorities in opposition to people-smuggling gangs. “However there aren’t any magic single silver bullets. And that’s the issue: the federal government is flailing round and it’s overpromising and in the end underdelivering.”

Solomon’s path to leadership started when, after a decade as a BBC journalist, he determined to grow to be extra concerned within the causes he had been creating programmes about. He did a collection of jobs in jail reform and kids’s charities, some in staff management positions. In 2018, he turned the chief govt of Only for Youngsters Regulation, which gives authorized help and advocacy to younger folks.

He had ready for this primary chief govt function for some time, working with an govt coach. “I’m an enormous fan [of coaching] as a result of I feel management is one thing that you simply’re continuously making an attempt to enhance,” he says. “It’s one thing that you simply by no means grasp. You’re at all times making an attempt to study, take up, give it some thought otherwise. It provides you unimaginable insights into your self as an individual.”

Three questions for Enver Solomon

Who’s your management hero?

Pep Guardiola. I used to go and watch Manchester Metropolis as a child and we at all times misplaced. I’ve considered what one can study from Guardiola’s management type. When Man Metropolis lose or do badly, the very first thing he says is how sensible his gamers are. He won’t ever, ever brazenly criticise them. And he’s at all times making an attempt to consider how they are often higher. He’s among the best of his technology, however he’s completely modest about it.

What was the primary management lesson you learnt?

Once I labored with Martin Nary when he was chief govt of Barnardo’s, I learnt that management is about being sensible with folks. Martin was at all times interested by constructing relationships, giving folks time, and being personable. And he was at all times interested by interested by how he communicated as a pacesetter, internally and externally. Within the voluntary sector I don’t assume we predict sufficient concerning the significance of being an exterior in addition to an inside communicator. If we’re going to advance our trigger, we actually want to consider how we speak about it publicly.

Should you weren’t CEO, what would you be?

I’d in all probability nonetheless be a journalist. Lots of people within the voluntary sector see the journalists because the opposition. Once I was working in jail reform and legal justice, there have been folks within the sector who hated the media, who thought all of them believed in locking everybody up. We all know we ought to be participating with politicians and resolution makers and funders. We should always see journalists and nationwide newspaper editors as simply as essential.

To be a very good chief, he believes the largest problem is that “you need to take into consideration who you’re as an individual. And that may take you to locations that you simply won’t have explored earlier than”.

He says, for instance, that management is “relational”. “It’s about the way you reply to different folks. So the way you would possibly reply to battle, or the way you would possibly reply to troublesome conditions, is a mirrored image of who you’re as an individual. That comes from experiences again in childhood, the way you’ve been parented, your individual relationships,” he says. Should you reply to somebody who challenges your management in a defensive method, that is likely to be due to how issues occurred in your individual household.

He says that when he first began main groups, he was much less open to understanding who he was as an individual and fewer open to understanding learn how to react to folks. “It actually made me take into consideration how I cope with problem, and you can’t simply push ahead your view,” he provides. “You need to try to take heed to folks, you need to perceive the place they’re from.”

The place Solomon is from is a cause he utilized to steer the Refugee Council. His father’s household had been Jewish refugees who arrived on Merseyside from Japanese Europe on the flip of the twentieth century. His maternal grandmother, an Indian Muslim from Gujarat, was despatched to South Africa for an organized marriage. The household there have been anti-apartheid activists. Solomon’s Johannesburg-born mom labored as a social employee with Winnie Mandela in Soweto earlier than emigrating to the UK, the place she met his father, additionally a social employee and later a lecturer.

Rising up mixed-race in Manchester, Solomon says he was taunted in school. At present, his surname attracts antisemitic feedback on Twitter. As a journalist, he performed down his mixed-race heritage. “Once I was on the BBC, I used to be decided to not be the group affairs reporter that reported on race and race relations.” However when he arrived on the Refugee Council, he felt it was essential to establish himself as its first ethnic minority chief govt.

“I haven’t gone by means of the asylum system, however I’ve received refugee blood, in the event you like, or the historical past of it in my household. It issues that you simply’re not white on this sector, as a result of race is a matter. The racialised nature of our method to asylum and refugees and immigration on this nation may be very distinguished. So immediately I discovered myself in a job the place it issues and I ought to be happy with it and speak about it.”

As to how he talks to that center group of “persuadables”, he provides that they care about equity and effectivity. “Individuals assume it’s completely proper that individuals are handled pretty and given a good listening to. Persons are additionally very dedicated to the notion that there must be order,” he says.

That there are greater than 100,000 folks awaiting a call, that tens of hundreds are ready over six months and hundreds ready two, three years, even as much as 5 years, is, he says, chaotic. “And other people need a system that’s environment friendly and orderly and works properly — like they do with any public service.”

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