COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Asylum seeker project launches

JOHN PLUMMER

Oxfam has been awarded £60,000 from Comic Relief to give media training to asylum seekers.

The two-year funding will pay for refugee worker Vanessa Bucolli to run classes that aim to show asylum seekers how to stand up for themselves in the press against negative stereotypes. Bucolli, whose post has been funded for two years, will hold the first two courses in January.

"We will train them on how the media works in the UK and on issues such as how to prepare for interviews or how to write press releases," she said.

"We want to empower asylum seekers to be able to respond to the kind of inflammatory articles that sometimes appear."

Bucolli's appointment is the result of an ongoing collaboration in Wales between charities, Cardiff University's School of Journalism and local authorities in Wales to promote positive images of asylum seekers. The charities involved are Oxfam, Save the Children, Amnesty International, the Welsh Refugee Council and Displaced People in Action.

They formed a media working group three years ago when the first asylum seekers moved to Wales. Bucolli's appointment is another step in its mission to represent positively the 1,500 refugees who now live in the area.

Each course will train around a dozen people, who will be a mixture of refugees and representative groups. Bucolli says she is prepared to court unpopularity if the popular media attacks the distribution of Comic Relief money for such a purpose. "We have to stand up for what is right," she says. "If there is some kind of backlash we will address it - I'm perfectly comfortable with what we are doing."

When journalists call Welsh asylum groups, they will be directed to media-savvy asylum seekers, who will also be more proactive in securing favourable coverage.

For Oxfam, membership of the working group dovetails with its UK poverty programme that was established five years ago in addition to its core overseas work.

Oxfam spokesman Richard Jones said: "All the people talking about asylum seekers are white, middle class do gooders and it's time the people who are directly affected had a voice."

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