Civil Society in the Spotlight: Francesca Humi from the Crossborder Forum

Civil Society in the Spotlight: Francesca Humi from the Crossborder Forum

Francesca Humi joined the Crossborder Forum (CBF), which is hosted at Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), in October 2022. The CBF is a space for civil society organisations and activists working on the UK-France-Belgium border to exchange information and expertise on ongoing cross-border migration and asylum issues and to build shared vision and action at the border.

Previously, Francesca worked at the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium on immigration casework for undocumented Filipino migrants and leading campaigns for the rights of migrant domestic workers and migrants with precarious immigration status. Before working in the migrants’ rights sector, she worked in peacebuilding in the Philippines and on inclusive education at LSE, where she also obtained an MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation.


1. What is the long-term vision the CBF holds? What are the key challenges to overcome?

In the long term, we aim to build the infrastructure and systems to sustain and support transnational collaboration and solidarity across civil society organisations and activists working on cross-border migration issues in Belgium, France, and the UK. We want to help ensure a transnational perspective and reach are accessible and systematic for people working and organising at the shared border.

CBF is still a relatively new space so a key challenge from this first year as a fully funded project was developing systems and processes whilst also growing the Forum and delivering core activities. Lack of capacity and high turn-over rates – especially for small, grassroots organisations in our network – is also a challenge to sustainable cross-border work we have faced. Finally, the Forum’s commitment to bilingual communication with resources dedicated to this have helped us overcome cultural and language barriers.


CBF banner making, faciliated by daikon* zine, and report launch, Dalston Solidarity Cafe, London, February 2023 (image credit: Crossborder Forum)


2. How has your previous casework and advocacy experience with the Filipino community in the UK influenced your work with the Forum?

In my previous role, my work was defined by the needs and interests of service users and community members. I learnt to understand and anticipate other people’s needs according to their situation, adjusting my work accordingly. And I often worked evenings and weekends, communicated on non-traditional work channels, and worked in both English and Tagalog – all to help make the work more accessible to community members.

I also saw first-hand how important it is to work in organisations and on campaigns that are community-led. This is where my commitment to developing a lived experience strategy with an anti-racism commitment for CBF comes from. We aren’t a community organisation but that doesn’t mean we can’t work with people impacted by cross-border migration policy.

I’ve also taken with me my accessibility-focused approach to work: I want to know how we can improve ways of working – what works and what doesn’t. In my first months in the role, I prioritised getting to know the members and the specific context of their work so I can coordinate the Forum in a way that is relevant and accessible to them – even when they don’t have time to give input or participate directly in activities.


3. How does CBF connect actors, not only across the French-Belgian-UK borders, but also broader social justice movements?

CBF works alongside other social justice movements including climate justice, queer and trans rights, and racial justice, and we seek to collaborate with non-traditional civil society actors when possible. Last February, to launch the English translations of two French language reports about the UK-France border originally published by the (one of our members), we organised a panel discussion and banner making session at Dalston Solidarity Café, an abolitionist, autonomous group that holds monthly cafes at a Kurdish and Turkish community centre in East London.

This allowed us to reach a different audience to the usual NGO audience and engage people who are interested in learning about the shared border and taking direct action in their communities, rather than through an NGO. CBFs participation in The World Transformed, a left-wing political education festival, in October 2023 was an opportunity to connect our work with other internationalist movements for justice, including labour movements in France.

Although CBF doesn’t work directly with unions, many of our members work with unions in an effort to bring together labour and migrants’ rights movements, in recognition of their shared goals – especially with increasingly anti-worker and anti-migrant legislation being introduced in Belgium, France, and the UK.


Commemorating people who died crossing the Channel on November 24th, 2021 in Dunkirk, November 2023 (image credit: Crossborder Forum)


3. How does CBF approach the debate around the involvement of people with lived experiences as being part of building the solution?

In 2023, CBF members collectively agreed to make meaningful engagement with people with lived experience of the issues we work on into an overall goal. Since August 2023, we have been developing CBF’s strategy on lived experience, through consultations with activists and community leaders who have migrated and volunteer or work in the migration and civil society sector. The question guiding this strategy development was not if we should do this work but rather how. Ensuring the participation of people with lived experience on the topic that affects them is essential.

There are significant challenges to engaging people who have personally experienced the issues CBF works on. I wanted it to be clear that we can work with experts-by-experience without seeking out people who are in precarious or dangerous situations, whether because they are currently at the border in northern France or going through the process after arriving in the UK. I wanted to make sure safety, reciprocity, and sustainability were at the heart of the strategy, and this was reflected in the co-creation of the strategy with the people we consulted.


Report launch panel discussion at Dalston Solidarity Cafe with the PSM, Pierre Bonnevalle, Watch the Channel, and SOAS Detainee Support, February 2023 (image credit: Crossborder Forum)


View these reports: “On the border” by Marta Lotto (English translation) and “Investigation Report on 30 years of Creating the Deterrence Policy” by Pierre Bonnevalle (English translation)


4. What have you unlearnt since you started working in the migration space?

There are so many things! The past four years in the sector have taught me to better analyse injustice and oppression at a structural level.

For me, working on migration is to work on resisting borders – and resisting the nation-state as it currently exists. I used to think there were “good countries” and “bad countries”, but this work has pushed me to think in much more radical and nuanced ways. I didn’t used to be such a staunch abolitionist but now through my organising and my work, I can’t see the world in a different way. I think I better understand how class, citizenship, race, and gender intersect, and working towards border abolition is a way to help us tackle all of those things at once.

It has been a very humbling experience – there is no true “expertise” to be achieved. Whenever I think I’ve fully understood something I speak with someone or read something that show me what I was missing.


5. What are the changes that you see in today’s migration word that provide a glimmer of hope?

People outside of the classic NGO space are taking more and more direct action in their local communities or through grassroot campaigns and collectives.

In the UK, the Anti-Raids Network and their local groups across the country have helped ordinary people stop immigration raids in their neighbourhoods through trainings and collective organising. There are also groups and collectives using their identities or causes to organise for migrants’ rights and border abolition. Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, which is a queer and trans collective that organises on migrants’ rights have been campaigning to stop deportation flights and get airlines to drop their contracts with the Home Office.

In France, Alternatiba are a group that campaigns on the climate emergency but have been consistently out in the streets campaigning and demonstrating against France’s new law on immigration. Unions, too, are increasingly joining the fight for migrants’ rights – including the union I’m part of, IWGB, which is one of the leading unions in the UK for migrant workers’ rights.

Solidarity – across identities, interests, and borders – is one of the most powerful tools of resistance that we have. It’s so important for our struggles to be linked so we’re not fighting in silos, or worse, each other. The state does everything to pit the marginalised against each other to fight over crumbs, it’s our duty to redirect that energy back at the state.

Read more Civil Society in the Spotlight interview here.