Sumia Afif is an interpreter who is currently working as a community adviser for Arab communities in Birmingham promoting Census 2021. She talks about how language shouldn’t be a barrier for communities to be counted in the census in March.

“I was born in Qatar, and spent 18 years living in the Middle East, so when I was offered this position, I was pleased that I could act, not only as a community adviser, but also as a representative to raise awareness of such an important event that only happens once every 10 years.

When I began working as a community adviser to represent Arab communities for the Census in Birmingham, I was very excited as the census benefits so many people, from all walks of life and cultures.

I have worked as an interpreter in the past, therefore understand fully how language barriers have an impact on many people's lives.

It’s refreshing to see how Census 2021 is offering support in so many languages, including Arabic, with a free language helpline and translation support in around 50 languages on the Census website. There’s everything from Potwari and Bengali to Tigrinya, Somali and much more.

I am also here to talk to people in Arabic, or English if they prefer, about anything census related and whatever worries they may have about this household questionnaire.

My background means I am familiar with the cultures and traditions in the Arab community and so I’m aware of many concerns this community may have, so I want to reassure them.

I know that many may be reluctant to complete the census as they may feel a sense of distrust with authority. Some of these concerns may even be related to their housing, income and the most common, immigration status. Many people who have immigrated to Birmingham are from the Middle East and North Africa and I realise that they may be intimidated by the census form.

So I want people to know that their personal data is not shared with any government bodies and that the census is simply here to help, not hinder anyone. No one will be able to see what’s on your census form and in fact, it is kept private for 100 years by The Office For National Statistics.

What I want this community and others to realise is why the census is done. What Census 2021 will do is help inform decisions on what services are needed by communities - whether it’s schools, buses, housing and healthcare. What the census aims to do is help people living across Birmingham for the next decade and beyond.

It is to help make sure that help gets to those that need it. It could be about providing health services that are relevant to particular communities or translation services, or even planning for more school places if there are more children living in a suburb.

Once people understand what the census is about, I am confident that we will have the community’s support.

With many community centres and places of worship closed due to Covid, I’m reaching out to those within Arab communities or working with them to get in touch as I would appreciate help in explaining more about the census to people that it can often help the most.”

Census Day is on March 21st and every household will receive a letter in the post with a unique code to complete the questionnaire online. If you would like Sumia Afif to talk to your group or community, contact her at [email protected]