IRMO grew out of one of the first Latin American community organisations to be founded in the UK, Chile Democrático GB. Following the 1973 coup d’etat in Chile, between 1974 and 1979, more than 3,000 refugees arrived in the UK from Chile. In 1974, a number of organisation’s and individuals responded to the resettlement needs of Chilean refugees in the Joint Working Group for Refugees from Chile in Britain, which was later expanded to meet the needs of arrivals of refugees from Argentina and Uruguay.
Later, the Joint Working Group for Refugees from Latin America was disbanded and a new organisation was established by Chilean refugees. Chile Democrático GB was a membership organisation with a network structure that extended across the UK. Jaime Bilbao was elected its first President and the first offices were opened in King’s Cross. The aims of the organisation were to support the community through the provision of welfare, Saturday schooling for children, English for women as well as organising community events and support for political change in Chile.
In the early 2000s, Chile Democrático was re-named Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation (IRMO) to reflect the changes in the Latin American community in London. By this time, the Latin American community in the UK included groups from all across the continent, many of whom had fled violence and political and economic instability. The name also recognised the importance of indigenous peoples and cultures to the story of Latin America. In 2005, the organisation moved to South London to its site in Brixton where it continues to serve the community today. In 2011, IRMO’s legal adviser, Laura Villegas was awarded a LUKAS Lifetime Achievement Award.
Awareness of the Latin American community has been growing in London, due to work of campaigns, activists and a number of organisations including IRMO. In 2013, the Latin American community was recognised as a minority ethnic group in Southwark and in 2014 was recognised in Lambeth. In 2015, the community was also recognised in Hackney and Islington.
After more than 30 years of progressive, enhanced provision on advice, education and support for artistic projects, today Latin American community can rely on IRMO. IRMO is run for and predominantly by migrants; it currently has 220 members, 80 volunteers and serves more than 4,000 people per year. In 2015 IRMO was awarded the LUKAS Community Organisation of the Year award, and Laura Villegas was once again recognised as Community Worker of the Year.