The Asylum Monologues

This blog has been written by Dr Grit Wesser, a postdoctoral fellow in Social Anthropology at The University of Edinburgh. Here, she reports from a recent Asylum Monologues event in Edinburgh, which brought together performers, academics, students and the public to discuss this global human rights issue.

Immigration has perhaps always been – at least since the rise of nation-states – a contentious issue for policy makers, in public discourse, and around families’ kitchen tables. The so-called “European Refugee Crisis” has renewed a debate not on ‘whether’, but on ‘how much’ to control and limit immigration to Europe. In this process, the issue has been reduced to one of numbers.

But why do people cross borders and leave behind their home countries and loved ones? What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in Scotland? What new boundaries do migrants face, once they arrive in a country that is foreign to them – and treats them as foreigners? Could Scotland become their new home? These questions were being creatively examined through a performance of the Asylum Monologues, and in the panel discussion that followed.

Ice&Fire, a theatre company that explores human rights issues through performance, created the first script of the Asylum Monologues in 2006. Since then the company has recorded and performed various testimonies of asylum seekers, aimed at raising awareness of asylum seekers’ experiences by sharing their stories with the communities to which they now belong. The audience listened attentively to a Scottish script, launched only during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in 2016.

The three Ice&Fire performers took turns in telling the stories of a Kurdish unaccompanied minor, a young Pakistani man, and an Iranian woman and their experiences in Scotland. These narrations were candid and often bittersweet, taking the audience on the asylum seekers’ journeys, oscillating between the fear of state persecution and the sensations of loss, hope, and homesickness. The stories evoked the grief caused by broken families and the joys experienced through new-found friends as well as the frustrations and struggles associated with having to start from scratch and the potentials and expectations that new beginnings hold.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Jenny Munro from Beyond Borders Scotland. The panel comprised Professor Anthony Good, Social Anthropology; Phil Jones, manager of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers; and Steven Ritchie, one of the three performers. The panellists were joined by two young men whose stories we had just heard: Tony and Aras.

Since Aras had listened to the script of his own story for the first time, he was eager to praise the performer: “It was great. You told it better than I could have!” Tony and Aras spoke to the audience about their new life in Scotland, while Phil explained how the Night Shelter’s work attempts to mitigate the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow. Steven, who was also involved in interviewing asylum seekers, revealed more about the process of recording and retelling their life stories.

Issues surrounding the asylum process in the UK were clarified by Prof Good, who has frequently acted as an expert witness on asylum appeals in the UK and other countries. Contrary to the stories we had listened to, he elaborated, the Home Office structures its interviews with asylum seekers in a way that does not accommodate a chronological order of their experiences. Questions are often phrased ambiguously so that asylum seekers’ answers could vary, in turn leading to an intentional undermining of their credibility – a credibility required for gaining refugee status.

After a vote of thanks to the performers, panellists, and sponsors, the event ended with much applause and a donation appeal. The audience donated a total of nearly £200, which was equally split to support the work of Amnesty International and the Glasgow Night Shelter.

Aimed at making the people behind immigration numbers visible again, it was a successful evening – as one attendee later commented: “I’ve been to a few discussions on refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, but this was the first to have a more creative take with the monologues, which I thought worked really well. It’s always helpful to have a more personal take, because numbers and places are difficult to bring to life.  I thought it was great all in so thanks for putting it together.”

Grit Wesser organised The Asylum Monologues event with Helene Frössling (Scottish Graduate School of Social Science) and Hannah Cook (Centre for African Studies), and in collaboration with Beyond Borders Scotland and Ice&Fire. The event was co-supported by the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ through their joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Building Bridges, Not Walls: Bauman’s Reflections on the Present-Day ‘Migration Panic’

profile-jgIn his second book review as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador, James Gacek considers Zygmunt Bauman’s Strangers at Our Door and the popular panic that often surrounds mass migration.

Zygmunt Bauman’s (2016) book, Strangers at Our Door, provides a significant contribution to a growing discussion which counters the illusory panics of mass migration. Bauman explores the origins, contours and the impact of ‘moral panic’ seemingly spreading across Western, liberal democracies, and dissects the present-day ‘migration panic.’ Such migration panic, he contends, is witnessed within anxiety-driven and fear-suffused debates percolating within Western societies. While moral panic is not a new concept—one in which articulates that some malevolent force of ‘evil’ threatens a society’s well-being, coupled with the anxieties ostensibly overwhelming felt within such societies (c.f. Cohen, 1972)—what is new is the feeling of fear spreading among an ever-growing number of people within Western nations.

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Brexit, Northern Ireland and UK-Irish Relations

CB profileThis post by GJA Director, Professor Christine Bell, was first published on the Centre on Constitutional Change blog on 26 March 2016, co-published with European Futures.

Amid pronouncements about the UK as an island nation, scant media or political attention has been paid to its only land border with the EU – between Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, says Professor Christine Bell in this extended analysis, the impact of Brexit on the institutions built up as part of the Peace Process would be considerable.

The EU referendum and the possibility of ‘Brexit’ raise distinct questions for Northern Ireland as a devolved region within the UK as part of the peace process. In the referendum debate, more attention needs to be given in the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, the one part of the UK which has a land border with another EU country.

Political Divisions and the EU Referendum Campaign

The first key question as regards the EU referendum’s impact in Northern Ireland relates to the distinctiveness of its political settlement: how will the Brexit campaign affect political relationships – ever fragile – within Northern Ireland?

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MBA Team Syria: Making a Difference to the Community

DSC00990As a part of the Strategic Leadership course on Edinburgh’s MBA programme, a group of five students organised a social event to help draw awareness to the Syrian refugee crisis. In this guest post, Debjani Paul offers an overview of the event, which centred around the the personal life experiences of three Syrians now settled in Edinburgh – Aamer Hanouf, Hussen Al Ajraf, and Amer Masri.

With the rising global concerns including climate change, an increase in global population, poverty, and terrorism, world leaders have much to focus on. It is becoming a new norm for companies to be socially responsible by promoting sustainability and contributing at least in one of the global concerns, also known as Corporate Social Responsibility. This is the ethical way to do business that every future leader should practice.

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Out of Serbia

This post was first published on the author’s Remotely Balkan blog, and is re-blogged here with permission.

This post is by Laura Wise. Laura is an Analyst on the Global Justice Academy’s Political Settlements Research Programme. Her research interests include minority mobilisation, state-society relations, and conflict management in South-Eastern Europe.

Röszke, Vasfüggönnyel a bevándorlók ellen. Képen: Szögesdrót a röszkei határátkelőnél. fotó: Segesvári Csaba

Röszke, Vasfüggönnyel a bevándorlók ellen.
Képen: Szögesdrót a röszkei határátkelőnél.
fotó: Segesvári Csaba

The Balkan Express is no more.

Replaced by luxury international coaches from Vienna to Sarajevo, with on-board toilets that work, Wi-Fi, and conductors who serve drinks, gone are the potholed, unreliable minibus journeys that make classic travellers’ tales for the Western backpacker. Last month I made a fleeting visit back to the Balkans; the kind of trip where you spend hours on the aforementioned buses just to meet friends for coffee. It was also a chance to reunite with rakia, and revisit bars where the pop-folk of Dado Polumenta is an acceptable choice of music. However, most of my conversations and experiences kept returning to a more sobering topic: Europe.

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What obligations, if any, does a state in Europe have towards boat people attempting dangerous sea crossings?

This was the question Professor David Miller from Oxford University addressed on 4 February 2016 in a well-attended lecture hosted by Edinburgh University’s Global Justice Academy and Just World Institute.

In this blog report from the lecture, Yukinori Iwaki reflects on the day’s discussion and points raised. Yukinori Iwaki is a PhD student in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. Click here to read more about his research.

D.Miller in Edinburgh_01 Professor Miller began his talk by noting the 2014 UK government decision not to support Triton, a search-and-rescue operation proposed by the EU that could have potentially saved the lives of sea-crossing migrants, or “boat people”. The main reasoning behind this decision was the claim that search-and-rescue encourages people to attempt dangerous sea crossings in the greater expectation of being rescued, and therefore, in the long term, will bring about more deaths.  This seems to be a consequentialist argument that considers effects of alternative ways of using resources in order to minimise the loss of lives overall.  Meanwhile, critics argue that European states have stringent obligations to protect rights of migrants.  But is it true that the critics’ argument occupies the moral high ground while the UK government’s argument is morally defective?  The answer Professor Miller gave us was: ‘Not necessarily’.

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What Can Scotland Do?

Rebecca Smyth is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2015-16. In this post, Rebecca reflects on the third in our series of Rapid Response Roundtables on the current refugee crisis. Rebecca also report from the second roundtable, ‘Is the Global Refugee Regime Fit for Purpose?’.

Chaired by Dr Patrycja Stys of the Centre of African Studies, this event was the last of three organised by the Global Justice Academy in relation to the current refugee crisis.

It began with a screening of LIVED’s Learning to Swim, a short documentary that aims to share something of the everyday lives of displaced young Syrians in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, the village of Zaatari, and Amman in Jordan. It’s a very special piece. Through seemingly disjointed snippets of interviews and footage, it gives a sense of the inner lives and daily routines of children and young people caught up in the Syrian conflict. We meet a girl who loves football, kites and fried food, and whose favourite place is Homs, a place of roses and affectionate people.

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The Refugee Crisis: Where to Begin?

In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, anti-refugee rhetoric has continued to grow in the British press and on social media. In this post, GJA Managment Group member, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, reflects on her recent visit to a refugee camp in Serbia. Dr McCall-Smith is a Lecturer in Public International Law at Edinburgh, and Programme Convenor for the GJA’s LLM in Human Rights.

Many weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit a refugee camp in Belgrade, Serbia. The experience was double-edged because it was harrowing to speak to and move in and among individuals who were fleeing from horrors that I could never personally imagine. At the same time, there was courage among these people who were travelling thousands of miles, away from their homeland, towards an idea. That idea is something that is often hard to define but what I will simply refer to as hope.

In the Syrian man, who had been on the site for two weeks with his twin one-year old daughters and his wife, there was hope for a landing place where he could raise his daughters without fear.

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