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.

The Future of Pan-Africanism

This blog post was written by Micaela Opoku-Mensah, a masters student in Africa and International Development at The University of Edinburgh. Micaela reports from The Future of Pan-Africanism event, hosted recently in Edinburgh, that received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Fellow students and lecturers from various disciplines across the University of Edinburgh came together at the Evolution House Boardroom to amplify conversations on ‘The Future of Pan-Africanism’ through a series of panel debates. From tracing the historical foundations, we discussed its current efforts in mobilizing those of African descent and envisaged future ramifications in its influence in African politics, philosophy and economics.

The event opened with the first panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and its Historical Foundations’, led by Dr. Kehinde Andrews (Birmingham City University). Taking us back to the origins of the Pan-African movement, Dr. Andrews drew attention to the importance of differentiating between the all-encompassing ‘Pan-Africanism’ movement with a capital ‘P’ and ‘pan-Africanism’ movement with a small ‘p’, demonstrating that the former refers to the renowned figures W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and the five Pan-African Congresses and the latter constituting a group of cultural movements that are somewhat ephemeral. Placing emphasis on the tendency to use the terms interchangeably, he explicates that one misses the nuances surrounding the objective. For instance, in regards to Dr. Kwame Nkumah’s end goal of Pan-Africanism to be the United States of Africa, this pushes us to rethink its application in the 21st century and what we mean by the nation-state in Africa.

Following on from this, Dr.Lawrence Dritsas (The University of Edinburgh) also traced the historical trajectories, however he ventured upon a different route talking about the history of pan-African Science, pan-African scientific institutions and explored their combined origins in both colonial and diasporic ideas.

Mr.Muhammed Dan Suleiman, a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia, digitally spearheaded the second panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and Islamism’ speaking on locating the ‘African’ in contemporary Islamism. He embarked upon critically unpacking the Eurocentric understandings of Islamism and highlighted continuities in laying aside the Afrocentric perspective. Muhammed closed this segment urging the need for scholars to augment discussions.

In the final panel, ‘Pan-Africanism and Prospects for the Future’, was Mr.Nigel Stewart from the Centre for Pan-African Thought. He indicated that we are in a unique time in history where the future is to what degree one can harness and shape the global awakening and resistance into a program for sustainable change towards the ultimate aim for the total liberation of the African continent and its people. He stipulated that the spirit of Pan-Africanism, a beacon of social, cultural, political and economic emancipation is being revived and will continue to speak essentially on the importance of the unity of Africans across the globe. Nigel closed the event with considerable attention to Pan-Africanism becoming a model that represents a framework and pillars of which one can construct values and principles, particularly through corporate institutions, community programs and development programs focusing renewing consciousness in the mode of decolonization.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Global Development Academy, the Global Justice Academy and the Centre of African Studies. I would like to give a special thanks to Sarah-Jane Cooper Knock, Louise McKenzie, the Student Rapporteurs: Courage Matiza, Safiya Mann, Patrick Brobbey and all of the wonderful volunteers from the MSc Africa & International Development, MSc African studies and MSc Global Health & Public Policy student cohort.

Following Ghana’s Elections: an IIF Event

On 7 December 2016, the Global Justice and Global Development Academies supported a student-led initiative to follow the elections in Ghana, as part of their Innovative Initiative Fund. In this post, MSc student, Matthew Pflaum, reflects on the evening’s events.

image-1Elections are critical processes for global social and political change, leading to new policies and reforms. Certain elections, referenda, and regions receive widespread attention and coverage – the US election and Brexit, for example – while others are less covered. Elections in the Global South tend to be disregarded by much of the world, and this is a mistake. All elections are significant, principally for local citizens, but also for the rest of the world through geopolitics and trade.

 

During the US election, crowds gathered in tenebrous bars and sterile classrooms to watch the event unfold, their eyes festooned to the glaring screens with constant updates of results. Americans and non-Americans watched with anticipation, feeling that the event was important to their lives. But aren’t all elections important? Should we not also gather to support elections in Burma and Botswana?

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Report from an IIF Event – Academic Freedom: “national security” threats in Turkey, India and the UK

Can the university be a space where academic freedom reigns while restrictions are increasingly threatening voices and lives outside its gates? Or must spaces for politics be opened up on and off campus in order to address the invasion of national security (and capitalist) logics into the realms of open enquiry? On 27 October 2016, scholars and activists engaged these questions with a focus on the variable effects of the securitisation of university space in Turkey, India and the UK.

A panel on Turkey included academics and students who have lost their jobs as a result of the broader crackdown on dissent following the failed coup in July. They highlighted the connections between increasing violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey—which precipitated the “Academics for peace” petition that has been used as a pretext for dismissing many signatories from their posts—and the attempts of the state to impose controls on its critics. They asked if the focus on the plight of academics may mean that this violence recedes from the view of international publics. Efforts to maintain solidarity among those now outside the academy and those still within it, as well as initiatives to take the university outside spaces the government controls, provide hope for continued resistance in fearful times and carve out a more universal idea of the University as institution and spirit that always has had to be fought for and salvaged from strategies of subjection from various quarters, not only outside the University. In this way, this panel was inspiring for all university struggles, not just those related to Turkey.

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Workshop on Dignity: Reporting from an Innovative Initiative Fund Event

 

The Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group had the pleasure of hosting, with the kind sponsorship of the Global Justice Academy through its Innovative Initiative Fund, the Workshop on Dignity on 6 October 2016. The workshop had three speakers: Ioanna Tourkochoriti (National University of Ireland Galway), Colin Bird (University of Virginia), and Adam Etinson (St. Andrews).

This guest post by co-organisers, Lucas Miotto and Paul Burgess, discusses the presentations and debate that took place.

The workshop was well attended by both staff members and students. An interesting, and beneficial, feature of the audience, was that it reflected the interdisciplinary character of the topic; we had attendees coming from myriad fields, such as politics, human rights, international and constitutional law, as well as legal and moral philosophy. Discussion was very lively and, perhaps due to the diverse character of the audience, presenters received feedback and questions from several different angles.

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War: Art and Creativity in Conflict Zones

IPOW borderLeah Davison reports on an evening workshop that examined the role of art and creativity in conflict zone.  Leah organised this with support from the Global Justice Academy’s and Global Development Academy’s Innovative Initiative Funds.

On 18 March the Edinburgh University International Development Society (EUID), in collaboration with University of Manchester based organisation In Place of War (IPOW), hosted an evening of talk and performance on the subject of art and creativity in conflict zones. The question at hand: what role can creativity play in the realm of social, political and economic development in areas of conflict, war and revolution?

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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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Centre for South Asian Studies Relaunches – February 2016

The Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh has been a key node of research on South Asia within the British academic landscape since 1988. Its success in the near three decades is largely due to the outstanding leadership provided by Professors Roger Jeffery and Patricia Jeffery in setting the Centre and steer it to be a leading centre for the study of South Asia in Scotland and within the UK.

While the Centre has benefitted from the stewardship of the Jeffery’s and other colleagues, such as Professor Crispin Bates and Jonathan Spencer, August 2015 marked a generational shift, with  Drs Wilfried Swenden (SSPS) and Kanchana N Ruwanpura (Human Geography) taking over the helm.  They are advised by a Steering Committee that draws in South Asia experts from across the School of Social and Political Science and all constituent Colleges in the University. To celebrate nearly three decades of South Asia research within the University of Edinburgh, the centre organised a ‘relaunch’ on 4 February 2016, which brought four distinguished academic guests to the University.

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The Concept of Global Law: what is it and what are the rules?

A guest post from Lucas Miotto Lopes, Convenor of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Group, who received an award of £400 from the GJA Innovative Initiative Fund to host a seminar on ‘The Concept of Global Law’.

With the sponsorship of the Global Justice Academy the Edinburgh Legal Theory Group held the seminar entitled The Concept of Global Law on September 24th. Jorge Fabra, a PhD candidate at McMaster University, was the presenter and Professor Neil Walker, from the University of Edinburgh, acted as the discussant. We had the privilege of counting with a wide and diversified audience – from undergrads to staff members. Participants were keen to engage in discussion and offered both critical remarks and constructive feedback. As a result, discussion was very live, friendly and informal.

Jorge Fabra addresses the seminar group Continue reading