News on migration and asylum from around the region - Nouvelles de la région sur les questions de migration et d'asile

Friday, January 16, 2015

[UK] The Guardian: I want to give asylum seekers in Britain the chance to tell their own story

14 January 2015

Asylum seekers are rarely presented as individuals with names, lives, skills and histories - they are simply vilified as we become increasingly insular and suspicious
An asylum seeker, a student in one of my classes, told me he was destitute, living on a bench in the shadow of St Paul’s cathedral. One night, he said, he was defecating into a plastic bag when he spotted, close by, a young police officer smoking dope in the shadows. He finished defecating, tied the bag up, pulled up his trousers and emerged, startling the officer, who immediately cuffed him. Eventually, they did a deal: my student wouldn’t be arrested for sleeping rough on church ground, and he wouldn’t shop the officer for smoking a joint.
I’ve been doing outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees since 2012. In their humour and nuance, the testimonies I hear are a far cry from the stereotypes that are usually peddled in the media: that of unnamed, voiceless people dying in boats, criminal gangs, parasites leeching off the state, victims being sexually abused in UK detention centres. It is as though the asylum narrative only begins when they arrive, and there is a strange and inhumane absence of interest in what they survived before.
I wanted to hear from those very people who are most talked about, either with pity or with loathing, but who are given the least opportunity to speak themselves. My groups, people who came to my classes to improve their written English, included asylum seekers, from Iran and Syria to Sierra Leone, Congo and Uganda. What they told me was not just harrowing – like the woman who had been raped by rebels and consequently rejected by her husband and ostracised by her community – but also often hilarious – and always humbling. These people have survived war, violence, political persecution, exile and extreme poverty but are treated as invisible here, as less than human.