Wednesday, 18 June 2008

One Man's Journey

posted by Rhiannon

I wanted to follow up Kathy's excellent post with a personal and specific account of one of the local events. I'm not going to make it to any of the evening things, but popping in the Central Library for an hour was easy and really informative.

The exhibition (Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, June 1st-30th 2008) is called "One Man's Journey Through the Asylum Process", and has been created by the Sankofa Foundation. It displays, though photographs, objects, a video, and background documents, what happened to one man who left Kurdistan Iraq in 1998. Although the Immigration Tribunal didn't doubt that he had indeed been in danger, but believed that he could relocate to somewhere else in Iraq.

For all that there are important differences between refugees and asylum seekers (see the comments to Kathy's post), they also tend to have similar needs when they arrive here: food, shelter, support, English lessons, and so forth. A couple of years ago, I was trained as an In4mer (peer educator) through GirlguidingUK, and one of the topics I teach in that capacity is 'Refugees and Asylum Seekers'. In those sessions, I often find that the participants (typically 7-14 year old girls, who repeat the things their parents say) believe many mistaken things. For example, they often think that asylum seekers can be illegal (not true: everyone has a right to seek asylum, though many will not be granted it).

Very few of them have taken the time to think about what it must be like to be in that situation: so as well as explaining, we do exercises with them to prompt thought. We start playing a game but only give the rules in Spanish--to parallel the way that asylum seekers, including the One Man of the exhibition, need help to understand what is going on. We ask them to rate food, water, family, shelter, education, and other things in order of importance--to bring to their attention how much they may have lost.

Even fewer if any of them, though, are mature enough to begin to think about other themes of this exhibition: the loneliness of being cut off from your family and unable to participate normally in British society, the mixed longing to go home and fear of what will happen if you do, and the struggles with the legal system here.

When his application was rejected, this man ended up living in the corner of the factory where he worked--not for pay, but for the right to sleep in the corner. Later he lived in his allotment shed. He is now back in Kurdistan, but (despite all that has happened in Iraq), the Kurds are still, to quote the exhibition signs, "a nation without a state" and his family are "trying to live a very low-profile existence in the shadows".

I found it especially moving that he had left behind so many photographs (having treasured images of his family during their decade apart) which let us have an insight into his experience.

1 comment:

cath said...

From a refugee worker in the US....

Today is World Refugee Day (June 20).

Thank you so much for the emphasis you have given refugees on this blog.