What I’m Reading: The refugees who gave up on Britain

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Kate Lyons, writing in the Guardian in 2018, followed an Afghan father and his son as they made their way to Britain and then back again. She details his time in the United Kingdom, weaving information about the refugee process throughout. According to Lyons, “more than a million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, of whom 50% were estimated to be Syrians and 20% Afghans” (2018).

The refugee process in the United Kingdom seems designed for the asylum seeker to fail. There are two interviews for refugees, a screening interview and the substantive interview (Lyons 2018). Since most asylum seekers do not have “documentary evidence proving the danger in their homeland”, the interviews are the only way to verify their claims (Lyons 2018). Caseworkers and interviewers tend to latch onto small inconsistencies in the interviews to deny claims, according to Lyons (2018). Of course, asylum seekers tend to be suffering PTSD and depression, and may not be able to be coherent during interviews. Along with the fact that only 30% of interviews have an interpreter, it is no wonder that only 32% of initial asylum claims were granted in the UK in 2017 (Lyons 2018).

This article followed one family and their failure to be granted asylum. Using human traffickers, jumping lorries and sneaking into a country may be illegal, but it is because of stringent rules regarding asylum seeking that people are forced into these desperate measures.

photo: Michael Gaida

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What I’m Reading: How Europe’s far right fell in love with Australia’s immigration policy

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Australia’s immigration policy is based on racist French rhetoric from the 1970s. In Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s 2017 article, he writes that Tony Abbott’s [former Prime Minister of Australia] argument in regards to refugees seeking asylum was that they were all trying to cheat the system. Abbott’s speech was a fascist diatribe for some, and a heroic nationalist stance for others (Polakow-Suransky 2017).

Australian refugee policy is to warehouse them offshore, where they cannot access the legal protections and welfare benefits accorded to asylum seekers (Polakow-Suransky 2017). For European far-right political leaders, Australia’s policy is seen as a glittering gold standard. By invoking fear of the “coming horde” (or David Cameron’s “swarm“), far-right political parties are gaining strength across Europe.

Many far-right politicians, Polakow-Suranksy argues, have been inspired and perhaps emboldened by Jean Raspail’s 1973 book The Camp of Saints (2017). Whilst the book advocates violence, Australia’s policy is close enough.

For Australia and Europe, asylum seekers have been rebranded in the wake of terrorist attacks in both continents. No country wants to let in terrorists, so it is easier just not to let anyone in. By making people smuggling illegal, people who use people smugglers to escape horrific circumstances (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

As far as Australia’s actual policy, asylum seekers are sent to Manus and Nauru Islands, where they are held in deplorable conditions. Many decide to return home to dangerous situations. According to human rights lawyer Daniel Webb, refugees are asked to choose where they want their human rights violated: the country they are fleeing or on these resettlement islands (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

Europe has a responsibility to aid countries that are producing refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly because the wars, famine and economic collapse can be directly traced to colonial history. The current policies are doing nothing to stop the next war or environmental crisis that will create another human asylum crisis.

 

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: Five myths about the refugee crisis

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Daniel Trilling’s article, published in June 2018, reminds us that the refugee crisis of 2015 is not only still with us, but just as pressing as it has been. The article is part of the Guardian’s Long Read series, a set of articles about various news-worthy events and societal observations. Trilling, in this article, delineates the beliefs people still have about the refugee crisis and “deconstructs the beliefs that still shape policy and public opinion” (2018).

List articles are always popular and fast reads on most websites. They are highly ‘click-bait’ worthy, meaning that people will choose to read list-based articles first. By separating his article into five myths, Trilling manages to break down the complexities of the refugee crisis into something that is accessible for readers.

The first myth that Trilling debunks is the idea that the crisis is over. Though he mentions that arrivals have declined (2018), he makes sure to stress that “the underlying causes have not changed.” Europe, despite having freedom of movement throughout much of the continent through EU, EEA and Schengen agreements, has shut its borders to non-Europeans in militaristic fashion (Trilling 2018). Making legal routes more difficult for migrants and refugees means that these people will be more likely to turn to dangerous methods, which creates an endless cycle of legal crackdowns to desperate, illegal behaviour (2018).

The second myth is the separation of refugee from economic migrant, as if the reasons for asking for asylum and trying to find better opportunities are disparate and completely different from one another. Trilling points out that what it means to be a refugee “is political, and subject to a constant struggle over who is deserving and who is not” (2018). Economics of a country are affected by any number of calamities, forcing people to make the difficult decision to leave their homes in search of a place where they are free to find a better existence. Until such time as these issues are addressed, there will always be both refugees and economic migrants, and for Trilling, there is no separating the two (2018).

Trilling discusses empathy fatigue in his third myth, and opens with the very powerful line “Empathy matters, but it always has limits, and it should not be a precondition for people to access their rights” (2018). Humans were never prepared to learn about all the terrible things happening around the world at any given moment, but our media is set up to sell tragedy constantly. The refugee ‘crisis’ was certainly media fodder for a time, but like most media coverage, it was intense for a while, and then sputtered out like a dying candle. There is, according to Trilling, a point of being overwhelmed and the could be a point of hostility (2018). Also, when media covers only the crisis, it tends to gloss over any underlying causes (Trilling 2018), choosing instead to focus on the spectacle. And in his last point in this myth, Trilling correctly writes that media have become “commodities by profit-making companies” and therefore subject to market forces like any other commodity (2018).

How the crisis might be a ‘threat’ to European values is Trilling’s fourth myth. There are two visions of Europe currently being espoused during this crisis: one of Europe being a White Christian continent trying to stay both White and Christian and the other of a tolerant, open society committed to fighting oppression (Trilling 2018). Both of these are hyperbolic.  Trilling argues that the former denies the diversity of Europe and denies the fact that many refugees are fleeing places where they have been fighting oppression, and the latter, whilst aspirational, erases the centuries of imperialism and racial supremacy enacted on the very countries that are now seeking both aid and where refugees see no option (2018). There has not been an honest reckoning with the past and the damage Europe has done to the countries whose people are fleeing.

The final myth is that there is no changing the current crisis and that it is just history repeating itself. However, the history of European displacement and the current displacement of people are not the same. As Trilling states, the current displacement of people “points to a dangerous weakness in liberal democratic societies” (2018).  The people being displaced are people that the government does not want, and those who are seeking asylum are continuously bending and breaking rules to get out of immediate danger (Trilling 2018). The history of the flight, displacement and expulsion of people is ingrained in history. However, our current times are unique because we are all “connected to a global culture and global networks of communication” (Trilling 2018).

Trilling leaves the reader with questions that are at once rhetorical and searingly important. These answers must be answered in both legal fashion and on an ethical plane as human beings.

photo credit: skeeze

Dolce et Decorum Est…

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 

And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 

Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory, 

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917  and March, 1918

Trump wins the Presidency

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

What I’m Reading this Week: 15 September 2016

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So in my haste to return to blogging, I consumed a lot of press this week. Some of it is older, but still important.

Vincennes, France holds a festival about American culture and literature, and has been since 2008. This year’s was held from the 8-11 of September. The festival chatted with 15 authors and Libération posted excerpts from their chat, which centered around the authors’ ideas and impressions of their personal vision of America. Fascinating stuff. Des écrivains racont leur Amérique [Authors talk about their America] — the original article is in French.

Going on at the same time, in Paris, was la fête de l’Humanité [The Humanity Festival], which is the French Communist Party’s annual festival. It still happens, though the party is apparently unpopular. This isn’t an article; it’s a video with a small report attached, but it’s interesting. France : la fête de l’Humanité, entre évènement populaire et vitrine politique [The Humanity Festival: popular event and political display– report and article in French].

Think Progress reports on several scientific studies about the mental health of Black people in the United States, especially battling the daily micro-aggressions and constant onslaught of race-based discrimination. It’s a glancing read, but each study is probably worth a look. Being Black in America is a heavy burden, one that many people are either blind to or deny.

Swinging back out to Europe, Arstechnica reports on Denmark’s move to pay for the leaked documents, in a bid to research Danish tax evasion (‘Panama Papers: Denmark to pay $1.3M-plus for leaked data to probe tax evasion‘). I usually read Arstechnica for technical news, but when tech and government mix, it can only be a good or bad thing. I appreciate Denmark’s willingness to investigate tax dodgers, instead of letting them run for high office.

Speaking of running for high office, two articles about the American presidential campaign, obviously. The Economist discusses the similarities and differences between the war-hawk policies of Clinton and Trump. American foreign policy is unattractive and scary thing to me, but there you go.

And finally, the Washington Post‘s 18 August report about Trump’s not-so-charitable giving is incredibly detailed and incredibly disheartening. I’m so bewildered by Trump’s continued existence. I’m very glad there’s only eight weeks until the election, but I have no idea what’s going to happen then. Nobody does, it feels like.

That’s all from me this week! Until next time. – SDM

photo by David Mark.

#repost – Tout et rien: A September 11th story

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11 September 2001: We watch the towers come down in horror from a classroom. I sit in the office at school; my mother is coming to take me home. We are all scared, and there are a million rumors flying about. All we know is that it is definitely a terrorist attack and the last plane, the one that came down in Pennsylvania, is the one that was headed to the White House. I write in my journal:

In praise to our Lord and Lady
Help us see the light through the smoke.
Help us in our quest for justice

For it is JUSTICE, not REVENGE
for which we are searching.

I am for the Operation Enduring Freedom. We are no longer allowed to wait for our friends and family at the boarding gate. My mother tells me that my grandfather was at the opening of the World Trade Centres.

15 March 2005: My very best university friend and I go to New York. We visit Ground Zero; it is a huge gaping wound that we stare at through a chain-link fence. We are both stunned, tears in our eyes. We stand and stare at the hole, and then walk on, shaken, saddened. It greys the rest of our day. (New York City itself was a wonderful experience. I can see why it it is easy to fall in love with the place.)

11 September 2006: I am in Lyon, France for a semester abroad. I am out with friends in an elegant café and there is suddenly a crowd of people demonstrating, waving Palestinian flags and carrying anti-zionist slogans. The year before there had been massive demonstrations in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, and a few months previous there had been demonstrations across France. Both of my parents are nervous but I am twenty and fearless.

The demonstration scares my friends and me, and we nervously head to the subway and to our respective homes. I live in the centre of the city, in the Presque-Île. I call my mother from my bedroom, watching the demonstration from my window. She warns me to stay inside. I don’t even realise the date until the next day.

4 December 2006: I am at a house party in Lyon, sitting on a sofa. The man across from me is drunk, like I am. He keeps asking me questions about Bush, about Iraq, and I am struggling, not just in French, but with my ideology. I feel as though I must defend and explain the American psyche, even though I myself don’t agree with it. I spend a lot of time on the balcony, staring down the beautiful boulevard, confused and dismayed.

11 September 2011: I am in London. It is a beautiful day and I am walking home on the Edgeware Road. There is a police presence, and of course I am curious. There are men with long beards and taqiyahs and hijabi women holding signs that say America is at war with Islam and Muslims and anti-war slogans. I am filled with shame for having supported the strikes in Afghanistan, and I stand and watch the protest.

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Photo taken by the author.

My neighbour tells me that one of the bombs that exploded during the 7 July bombings was the tube station that is directly behind our flats, platform 4, Edgeware Road. It has been a decade for me, but only five painful short years for her. Britain was America’s first ally during Operation Freedom. I do not know anything any more.

Until we meet again. – SDM

This is a repost from my A-to-Z challenge, written in April.