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

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

What I’m reading this week: 19 February 2016

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The thing about politics is that it is everywhere. People have a horror of talking about it, but it invades our daily life. Politics affects me as dual citizen; it affects me as a woman; it affects me as a person of colour. It insinuates every part of my life, so I take an interest in it (some may say it is quite an unhealthy interest).

In huge political news, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away the 13th February 2016. You can read my thoughts on his passing here, but I was also interested in seeing how his death affects cases already on the docket. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote an interesting article about how his death affects decisions already made and those upcoming ones. The ramifications of his death are still to be seen, especially with the Republican obstructionist streak we are seeing now.

Justice Scalia was a lover of opera, and a comment I spied in NPR’s obituary about him mentioned that his favourite was Der Rosenkavalier. The opera was performed at PROMS 2014, and I read an article from July 2014 by Simon Callow in The Guardian about the opera. I’m not a fan of opera in general, but I do like comic operas, so I may just have to check this out.

Continuing on with The Guardian. In the US version’s Comment is Free, George Soros writes that Putin’s aggressiveness and dishonesty makes him a bigger enemy for the European Union than Daesh and Al-Qaida. Putin is looking at the instability of the EU as a good sign–an unstable EU is a weaker enemy.

Some of that instability in the EU is from the refugee crisis; the EU is scrambling to find the best solution for the issue. I will write about this later, at great length, because it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaître writes about the increasingly strained and divisive talks happening in München (Munich) right now.

And finally, an article from The New Yorker that is quite personal to me. I teach French, and I’ve been working as teacher for the past five years. In David Denby’s Cultural Comment, Stop Humiliating Teachers, he writes that Americans tend to denigrate the teaching profession as a whole, even as they recall their favourite ones. Teaching is a stressful and usually thankless job, so reading this had me nodding my head vigorously at every line.

So, until next time then. – SDM

Photo by le bateleur

What I’m reading this week: 29 January 2016

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I try to read articles from all around the world. Admittedly, I usually browse them between classes or at lunch. I get a lot of my news from National Public Radio; I try to avoid watching television for news. Yes, I read mostly left-wing publications. So without further ado, what I’m reading/perusing this week around. I hope to make this a weekly thing, if I can remember. Definitely fort-nightly, at least.

How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy by Jeff Greenfield : I never knew why we picked Iowa of all places to kick off the grand democratic game of the US presidential election. I hadn’t realised that it’s a fairly young institution (1972). Iowa isn’t a great representative state, although it is an honest place, seemingly. There’s also an alarmingly low turnout rate, although there’s an alarmingly low turn out rate in the US elections, generally.

After reading such a negative look at Iowa, I thought, well what can we do, really? Thankfully, I found some ideas in a handy list form from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR: No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It. There were some really good ideas; my favourite was the rotating regional primary, wherein regions of states would vote together.

Continuing on my American politics read, I am a new subscriber to The New Yorker. When I lived in London, a friend would give me her old copies and I’d read them on the Tube during my commute. I was tired of getting that reminder that I had read half my monthly allotment so I just went in for an educator’s subscription. Hot tip: if you are a school teacher, just call The New Yorker direct at 1.800.825.2510 and you’ll get the discount!

I read two articles from The New Yorker, one about Bernie Sanders and one about Flint, Michigan. I really do like Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton, but it’s way too early for me to make that heavy of a decision! The article, Bernie Sanders and the Realists by John Cassidy was a very pithy look at Sanders’s actual chances, and how idealism works in such a cynical environment as the US political system.

And then I read The Contempt That Poisoned Flint’s Water by Amy Davidson and just got angry. How is this sort of blatant and utter corruption even still a thing in America? I should be less naive, I know, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Sometimes, I feel as though America is still a developing nation sometimes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be.

Onto world news, then. From Europe, I read Der Spiegel from Germany; The Guardian from the UK (along with the BBC and The Independent, though I don’t like the latter that much); Le MondeLe Figaro, and Le Libération from France and a few newspapers from Sweden and Spain when they pop up on my Twitter feed. I also read Al-Jazeera English when I remember I have the app!

In Der Spiegel, an article about the new refugee identity cards caught my eye; it was an article about how this new identity card would create a faster and more secure way of identifying asylum seekers and getting the help they need. [Article’s title: ‘Asylpolitik: Bundesrat billigt Flüchtlingsausweis’]

From The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, an article about Daesh and its mastery of pop culture: ‘ How Isis hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games‘. It was a fascinating (and long!) read about how Daesh and many other organisations use pop culture in order to entice, indoctrinate and recruit new members.

Le Monde had an article about the proposed changes to Paris’s neighbourhoods, called arrondisements. Redistricting isn’t a super sexy thing, I know, but changing a century’s old system for voting purposes (seriously!) is something that is strikingly similar to American gerrymandering. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, says that putting together the first four arrondisements would create a larger, more fair voting bloc. To what end, I have no idea, as I am not a Parisienne, but it will be interesting to watch. [The article: ‘Tout comprendre aux vingt arrondissements de Paris’]

And finally, from Le Libération, I read an article by Jean-Manuel Escarnot about two brothers from Toulouse, former Catholics, who have become rappers/singers for Daesh; it’s entitled Les frères Clain, rappeurs catholiques devenus voix de l’Etat islamique. Like The Guardian article above, it shows how sophisticated Daesh is in reaching its audience, using voices from around the world to carry its message to the most ears possible. There is also a fifteen minute documentary about the brothers at Arte Radio that you can listen to here (it is in French).

Until next time. – SDM

Picture by Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US