I came across these collages when I was working at Greenbelt festival last month. They are of asylum seekers in the UK, who worked with the artist to pick out words that described their experiences.
‘Escape’, ‘heartache’, ‘rape’, ‘beauty’, ‘terror’, ‘survival’, ‘appeal’, ‘crisis’ and ‘home’ are just some of the things that make up this one girl’s message.
Perhaps the Boaz Trust summarises the situation for people like her best:
Two out of every three asylum seekers, who flee persecution in their home countries due to civil war or for political or ethnic reasons, are refused sanctuary in the UK by the Home Office. Many asylum seekers simply find it impossible to prove their stories. The Independent Asylum Commission found that there was a ‘culture of disbelief’ in the Home Office. Furthermore, cuts in legal aid have led to many solicitors giving up immigration work meaning that some asylum seekers are unrepresented at their hearings and many struggle to make appeals.
Once refused, they are told to go home. But they are not immediately deported. Instead they are left destitute with no means of support and no right to work.
Some cannot get the necessary travel documents as their home countries refuse to have them back. Many more fear persecution, torture, or even death if they return to the countries they fled from.
Paranoia inducing ‘immigration scare’ headlines can’t be helping with this ‘culture of disbelief’ either. (Try this Daily-Mail-o-matic headline generator for some chortles. It just graced me with “ARE IMMIGRANTS KILLING CLIFF RICHARD?” And “COULD ASYLUM SEEKERS BURGLE COMMON SENSE AND DECENCY?” all on it’s ownses – genius!).
Neither can this seemingly endemic othering/ stereotyping/ distancing/ dehumanising/ whatever, help in creating a new culture of welcome and compassion. This film – Moving to Mars, about two Burmese families moving to Sheffield – brilliantly depicts the difficulties faced even if asylum is granted. The change can be disorientating and truly isolating.
It’s a vast and complicated issue, but for my part, I’d like to say that I think it’s important to keep realising what Moving to Mars and these pictures show – how behind every asylum case or statistic there is a person.
So the answer to my title question ‘when is a person not one?’ is- never! Hurrah! Unless you have invented cyborgs and then things start to get complicated…