Conforming to stereotypes to gain asylum in Germany

By Mengia Tschalaer

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

LGBTQI+ Muslims seeking asylum are more successful if they speak, dress and act in accordance with Western notions of homosexuality. My work recently published in the Journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, has found that LGBTQI+ asylum applicants reported they were often expected to be “flamboyant” and “outspoken” in their asylum interview, and that overall, asylum seekers were more successful if they could prove their ‘gayness’ by being involved in gay/queer activism in their country of origin, visiting gay bars, being members of lesbian and gay groups and attending gay pride marches.

I interviewed 15 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) refugees and asylum seekers from Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan, as well as asylum lawyers and judges from Berlin and Cologne, and representatives of LGBTQI+ refugee counselling centers in Cologne, Munich, Heidelberg and Mannheim – project website.

The majority of successful applicants were from middle to upper-class backgrounds, were assigned male at birth and had been actively involved in gay/queer activism in their country of origin. Along with class and educational background, membership of LGBTQI+ organisations and access to local queer and gay refugee organisations in Germany were the most important factors in securing a successful asylum claim. In order to gain asylum, asylum seekers must convince officials of their permanent identity as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, trans’, ‘bi’, and/or ‘intersex’,  and they also need to demonstrate that their sexual and gender identity has led to them being persecuted in their home country.

The most successful applicants were very well informed about what is expected from them at the asylum interview – which was for their asylum story to align with Western notions of queer/gay lifestyles, i.e frequent visits to gay discos and parties, public display of love and affection, wearing rainbow-coded clothing etc.

In addition, and despite efforts to render the asylum process safer for LGBTQI+ individuals, it was reported there were still incidences where asylum seekers were expected to answer questions about their sex life during their asylum interview – despite this being against EU law – and some interviewees stated they felt judged on their clothing, or how they acted in the interview.

People who were more open about their sexuality and gender identity in their country of origin as well as the country of arrival were much more likely to be granted asylum, in part because they were more likely to seek out LGBTQI+ refugee organisations in Germany and receive support for the preparation of their asylum interview. However, people who were not ‘out’ at the time of their interview, or who found it difficult to speak about their sexuality due to fear of persecution, stigma or shame felt marginalised.

“LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who felt forced to hide their sexuality and/or gender identity, and who felt uncomfortable talking about it were usually rejected, as were those who were married or had children in their countries of origin. This was either because they were not recognised or believed as being LGBTQI+, or because they were told to hide in their country of origin since they had not come out yet.

Quite a few of my interviewees also mentioned that they felt that their translator held a homo-/transphobic attitude or did not translate properly due to their lack of knowledge of gay/queer/trans issues. For example, one Somalian man said that his fear and shame of coming out as gay – coupled with his translator’s known negative attitudes toward homosexuals – stopped him from being able to talk openly about his sexuality, leading to the rejection of his asylum claim.

Asylum applicants who portrayed Germany as a liberal, tolerant country free of discrimination, while portraying their Muslim countries of origin as homophobic and morally ‘backwards’ were more likely to receive refugee protection. While Germany, and Europe more generally are traditionally seen as a safe havens for LGBTQI+ refugees compared to many majority Muslim countries – where homosexuality is illegal – there is a concern that the narratives and stereotypes perpetuated by the German asylum system may serve right-wing discourses on immigration in Germany.

More needs to be done to ensure that all Muslim LGBTQI individuals enjoy the same right to asylum. We need to train decision makers, judges and translators around the topic of LGBTQI+ so that they are more knowledgeable about LGBTQI+ identities and sexualities, and so as not to reproduce Islamophobic tendencies in the current immigration practices and debates in Germany. Access to legal resources and support for LGBTQI+ also needs to be streamlined, as LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who had access to information on the asylum process in Germany were much more successful.

Dr Mengia Tschalaer is Marie Curie Research Fellow at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

The content for this blog was previously posted by Taylor and Francis as a press release.

The ERS article can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01419870.2019.1640378

All news reporting in relation to the study can be found here.

Memorials to people who have died and to those missing during migration

Reflections on the first WUN-funded workshop

By Martin Preston, University of Bristol

Site of the destroyed memorial at Thermi, looking towards Turkey Photo: Martin Preston

Since 2014, the deaths of more than 32,000 migrants have been recorded globally (IOM, 2019). The true number is certainly far higher. A lack of documentation, other means of identification or the willingness or ability to do so means that many of those recovered may remain nameless. With so many deaths being unknown or unrecorded, the fate of those lost is often uncertain for those they leave behind.

Memorials form one way in which public memory is created and reproduced (Dickinson, et al, 2010). The shores of Lesvos and the water around it serve as the final resting place for many of those lost. Initiated by ‘Welcome to Europe’ a purpose-made physical recognition of the dead and missing of the ongoing migration ‘crisis’, a monument at the shores at Thermi on the East of the island was destroyed by unknown perpetrators. However the spot remains a focal point to remember those who have died, as happens annually since October 2013.  In contrast, monuments to refugees of the Asia Minor Catastrophe a century ago, are prominent and plentiful on the island. Elsewhere memorials to recently deceased migrants, such as communally created quilts in the USA and The Counter of Shame in Barcelona do exist. However, the general absence of memorials to missing migrants, given the scale of recent loss, is perhaps one indication of the marginalisation of the living.

At the end of April 2019 I was fortunate enough to be selected to receive a grant from the MMB to join a multidisciplinary group of scholars, civil society leaders, international organisation representatives and professionals, working in the area of migration and migration policy. Gathered at the University of Aegean on the island of Lesvos, Greece, our purpose was to deliver a workshop to consider how memorials for dead and missing migrants may be internationally recognised.

This workshop was the first event of a Worldwide Universities Network funded research initiative convened by Ann Singleton. This research platform had the initial purpose of developing guidelines and a proposal for UNESCO accreditation of heritage sites for memorials to dead and missing migrants. In the longer term the project aims to support the establishment and formal recognition of a global network of memorials.

The workshop ran over two days and was hosted by Professor Stratos Georgoulas critical criminologist and long-term activist for refugee rights. Day one included important contributions from Julia Black, from the International Organisation for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, on the reality and difficulties of collecting accurate data for the dead and missing. The journalist and author John Max Smith provided an inspirational account of his journey with his father, the political commentator and veteran, Harry Lesley Smith. Harry, who witnessed the human cost of World War Two, became a leading voice in Canada and the UK, fighting for the rights of migrants, up until his death in 2018 at the age of 95. Syd Bolton and Catriona Jarvis of the Last Rights Project gave insights on the role of memory in preserving dignity, the opportunities for learning and the importance of community participation in such projects.

Day two of the workshop provided the opportunity for Tony Bunyan, Director of Statewatch, to give an analysis of the wider European Union approach to migration, the externalisation of its borders and the context for the hazardous way in which migrants are compelled to make such journeys. The workshop was concluded with a design phase for the project led by Professor Elizabeth Brabec, of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), in which the time frame, core goals and ways to achieve them were agreed upon.

The workshop also provided the opportunity to find out first-hand some of the crucial work being delivered by larger international NGOs, as well as that of local NGOs, for the migrants living on Lesvos. Firstly, the group were able to visit Moria Detention Centre. The conditions within the centre were consistent with those condemned as ‘inhumane’ by 19 local and international NGOs in September 2018. A mixture of hyper securitisation, overcrowding and inadequate access to provisions of services such as education, highlighted the consequences of the intensive internment through the EU’s ‘hotspot’ policy.  This visit also facilitated a visit to Médicins Sans Frontières whose work outside of the perimeter of Moria provided crucial healthcare support, as well as educational and therapeutic services within a starkly more humane and dignified environment.

My own interest in the project draws on scholars working in peace education and transitional justice in conflict affected contexts, as well as that of memory studies. Such an approach generates some key question as to the purpose of such memorials. Who, for instance, are such memorials for? What, if any, are the value of memorials beyond that of enshrining memory for those who have lost loved ones? Viewed from an educationalist perspective, what might the pedagogical value of such memorials be? What role might such memorials have in creating discourse between different and disparate communities represented through the creation and destruction of the memorial at Thermi? How might such discourse about the recent events on Lesvos inform understandings of the wider migration ‘crisis’? What challenges do such disparate views present for the such a project? By developing guidelines for memorials sites, this project will inevitably widen the audience of memorials beyond that of just Lesvos or Greece. What opportunities and challenges does such an international dimension present?

The second workshop will take place in Accra, Ghana in October 2019 at the University of Ghana and will be hosted by Dr Delali Badasu.

Martin Preston is a PhD researcher at the School of Education, University of Bristol. His current research focuses on the education of adolescent refugees within Addis Ababa in the context of the actuation of the Global Compact for Refugees.

References

Dickinson, G., Blair, C., & Ott, B. L. (2010). Places of public memory: The rhetoric of museums and memorials. University of Alabama Press.

IOM. (2019). Fatal Journeys 4. Missing Migrant Children

 

 

 

 

New Thinking on Integration, Employment and Language

By Bridget Anderson and David Jepson (ACH)

Academics have a lot to learn from people who are on the frontline. Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) can, for example, learn from people who speak from their personal and organisational experiences of immigration controls and the hostile environment. We also believe that academics have something to offer in return – an analysis of patterns of experiences and how these are institutionally and historically embedded.

For example, ACH/Himilo is an organisation which has considerable knowledge of the issues confronting service provision and integration. It has grown in ten years from a small-scale housing provider to a leading provider of integration support for refugees and migrants, working with 2500 people per year. It challenges many assumptions about how newly-arrived communities should be ‘integrated’ and it has started to set out a new paradigm through the #rethinkingrefugee approach.

However, ACH recognises the need to test thinking more widely and to take advantage of the many academic experts in Bristol who can bring different perspectives. Furthermore, both MMB and ACH/Himilo recognise that we can learn from the talents, experiences and aspirations of newly-arrived communities and thereby benefit the individuals themselves and the wider community. It is through groups like MMB, ACH/Himilo and other key bodies such as the Mayor’s Office collaborating that we can make Bristol into a knowledge hub and make real progress in building inclusive communities.

For this reason, ACH/Himilo approached MMB suggesting we jointly organise a seminar series on the themes of integration, employment and language.

We both agreed that these would be discussion orientated, with short presentations, one from an academic and one from a practitioner. We decided on a maximum of twenty participants, ten from University of Bristol and ten non-academic interested stakeholders. We held the first of these, on integration, on 11th February 2019 in the Will Memorial Building at the University of Bristol, and we found it highly stimulating and engaging.

Of course, we were helped by having two fantastic presenters. Dr Katharine Charsley from SPAIS (Sociology, Politics and International Studies) got us off to a great start by presenting a model of integration processes that she has developed with Dr Sarah Spencer (COMPAS, University of Oxford).

This disaggregates the different types of integration that matter to an individual: the social, structural, civic/political, cultural and identity. Integration in one area does not mean integration in another and disaggregating in this way can help us design and evaluate policies better.

She was followed by Richard Thickpenny from ACH/Himilo, who discussed the ‘Invisible Line of Control’. Unreflexive policy and practice can mean that policymakers and practitioners can predetermine below optimal results for the people they want to support. For example, ACH had found that three quarters of refugees were working in entry level jobs and staying in them, not progressing to develop or adapt the skills that that they already have. In this way, interventions can end up limiting the potential of refugees to achieve full integration. Both presentations illustrated the importance of a holistic approach and attending to the unintended consequences of integration policies.

The subsequent conversations were very lively. We tackled the challenge of the basic assumptions of the language of integration – what is it that people are ‘integrating’ in to? Why is it only migrants and refugees who are targeted by integration policies? Why do we assume that the residents of Clifton ‘integrated’? It made me think that perhaps we should investigate other terms that are used to describe similar processes for different populations. For example, one of the ways to counter the exclusions faced by disabled people is to facilitate ‘accessibility’. Could it be helpful for us to learn from the struggles of disabled people and to look for parallels between integration and accessibility? Answers on a postcard please….

Blog co-authored by:

Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship, University of Bristol.

David Jepson, Director and Policy Advisor, ACH/Himilo

 

This blog has also been posted in the ACH blog feed 

Brexit and migration: our new research highlights fact-free news coverage

By Denny Pencheva

Immigration anxieties played a significant role in British people’s decision in June 2016 to vote to leave the EU. This has fuelled a debate over the quality of media reporting on migration issues.
In order to get a better idea of the role the media played, we examined nearly 1,000 news items, feature articles and editorials from six UK newspapers: the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, the Sun, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, published in 2006 and in 2013.

These were politically important years: 2006 was the year before Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU and the time when it was becoming clear that migration forecasts for the countries that joined the EU in 2004 had been way off. In 2013 David Cameron, delivered his Bloomberg speech in which he promised the EU referendum.

One thing that quickly became apparent was that media coverage contained a selective mixture of statistics, reported comments from politicians and other public figures, academic studies, think-tank reports, and emotive polemics backed with no evidence at all. The practice of mentioning evidence in passing and then dismissing or overriding it was also present.

Bolt the door

The most prominent theme was that mobility within the EU damages British sovereignty. Newspapers from across the political spectrum suggested that intra-EU mobility was impossible to control and that the free movement principle overrides British sovereignty. The theme was also marked by growing scepticism towards migration data and evidence.

The language used to describe EU migration tended to emphasise quantity and scale (“mass”, “vast”, “large scale”). There were lots of “floods” and “waves” and extensive use of military metaphors (“army”, “war”, “battle”, “siege” or “hordes”) in the tabloid press.

When covering migration from Bulgaria and Romania, the press regularly trotted out the figure of 29m migrants – which, in fact, is the combined population of the two countries. Rather than reporting on actual migration of Bulgarians and Romanians, papers preferred hypothetical scenarios where they would migrate en masse simply because they could.

An opinion piece from the Sun, dated September 22 2006, claimed that “any Bulgarian or Romanian will be free to come here as they please – and come they will, because their own countries are very poor and there is no work”.

Daily Mail, 2006. Gideon via Flickr, CC BY-SA

Overall, the Guardian did a better job than the other papers when it came to using evidence. An article from 2013 used statistics form the Department of Work and Pensions to reveal that immigration to Britain from southern European member states had increased by 50% while using national insurance registrations to show that “data shows little evidence of any surge in Romanians or Bulgarians arriving”.

One article in the Sun covered the story from a different angle, arguing that because of the negative impact of the financial crisis on the building trade in Italy and Spain, migrant workers were bound to be laid off and flood into Britain. The article was centred on an interview with “jobless William Razval, 24” – who, it said, “is desperate to lead the exodus”.

Benefits scroungers

The topic of EU nationals abusing the welfare system was the second most popular theme. Despite official figures, newspapers often chose to ignore evidence and play on public fears that welfare abuse was all but inevitable.

The press trotted out crude decontextualised comparisons between living standards in Britain and eastern Europe. Once again, newspapers focused on the hypothetical possibility of welfare abuse, rather than on specific instances where it has actually taking place. In 2006, Tony Parsons, then a columnist with the Daily Mirror, asked: “At what point does mass immigration, even if it’s good for the economy, push our social services to breaking point?”

Nothing much had changed by March 2013, when a news article from the Times quoted Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed that it was “too easy for EU migrants to claim access to social housing, health care and tax credits” without providing any evidence as to show how many were actually doing so. In June of the same year, the Daily Mail sounded a familiar dog whistle, claiming: “It is easy to imagine how a public fed up with abuses of the welfare state would react.”

In light of recent arguments that journalists become increasing proactive in framing and reshaping migration debates instead of being content with reporting them, it is important to assess the relationship between news coverage and evidence. After all, anti-immigration, eurosceptic reporting did much of the grunt work for the Leave camp and put immigration anxieties in the centre of Brexit discussions and negotiations.

Now we are faced with the danger of race-to-the-bottom post-Brexit immigration policies where EU citizens could be downgraded to migrants overnight on the basis of unsupported anxieties and wild speculations.

Disclosure statement: Denny Pencheva does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

This article was previously published in The Conversation on 1st March 2019.

Welcome to the MMB Blog!

And welcome to Migration Mobilities Bristol! For those of you who do not know us yet we are a Specialist Research Institute at the University of Bristol. We comprise a network of academics, practitioners and others who are interested in human movement and who want to expand and challenge understandings of mobility in order to contribute to a more just world. You can find out more about us here.

There’s been a longstanding interest in migration at Bristol, nurtured by colleagues like Katharine Charsley and Jon Fox for years before I came here, and later Julia O’Connell Davidson and Chris Bertram.  It’s been very exciting working with people to think about our next steps. This has been a genuinely interdisciplinary effort, with lots of different faculties contributing, and our fantastic advisory board includes people from History, English, Geography, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Film and Television Studies and Law.

How to research migration?

We’ve developed a set of four research challenges with a view to helping us to enrich the study of migration through making unexpected connections, and to demonstrate to non-migration scholars and policymakers just how important migration is. This is critical work because while we have seen a massive increase in research on migration the movement of some people continues to be scapegoated and demonised, their journeys becoming ever more dangerous and their attempts to successfully claim asylum ever more difficult. For academics this means we must grapple with how to research ‘migration’ without contributing to the construction of the strongly imagined problem ‘migrant’? I’ll do a quick plug here for the MSc Migration and Mobility Studies which is a fantastic course for people who want to think critically and about migration and migration policies, and learn new research skills.

New thinking

This blog contributes to our ambition to promote new thinking on people and movement. We hope that it will showcase research and good practice and be a space where you can make unexpected connections and try out ideas.

We don’t only need good news stories so let’s be unafraid to share our learning from mistakes and wrong turns. We want to challenge the boundaries between theory and practice, between the university and practitioners, between citizens and non-citizens, so please, feel free to join in the conversations and contribute to this blog series.

Get in touch – mmb-sri@bris.ac.uk

 

By Bridget Anderson

Bridget is Director of Migration, Mobilities Bristol (MMB) and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship. Her post is split between the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies