Cross-border marriage in South Korea

By Minjae Shin

‘Getting married to Vietnamese/China/Philippines/Uzbekistan woman – If for any reason you’re not satisfied with our service, a 100% satisfaction guarantee.’

This eye-catching phrase is from the website of international marriage brokers in South Korea. My research journey started with this advertisement. Until a few decades ago, the segment of marriage migration that was supported by the marriage industry drew little notice in East Asia. As a result of rapid economic development in Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, marriage migration patterns have shifted. This economic growth has turned these countries into new marriage destination countries, largely for women from developing countries also in Asia. Indeed, there has been a steep increase in immigration by way of marriage into Korea since the 1990s, as cross-border marriages between Korean men and migrant women became increasingly prominent in the country. In Korea, the so-called marriage squeeze phenomenon – the imbalanced sex ratio among the marriageable population – has resulted in a shortage of prospective Korean brides. Rural bachelors were the first to face this ‘bride shortage’ problem (Friedman and Mahdavi, 2015). Men who live in the less economically lucrative rural areas often work the land and are considered unmarriageable as Korea’s history of economic development privileges the urban over the rural. As a result, Korean authorities, from the central government to local governments, have begun to encourage cross-border marriages for wife-seeking rural bachelors as a national project, named the ‘Rural Bachelor Marriage Project’, in order to address the problem of shortages in the labour force in rural areas from the early 1990s onwards.

Photographs of women for their profile pages.
Women’s profile pages on a Korean marriage brokerage website (photos edited by the author for privacy purposes)

Most of the marriage migrants in Korea are women, who account for 83% of the country’s total number of marriage migrants (132,391 out of 159,206). In the early 1990s, these migrant wives were predominantly ethnic Koreans from China. The countries of origin of these women have since diversified to include Vietnam, the Philippines and countries in Central Asia and Eastern and Central Europe. Currently, cross-border marriage is prominent even in urban areas, and it has become an important pathway to marriage for Korean men who are of a lower socio-economic status, and not solely for rural men.

At the centre of this marital migration exists international marriage brokers. Cross-border marriage in Korea has become increasingly commoditised and systematised, with the rapid growth of the profit-oriented marriage brokerage industry. In Korea, a high percentage of marriage migrants (84.3%) met their spouses through marriage brokerage agencies, highlighting the prominent role of these agencies in marriage migration to Korea. In contrast to commercially brokered cross-border marriages in other parts of the world, most marriage brokers in Korea do not provide email correspondence services due to the language limitations of their clients who hardly know the language of their potential partners. These agencies must operate as the mediator, serving as the go-between for the two potential spouses. They closely interact with potential spouses both in Korea and overseas who seek cross-border marriages and assist both by providing information on criteria, legal procedures and immigration policies to their clients. The agencies also provide information about the cultural and national background of a potential spouse, the women’s expectations about the marriage (for example, love, or a better life). The agencies then communicate this information to their male clients. Moreover, with the advancement of the Internet, marriage brokers provide their male clients with profiles and photographs of their potential spouses to choose from.

In these processes, the practices of marriage brokers tend to be problematic, specifically with respect to their representation of migrant women. Racialised and gendered representations are readily apparent, in particular in their advertisements and marketing strategies. Marriage brokers claim that they speak for migrant women who are searching for a better life to escape poverty in their countries. Yet, at the same time, they tend to depict migrant women as ‘naïve, pure, innocent, submissive, obedient and thrifty, or non-materialist’. They also tend to emphasise the different appearances of women from different countries by using the phrase ‘the strength of women’. For example, on their websites, they illuminate the strengths of Southeast Asian women by stressing similar appearances with Korean; on the other hand, the strengths of Central Asian women by stressing exotic westernised beauty. The women who migrated to Korea through marriage are thus homogenised, their individuality obliterated by ignoring their uniqueness and differences.

There are gaps or discontinuities within their representations that stem from their status as a stakeholder with economic interests, their socio-political positions or something that is further restructured in today’s neo-liberal globalised system in relation to marriage migration. However, their interests and locations are rarely articulated or are simply ignored because of the complexities of representation (Spivak, 1988) in so far as the marriage brokers are both ‘speaking for’ and ‘depicting’ the women. The two senses of representation are interrelated and, to a large extent, co-exist. But they are also discontinuous and inevitably contradict each other since speaking for someone reflects the actor’s own location and interests.

Photographs of women's faces for their profile pages
Women’s profile pages on a Korean marriage brokerage website (photos edited by the author for privacy purposes)

These representational practices (re)produce nationalistic discourses, reinforce certain ideologies – particularly patriarchy – and legitimise their interests. However, there has been a lack of attention on the representational practices of marriage brokers even though they are key players in Korea’s cross-border marriage processes. Korean government has since regulated marriage broker agencies’ representation and fines or suspends agencies deemed to foster racial or gender discrimination and commodification of women through their advertising. Yet, marriage brokers have closely interacted with the government and in so doing, push and negotiate for their own interests by changing their tactics with respect to representations of marriage migrants.

There are several institutions in Korea, other than marriage brokers, that are closely associated with cross-border marriage, including governmental support centres for marriage migrants and NGOs. These institutions have played prominent roles in maintaining Korea’s cross-border marriage system by providing a wide range of services, and they also tend to represent marriage migrants actively. For the past year, I have been researching certain institutions in Korea including marriage brokers and their representational practices. To the next step, I expect to conduct fieldwork to explore day-to-day representational practices of several institutions in Seoul to understand how these institutions represent marriage migrants in the different senses of representation. Through this fieldwork, I hope to highlight the politics of these representations that legitimise their interests, and discuss how hegemonic ideology is being reproduced, legitimised or challenged in the process.

Minjae Shin is a PhD Researcher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

 

 

Better Legal and Social Support Needed for LGBTQI+ People Seeking Asylum in Germany

By Mengia Tschalaer and Nina Held 

LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany often remain invisible and unrecognized within Germany’s asylum system unless they specifically come forward and out themselves. Our new report shows that better visibility and access to legal and social support is needed for this group of asylum seekers.

The German Lesbian and Gay Association (Lesben und Schwulen Verband Deutschland) estimates that out of the nearly 1.6 million refugees that have been registered in Germany between 2015 and 2018 approximately 60,000 are LGBTQI+ individuals from countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. While human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity are grounds for seeking asylum in Europe a policy brief, published by University of Bristol, points out that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany face unique challenges as compared to non-LGBTQI+ individuals when seeking refugee protection.

The data that led to the key findings of the policy report derives from our two EU-funded research projects entitled Queer Muslim Asylum in Germany and SOGICA – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum. Nina Held is a sociologist who researches sexual orientation and gender identity asylum claims in Germany at the University of Sussex and Mengia Tschalaer is an anthropologist who examines the asylum experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals with Muslim background in Germany at the University of Bristol. Between 2017 and 2019, we conducted over 100 interviews with NGO professionals, lawyers, judges, policy-makers and LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum on their experiences with queer asylum in Germany. We asked them about the changes needed to improve the social and legal experiences of LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum in Germany. In addition, the research includes the analysis of court observations and LGBTQI+ asylum decisions.

Our projects deploy an intersectional approach aiming to understand how sexuality, gender, gender identity, religion, class, age, ‘race’, nationality and (dis)ability shape asylum experiences for LGBTQI+ individuals.

The report highlights the fact that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany often remain unrecognized and invisible in the asylum system unless they specifically come forward and out themselves. We argue that this is particularly difficult for those who are reluctant to come out due to their specific life situations (i.e. family, marriage, community), feelings of shame and fear of talking about their sexuality/gender identity and/or a lack of safe accommodation and other spaces that would allow for a “coming out”. Indeed, LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who are hiding their sexuality and/or gender identity, who feel uncomfortable to talk about it and/or who are married – some with children – in their countries of origin are often rejected.

Further, we observe that LGBTQI+ individuals seeking asylum in Germany are often housed in asylum accommodation located in rural areas, far away from other LGBTQI+ people and access to LGBTQI+ NGOs in urban areas. Consequently, they feel a heightened sense of loneliness and social isolation and are more likely to experience hate crime and sexual assault.

We also find that decision-making on LGBTQI+ claims is inconsistent and dependent on who decides the case and what kind of knowledge the decision-maker has on issues of sexuality and gender identity as well as on the situation for LGBTQI+ individuals in their country of origin. The policy brief suggests that there is often inadequate knowledge about the situation of LGBTQI+ people in the respective countries of origin resulting, for instance, in decisions where ‘internal relocation’ is suggested.

There is often a disconnect in recognizing gender-based and other forms of violence against LGBTQI+ people as an integral part of their asylum claim. Gender-based violence, in particular, is often deemed as not credible due to the lack of concrete evidence and the lack of awareness that lesbians, transwomen, and bisexual women are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including trafficking.

Poor decision-making results in long waiting periods and thus exacerbates social isolation and the strain on mental health.

Overall, LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum often lack access to legal and social support because there is a lack of information for LGBTQI+ refugees on how and where to find support. Organisations that provide support for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum are generally underfunded and it is thus difficult to get a timely appointment.

And lastly, LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum often lack safe access to adequate medical and psychological treatment due to their invisibility within the asylum system.  They can also experience social isolation and discrimination due to the lack of multilingual therapists that are sensitized to LGBTQI+ issues. This increases the risk of mental health-related issues, which, in turn, can affect the asylum process negatively.

 

Notes

To download the policy brief with the key findings and policy implications please visit the Policy Bristol website here.

To get in touch with the authors of the brief Dr Nina Held and Dr Mengia Tschalaer please contact them via email at n.held@sussex.ac.uk and mengia.tschalaer@bristol.ac.uk.

 

Being at sea: a FUTURES event at the SS Great Britain

By Laurence Publicover

At FUTURES, an evening held recently at the SS Great Britain in Bristol as part of a Europe-wide series of events celebrating academic research, I spoke to families about the experience of being at sea. What is it like, we pondered, to spend days – or even weeks – without sight of land? What might happen, in such circumstances, to your sense of personal or national identity? How would you pass the time, and how might you interact with others – often from very different backgrounds – in the same enclosed environment? 

Drawing on my research on shipboard cultures and the cultural practices that help define and redefine them, I set up three activities to help visitors think about what it might mean to enter on a nautical existence. First, I asked them to match up maritime terms to their definitions. Illuminating the extent to which British culture has developed through oceanic ventures, many English terms and expressions (‘fathom’, ‘the bitter end’, ‘aloof’, ‘clean bill of health’) have maritime origins. Over the centuries, and often by borrowing terms from other maritime cultures (Dutch, Indian, Portuguese), a distinct ‘language of the sea’ has developed, informing and informed by ‘landlubber’ language. My activity asked participants to match up three sets of words and definitions, ranging from ‘Apprentice’ level (‘capsize’, ‘convoy’), to Midshipman level (‘ballast’, ‘bowsprit’), to ‘Skipper’ level (‘futtocks’, ‘cats’ paws’).  

A woman and man study captions of maritime terms to match them up to their definitions
Matching up maritime terms at the SS Great Britain

Taking advantage of my surroundings, my second activity asked children to compose diary entries in which they imagined themselves on board the SS Great Britain in the nineteenth century, bound for Australia on a two-month voyage. To help them think themselves into this scenario, I provided excerpts from three diaries composed by passengers who had travelled on the ship: one an Irish nun heading to Australia to teach in a Catholic school; the other two men on the same voyage, but experiencing it very differently from their steerage- and cabin-class accommodation. The children were, for the most part, horrified by the idea that modern entertainment systems would be unavailable. After a look of despondency and resignation, one finally wrote: ‘Day 1: I had food and read for an hour!’ A second, apparently (like me) impressed and unnerved by the warren-like design of the SS Great Britain, wrote: ‘Day 3: I played hide and seek and I got lost. I had to sleep under the coffee table.’ Perhaps sensitive to the tedium and frustration that can easily build up over a long voyage tedium and frustration, which cultural activities, including diary-writing, were designed to alleviate a third participant wrote: ‘Day 50: I threw my homework in the sea.’ (An environmentalist aside: this child also seemed to sense that dangerous predilection humans have to treat the sea as a giant toilet bowl: a repository for all the things we do not want, whether nuclear waste, by-catch, sin, or corpses we would rather did not become pilgrimage sites.) 

The first and second activities overlapped. As my research has indicated, inexperienced seafarers are often struck – and often disoriented – by the ‘salty’ language spoken by sailors, and one indication that they are beginning to ‘get their sea legs’ is their attempt to try out this language in diary entries. One of my participants was obliging enough to do the same, test-driving two terms he had only just taken on board: ‘Day 7: We went into a convoy with other ships and I pretended to be the skipper.’   

A view of the stern of the SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain, Bristol City Docks

The third activity was knot-tying: a practice that is nautical, but not exclusively so. It is often argued by scholars in oceanic studies that we live in a ‘sea-blind’ culture, neglecting the oceans on which we still rely for our day-to-day existencewith the vast majority of international trade carried by ships, and communications cables tracing the seafloor yet which, due to the mechanisation of shipping and the advent of air travel, no longer feel part of our everyday world. If this is so, then what has happened to this specific skill, knot-tying? The answer appears to be that it has passed on to amateur climbers; there were several of them at the SS Great Britain, and they were able to tie far more knots than me. 

It was this question of the place of the sea in our culture – and our capacity to remain blind to the oceans – that I was trying to draw out during my conversations across the evening. The stall across from me was, rather wonderfully, asking children to think about what was inside their mobile phones, and so I asked those who came over to me afterwards how long they thought their phones might have spent at sea, and who might have been working on the ship that carried them over the oceans. We don’t tend to think of our phones, or clothes, or appliances, as ‘maritime’ objects; it is – to me at least – strange to think of them in mid-ocean, thousands of miles from shore. The strangeness of this thought is an indication of how easy it is to imagine the sea – as it has so often been imagined, in most cultures – as ‘alien’, beyond the human realm, even when our everyday lives – the very words we speak – are in so many ways structured through human relations with the oceans. My aim, in the helpful surroundings of the SS Great Britain, was to ask participants to reflect on some of the implications of sea-blindness. What might it mean, for example, for climate change? How often do we reflect on the labour conditions not only of those who make the objects we consume, but who transport them? If we are going to continue to exploit the ocean (the seabed, the fish, the manganese nodules), then who should get to decide how we do so? And if we fail to look directly at the sea, what does that mean for the migrants trying, in far less secure and well-appointed surroundings than the SS Great Britain, to cross it?  

MMB reflects on the past year

By Bridget Anderson, Emma Newcombe and Emily Walmsley

In the run up to our second MMB AGM we thought we’d take the chance to showcase migration related research in Bristol, reflect on our past year’s work as a Specialist Research Institute and discuss plans for future development by writing an annual report.  At this stage it is just a draft so we are happy to take suggestions for changes and additions. If you would like your work profiled in this report please do get in touch – mmb-sri@bristol.ac.uk.

In 2018/19 MMB focused on how we could organise ourselves, in intellectual and practical terms. We discussed the range of research interests across different faculties and as a result set up four cross-faculty teams to develop our ‘Research Challenges’. Our four co-ordinators have done an excellent job in getting these research challenges going, including organising four great kick-off events that brought together a wide range of participants. We are very grateful to Pier, Nariman, Manoj, and Angelo for all their hard work.

We set up a cross-faculty management group to help us fulfil our objectives and are grateful to them too for the ways in which they have engaged and thought through how we can develop our work. We also found funding for a part-time administrator and Emily joined us in November 2018.

In January we launched our website and the new MMB ‘look’ (we even have MMB pens!). The website is a great place for showcasing your research and bringing it to a wider, cross-disciplinary audience. Do let us know if you want to have a listing or contribute a blog.

It’s been an event-full year for MMB. We’ve concentrated on building our internal community and as such have held or supported 25 events – in May we had four running in one week!  One particular highlight was having the privilege of hosting the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants for an event that brought together UoB researchers with activists and community workers from Bristol. A big thanks to Diego Acosta from Law for arranging this. We hope that you’ve found the events stimulating and that you’ve taken the chance to engage with people from across the University.

Finally, remember that MMB is here to support you. In the coming year we will be trialling some ‘drop-in sessions’. If you have an idea you want to think through, a question about impact or are in search of contacts, do come along (details will be on our website). Also, we are keen to promote the wide range of research and publication projects going on in Bristol on migration and mobilities, many of which are described further in this report.

If you would like to add your work to this report and our website, please do get in touch – mmb-sri@bristol.ac.uk.

 

‘Stop talking; listen to me first!’ Fieldwork in India

By Pankhuri Agarwal

Fieldwork research has a significant effect on one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. However, it is astonishing that not much time, space and attention is devoted to exploring, learning and deliberating upon the variety of fieldwork experience that goes undocumented in academic work including on topics such as gender bias and mansplaining; nationality and cultural ethos as a researcher of particular origin; uncertainties, failures and long periods of waiting; emotional and mental harm to the researcher, to name a few.

I realised this more when I recently completed seven months of socio-legal multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Delhi and neighbouring states. The fieldwork broadly comprised of investigating the performance of Article 23 of the Constitution of India, ‘prohibition of traffic in human beings, begar and other similar forms of forced labour’ and its effect on the everyday lived experience of people (begar means non-payment of wages for work done). This entailed accompanying sex workers and bonded/forced labourers in their legal journeys as internal migrants (in various occupations) through various sites such as the courtrooms, police stations, prison, shelter homes, red light area, informal worksites and district and central government offices. I conducted in-depth interviews with sex workers and bonded/forced labourers, besides interviews with related legal stakeholders. These interviews were complemented with courtroom observation, participant observation and a study of legal case files, which captured the entirety of the participant’s long, unpredictable and complex legal journeys.

G.B. Road (Swami Shradhanand Marg), red-light area, Delhi, India
G.B. Road (Swami Shradhanand Marg), red-light area, Delhi, India

The process of following these movements through various sites meant that I often occupied multiple (assumed) positions and identities simultaneously – that of a researcher, female friend, student, journalist, lawyer, intern and so on. This also implied that I was seen in the light of multiple assumptions in terms of my class, caste, occupation, marital status and age. Whilst the fieldwork was filled with many positive experiences due to the support and encouragement of comrades and activist organisations, in this article I want to focus on the gender bias and emotional burden the fieldwork demanded of me as an ‘Indian female researcher’.

Several researchers before me have taken the responsibility of writing about how their gender, age, caste, nationality, class or their very being were put into question while doing fieldwork (see Ravina Aggarwal, Elizabeth Chacko, Isabelle Kunze and Martina Padmanabhan Erdkunde, Isabella Ng, Nitasha Sharma and Jillian M. Rickly among others). This is because as a female researcher, one can be constantly put off by enquiries and curiosities surrounding one’s marital status, age, race, caste, class or clothing. It is often assumed that the researcher is unaware, innocent or naive. Dressing ‘maturely’ does not help either. When I interviewed some elite male participants, they (ignoring my questions) started by offering me basic definitions of terms and concepts that I did not even ask for. On some occasions, I was stopped with an angry hand gesture (while I was talking) and, in a very aggressive tone, ‘Stop talking; listen to me first’. This was even though I had explained that I had worked on and researched these issues for over six years.

This is not surprising especially when we know that power relations, gender violence and hierarchy are embedded in the soul and spirit of Indian society. We are a society built and sustained on the robust, unshaken and eternal foundation of patriarchy. Amidst this, the intellectual work, emotional labour and the mental health effects of such experiences go unnoticed, let alone compensated for. It is generally accepted and internalised that women, especially feminist women invite such reactions. And you alone are responsible for them. ‘You must have done something’, people say, or, ‘Just ignore it; you think too much’.

Women from all walks of life gather at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 4th April 2019 to raise their voices against gender-based violence, patriarchy and caste-based politics and to demand a secular, equal and tolerant State.
Women from all walks of life gather at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 4th April 2019 to raise their voices against gender-based violence, patriarchy and caste-based politics and to demand a secular, equal and tolerant State.

I also realised that in the field, people (in both personal and professional relationships) were less concerned about my research and well-being than with the roles I should be playing as a woman. I was expected to be ‘back home’. I wondered what for. ‘You should not take up such fieldwork travels while [your partner] is left alone at home.’ These accusations were followed up with solutions. ‘You do not have to travel. How will you travel? We will arrange for a ten-minute phone call and you can write that you interviewed this person. This will make the fieldwork quicker and you can return soon.’

I often pondered upon such encounters and noted them in my reflection journal. Where am I supposed to return? To who and why? Why this rush and pressure? Why was my mobility between fieldwork sites a matter of concern and curiosity to some people? Why was there no interest in my research or the emotional roller coaster I was going through in the field? The mystery of my return concerned and perturbed many people in the field. Due to this, I was constantly called to account for myself, not as a researcher, but because of my position as a woman with a partner. My identity was constantly attached to his as if I did not exist as an individual. This was overwhelming not only for me but also for my partner because, in these conversations, he was made an implicit participant without consent.

Once such distressing encounters had become a usual occurrence, I mastered the poker face. I needed to collect data and could not risk annoying anyone. So, I laughed when they laughed, expressed concern when they did, shook my head often as they did and in rare instances, gave a ‘shy woman-like smile’ when ‘uncomfortable topics’ were discussed, as was expected of a woman from a ‘good family’. If I did not, they stared. So, I did.

During such emotionally troubling times, fortunately, I had some comforting companions. My supervisor shared with me her own fieldwork experience of ‘mansplaining’. This encouraged me to reflect on my experience of fieldwork as a feminist woman with those of the female participants of my research; how different yet similar our lives are in terms of how we all ‘risked lives, homes, relationships, in the struggle for more bearable worlds’ (Ahmed, 2017, p.1). The subaltern resists, speaks and revolts invisibly and powerfully, even in the middle of moving, parting from their land and homes, and often their families and children. How powerful, beautiful and empowering is this!

Released bonded labourers from across the country protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 1st March 2019 to demand compensation in long-pending legal proceedings.
Released bonded labourers from across the country protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 1st March 2019 to demand compensation in long-pending legal proceedings.

I also found comfort in Maya Angelou’s autobiography where she, through her brilliant and unapologetic writing, stumbles through life from one role to another both personally and professionally, fighting and discovering the multiple ways in which women are not only made to feel small and incompetent but are often treated as second-class citizens. They are expected to fit into many roles and stereotypes and made to feel guilty if they do not follow the norm. Maya Angelou was speaking to me, ‘Onus and guilt were shifting into my lap, where they surely didn’t belong’ (2008, p.246).

Amidst these reflections, Sara Ahmed gave me the reassurance to not ignore, give in and ‘adjust in an unjust world’ (2017, p.84) (emphasis my own). I then realised that the politics of fieldwork research was gradually merging with my feminism(s). The personal was indeed political and the political became personal. This transported with it the (un)comfortable consciousness of my being, beyond that of a researcher and a woman. These musings kept visiting me because of how I was seen and how I was not seen during fieldwork. This is even though I have spent more than 28 years growing up in India, being accustomed to conducting myself in an ‘appropriate manner’ in both public and private spaces, not because I want to but because I need to. I know and have experienced that speaking up does not always help. It often leads to accusations of creating an ‘unnecessary scene’. ‘To disappoint an expectation is to become a disappointment’ (Ahmed, 2017, p.52). So, in a society where people are accepted, rewarded and applauded for being sexist, casteist and misogynistic, bringing out wrong can often make you the reason for the wrong. How shocking is this revelation? Not at all.

I am sure that these experiences resonate with some other researchers and require space, time and attention for ‘revelation’. For this reason, I am organising a series of (three) seminars with the MMB Networking Funds Grant between January and June 2020 at the University of Bristol for PhDs and ECRs. Each seminar will have a specific theme around fieldwork research. These seminars will be followed with a writing workshop where experienced researchers from across disciplines will be invited to mentor PhDs and ECRs to bring this important discussion together in an edited volume, report or podcasts. If you would like more information about the seminars and the writing workshop, please e-mail me at pankhuri.agarwal@bristol.ac.uk.

Pankhuri Agarwal is a PhD Researcher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

 

Workshop on image-making in migration research and campaigns

By Nariman MassoumiPoster of Image-making workshop

The first event of MMB’s Imagination, Belonging, Futures Research Challenge took place on Tuesday 2 July at the Department of Film and Television, University of Bristol.

Focusing on the topic of ‘image-making in migration research and campaigns’, the aim of the workshop was to consider the uses of photographic images of refugees and asylum seekers in migration research and campaigning work, exploring problems and challenges as well as alternative approaches (photographic or otherwise) to the visual representation of migration and displacement.

Around 30 people participated in the workshop including migration researchers and academics, representatives from campaigns and NGOs, filmmakers, photographers, artists and activists. The workshop was split into three sessions and the event was chaired by Bridget Anderson, MMB Director and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship.

Image of two Matses children on the screen, and Camilla Morelli speaking
Camilla Morelli speaks about her collaborative film-making with Matses youth

The first session consisted of panel presentations and discussion focusing particularly on ethical responsibilities, informed consent, collaborative and participatory practices and the processes involved in producing images. Camilla Morelli (Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Bristol) presented her fascinating animated film about the imagination of marginalised Matses youth and their desires to live in the city. This film was part of her British Academy funded collaborative project Indigenous Animations, which brings together indigenous artists, animators and Amazonian children and youth to co-produce animated films. Through their participation in the research and visualisation processes, the participants’ consent and agency in their own representation was embedded into the outcomes.

Often the ‘people in the pictures’ – those whose images are used in campaigning material – are not consulted in how they are represented or what their opinions are on the subject. This was an issue passionately taken up by Jess Crombie, a humanitarian communications consultant and Lecturer in documentary image making and ethics at London College of Communication. Jess presented on research she conducted on the image-making of Save the Children and other NGOs. She stressed the importance of involving often unheard voices and views of those photographed in the image-making process (one of the recommendations of her report) alongside adopting creative and collaborative practices and sensitive communication that respect human dignity.

But collaborative practices can also become an additional source of stress and responsibility for those already dealing with the mental and physical trauma of fleeing persecution, being displaced and coping with hostile and restrictive asylum systems and policies, as Vicky Canning pointed out in her presentation on activism and resistance in refugee rights research. Canning called for a more direct, less ambiguous language in migration research and the system violence experienced by refugees, especially women. Vicky displayed her Asylum Navigation Board, which aims to help people understand the multiple barriers and restrictions facing those navigating the asylum system.

The second session turned towards presentations from the local community, beginning with a moving photo story by Bnar Sardar, an Iraqi Kurdish photojournalist living and studying Bristol. Titled Two Religions, One Roof, the photographic series offered an intimate portrait of belonging and co-habitation between two displaced families (one Christian and one Sunni) in Kirkurk. Bnar fled Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and is one of the only women to have documented the violence and displacement in the region.

Image of Ruth Jacobs speaking and a refugee's photograph of Bristol on the screen
Ruth Jacobs shows images taken by refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol

Bnar recently took part in a community project in St. Pauls Darkrooms for refugee and asylum seekers – a short black and white photographic film course run by Ruth Jacobs from the Real Photography Company. Participants had the opportunity to take, develop and print photographs of Bristol. Ruth discussed the process involved and presented some of the images produced by the participants, which were exhibited at the Vestibules on College Green in June. The images presented a unique vision of the city through the poetic perspective of refugees.

St. Pauls Darkrooms is in the same building as Bristol Refugee Rights, a local asylum seeker and refugee support group. Ruth Soandro-Jones, Fundraising and Communications Manager for the organisation, followed with some important and candid reflections on the challenges of obtaining and using images of people seeking asylum while they are accessing support at BRR, especially in relation to fundraising requirements.

In the final session participants broke into groups to discuss a set of questions posed by organisers and raised by participants themselves in advance, and the issues discussed were brought together and categorised into key themes by Jacqueline Maingard (Reader in Film) in a short summary at the end.

The workshop had a dynamic, buzzing energy and a sense of urgency. A whole host of problems and challenges in the use of images in migration were brought forward and discussed. It appeared many participants were grappling with similar questions and challenges, despite coming from different sectors, perspectives and practices.

There was a desire amongst attendees to continue the discussion and consider the workshop as a launch for further activity and action. Watch this space!

Nariman Massoumi is the co-ordinator for the MMB Research Challenge, Imagination, Belonging, Futures.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Language as a component of integration

By Tom Dixon (ACH Senior Project Officer) and Pier-Luc Dupont from MMB

On 16th April, ACH and Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB, University of Bristol) hosted the third in the series of joint workshops, this time on the topic of Language. Tom Dixon, Senior Project Officer and Rachel Sharp, Support and Integration Team Leader presented from ACH and Pier-Luc Dupont from MMB. The audience was made of academics from various universities across the South West and Wales.

Workshop held at the ACH offices

This workshop was the final in a series of joint workshops aiming to break down barriers between academia and practitioner organisations. ACH has delivered ESOL both via traditional methods and using our own innovative methodologies.

ACH talked about the current model for ESOL provision in the UK and the limitations and issues inherent to it. We also then discussed some of our alternative approaches including English My Way and our SEESI ‘life before language’ methodology.

MMB discussed the problems posed by nationalist approaches to language learning and more specifically by the assumption that the linguistic needs of migrants and refugees are limited to the learning of standard English. As studies on cultural diversity and transnationalism have shown, intra-state linguistic diversity and international mobility mean that plurilingualism and translation services are often necessary for people to participate in economic, political, cultural and social activities. In this context, the challenge is not only to find out how to teach languages effectively but also what languages to teach, to whom, and at what level of proficiency or formality. To answer these questions, language educators must understand why people may want to use certain languages at specific stages of their life course. They must then identify the barriers they face and design interventions to overcome the barriers in the short, medium and long term. In some cases, this may entail the simultaneous teaching of English and other languages or the development of multilingual public and private services. MMB illustrated this with the lived experience of Roma participants in an EU-funded project on justice (ETHOS), which found that linguistic exclusion and stigma were often bound up with racism and other sources of inequality.

After the two short presentations a discussion followed with all participants asking questions of the presenters. These discussions quickly moved from language learning to a broader conversation about learning in general, employment and wider integration. This direction is indicative of the intersectional nature of work undertaken at ACH and MMB and why taking a holistic approach to integration is so essential.

All three workshops have been very useful in sharing expertise with a wider audience and learning from each other.

ACH is always keen to remain informed of relevant academic work which can improve the way in which we support tenants and the wider refugee community in Bristol. If you want to learn more about our projects and approaches, please contact tom.dixon@ach.org.uk.

SMart solutions for the self-employed beyond the ‘British Way’

By Harry Pitts

At first glance the UK’s current record of job creation seems impressive. But the numbers conceal more than they reveal. Self-employment represents an increasing amount of new jobs. Among these number those who have sought out self-employment to enjoy more freedom in where, how and when they work. But alongside them co-exist a vast expanse of gig workers whose legal status as ‘self-employed’ is mediated by platforms that connect customers with the providers of a service. The algorithmic control to which they are subject makes them just as compelled to work as any employee, with none of the security. Hence, this and similar situations have been labelled ‘false self-employment’ by some.

The self-employed workforce is therefore diverse, home to a range of motivations and experiences. There are certainly perceived and actual benefits to the independence it grants workers, often working in sectors where self-employment is a more appropriate way to deliver the specific kind of good or service produced. But this frequently comes at the expense of the security of workers and the stability of their income. Late payments are a major problem, with over half of invoices paid late by clients. Volatility of income negatively impacts upon the ability to get mortgages and loans.

Moreover, the introduction of the Universal Credit, with a monthly ‘Minimum Income Floor’ claimants must reach in order to be eligible for support, is set to exacerbate the consequences of income volatility for the several hundred thousand of self-employed people forecast to claim the benefit. Among these will be some of the least well-off and most precarious self-employed people, unable to evidence steady monthly income in line with the reporting criteria. The measure is currently subject to legal challenge, but it is important to remember that part of the initial impetus for the Universal Credit reforms was to drive people in unformalised, apparently unprofitable forms of work into more formalised, productive parts of the economy. It appears the Minimum Income Floor may serve to have this effect, at the risk of severe financial and personal discomfort to those on the receiving end.

Before Brexit came to occupy the legislative agenda, Theresa May’s premiership set out its stall on an agenda pitched to addressing the interests of workers. As part of this, and in recognition of some of the wider issues surrounding the formalisation of the self-employed as part of the architecture of British employment regulation, the government commissioned the Taylor Review. The Taylor Review proposed a number of recommendations for how the government could stimulate and support the creation of new platforms that, in a cooperative spin on the capitalist ethos driving their development as means of exploiting workers, bring independent workers together to organise for better pay, benefits and conditions. However, the report tends to focus on quite a individualised representation of the self-employed that overlooks the importance of collective responses to the issues they face.

More problematically, the Taylor Review advocated that in seeking to address the contradiction between security and autonomy among the self-employed in the UK, policy solutions should narrowly follow the path of a so-called ‘British Way’ distinctive to the specificities of the UK’s supposedly unique political economy, which Taylor perceived to possess sufficient dynamism to make it worth preserving. This appeal to a ‘British Way’, however, obscures the plenitude of practical examples already in evidence across the Channel among our possibly soon-to-be-former European partners. In countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, in somewhat different political-economic contexts, social innovations responsible to the risks incurred by the self-employed are at a much more advanced stage of development.

Broodfonds, for instance, is a Dutch project that establishes a mutual fund into which independent workers pay a monthly sum, the accumulated commonwealth of which can be drawn down upon by those that fall out of work due to sickness or other factors and have no statutory right to the sick pay or other benefits afforded those with the legal status of employees. The scheme is organised around local branches and coordinated through a ‘platform cooperative’ model. Inspired by the Broodfonds, an organisation, Breadfunds UK, is currently exploring whether the slightly different structure of British financial regulation permits the implementation of such a scheme in the UK.

More extensive and interesting still is the SMart cooperative. Primarily based in Belgium but with branches in eight European countries, SMart is a platform that acts as a defacto ‘employer’ of its self-employed members. Rather than self-employed workers doing business with clients themselves, SMart invoices clients in their behalf any chases any late payments, in return for a percentage of the amount invoiced. It also guarantees those payments should clients fail to pay from a mutual guarantee fund similar to that found in the Broodfonds scheme.

SMart workers can manage their income through the SMart platform, drawing down what would otherwise be business income as a formal salary apportioned equally across months. This confers upon self-employed workers the legal status of employees with all the rights and access to benefits that flow from it. But it also enables them at the same time to enjoy the autonomy and independence of self-employment as a career choice, and mitigate some of the negatives of so-called ‘false’ self-employment in the gig economy.

An important aspect for the UK context is that the platform grants workers the ability to smooth out their income month-by-month, standing a potential solution to the problem of income volatility vis-à-vis the monthly reporting of the Minimum Income Floor for those self-employed people forecast to claim the Universal Credit.

There is already precedent for the presence of such intermediary institutions in the shape of the often exploitative ‘umbrella companies’ used to manage payroll on behalf of temporary workers and the agencies through which they are hired. The UK’s new Director of Labour Market Enforcement has set about to stamp out the abuses made possible in the latter. But SMart would represent a radical appropriation of a similar intermediary status within UK law.

Rather than further confusing the contested legal status of some forms of self-employed work under British employment regulation, the creation of a new category of what the Belgians call ‘SMart workers’ could serve to clarify it. SMart has become a semi-formalised part of the apparatus of employment relations in Belgium, and there is no substantial reason why a similar scheme could do the same in this country. Indeed, the Department for Work and Pensions have shown interest in the Business and Employment Cooperative model SMart represents.

A potential basis for experimenting with SMart in the UK may be Indycube.Community, a cooperative trade union for the self-employed established by Indycube, a co-working cooperative spreading out from South Wales to establish branches in a number of UK towns and cities, and the Community Union who, in the wake of the decline of the steel industry, adopted a new model of non-industrial organising more adept at accommodating the specific needs and demands of the self-employed than less agile UK trade unions.

Currently, Indycube.Community provides to members co-working space, invoice-chasing, financial and legal support and advice, and a campaigning voice for the representation of self-employed workers. It stands well-placed to begin bringing into reality aspects of the SMart model in the very different regulatory ad political space of the so-called ‘British Way’ of employment relations.

At a time where one half of Britain wishes to pull itself away from European institutions, it is essential to look across the water and learn from others what can be done to support real self-employment endowed with both autonomy and security, against the precariousness of its sometimes ‘false’ reality.

 

Harry Pitts is a Lecturer in Management in the Department of Management at the School of Economics, Finance and Management, University of Bristol, where he also leads the Faculty Research Group for Perspectives on Work.