We have exciting plans for 2020 as MMB continues to develop its dynamic research remit and build an ever-stronger community of scholars. Our four research challenges are running a range of workshops, seminars and networking events in the coming months, which will showcase the breadth of approaches to migration and mobilities studies among our members. We will also be organising a public lecture by a prominent international activist and scholar – identity to be revealed soon.
New this year is the MMB film group, in motion, which will be screening films about migration and movement on the last Tuesday of each month. We are also starting a regular MMB research seminar for members to share their work and receive critical feedback from colleagues. And one of our PhD students is running a series of workshops on the logistical, ethical and intellectual challenges of fieldwork. Keep an eye on our website for details of these and other events coming up.
Don’t forget, the website is a place where you can showcase your research. Do contact us if you have any questions or would like help in developing your text and illustrations.
At the end of last year we published the MMB 2018-2019 Annual Report to show our progress in building an interdisciplinary network of scholars and supporting the wide range of migration-related research across the university and city of Bristol. The report outlines the focus of each of our research challenges, which bring people together from diverse disciplines to think about migration and mobility in new ways. The report features many of the research projects of these challenge members as well as highlighting some of the key events organised by MMB in the past year.
In 2019-2020 we will continue to consolidate and support our internal community while also developing closer partnerships with institutions and organisations outside the UK. These include The New School in New York, the European Public Law Office in Greece and the Universities of Linkoping and Malmo in Sweden. We are also delighted to be liaising with a network of University of Bristol scholars working in Latin America to support their research on movement and migration in the region.
Do get in touch if you have any news about relevant events, publications or research ideas. We also still have a small amount of funding for networking events and activities, so if you have an idea that will take place between now and the end of July 2020 please complete the application form. We will next review applications at the end of February.
Three years on from the negotiated peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian state, MMB co-hosted members of the Colombian Truth Commission (CTC) to participate in ‘Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia’, a week of transnational dialogue and collaboration between UK and Colombian institutions.
The University of Bristol has been working with the CTC through a variety of different collaborative projects including ‘MEMPAZ: Bringing Memories in from the Margins’, funded by AHRC, Newton and Colciencias, which supports the creative memory practices of local organisations to bring memories from the margins into Colombia’s transitional justice processes; and ‘Transitional Justice as Education’, funded by AHRC, which works to support the gender and pedagogy work of the CTC by connecting it with feminist and educational expertise from around the world.
The week of events provided a unique opportunity to hear directly from the CTC about the achievements, innovations and challenges of truth-seeking both within and beyond the national border at this pivotal time in Colombia’s history. In this blog I highlight the key messages shared.
Conflict, exileand truth-telling of the ‘Colombia outside Colombia’
Forced displacement has been recognised as a major consequence of the armed conflict in Colombia, sometimes forcing victims to leave the country and go into exile. According to the National Victims’ Registry, there are more than 8,500,000 victims of the armed conflict and 7,500,000 victims of forced displacement in Colombia. It is unknown exactly how many of them are living abroad but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates it to be approximately 400,000 – it is likely to be even higher.
In an evening of talks on ‘The Truth Commission and the Colombian Diaspora,’ Commissioner Carlos Martín Beristain discussed the work being done to collect testimonies in the ‘Colombia outside of Colombia’ in order to investigate how the armed conflict has been experienced by the Colombian diaspora and uncover why so many people were forced to leave. The scale of this work is unprecedentedin international Transitional Justice experience.
Another fundamental aim of the CTC is to make theexperiences of the Colombian diaspora, which are relatively unknown within Colombia, visible within the country’s historical memory.
How can a diaspora be involved in a truth commission?
In its first year of operation, the CTC, led by Beristain, has been working with civil society and victims’ organisations across the world to help build trust, to educate people about the CTC’s mandate and process, and to learn more about the expectations, needs and concerns of the victims. More than 120 people have been trained so far, operating within country specific ‘nodes’, to interview Colombians living in exile.
Beristain was joined in Bristol by members of the UK Truth Commission hubto reflect on their efforts to encourage UK based Colombians to give their testimony. Five of these members, including a lawyer, an academic and a priest, gave deeply poignant accounts of the stories they have heard and the challenges they have faced in encouraging people to come forward. Andrei Gomez Suarez, one of thisUK based team, called on the audience to become the channel of communication between people who may want to give a testimony and the CTC. Through the discussions it was recognised that documenting so many traumatic accounts can take its toll on those carrying out the interviews.
The challenges of working in a polarised context
Beristain also outlined clearly the obstaclesfacing the truth-seeking processes in such a polarised context, where lies have been institutionalised, pain internalised and social fractures run deep in society. In another event that week, Gonzalo Sánchez, the former director of the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory and a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Commission, reflected on historical memory and peacebuilding in times of such polarisation.
Sánchezdiscussed the question of who produces memory work and for whom. He raised concerns that in Colombia today, memory and truth are being threatened by ‘toxic narratives’ made up of hatred, vengeance and fear, built up over years of conflict and driven by those who oppose the negotiated peace agreement. A key challenge for the CTC is to ensure that marginalised voices, which have historically been excluded and discriminated against, are heard and taken seriously by the Colombian state.
The opportunity for reconciliation
The final event of the week was a screening of ‘The Witness’ (El Testigo, 2019), a new documentary about the photographer Jesús Abad Colorado who has documented violence in Colombia for over 25 years. It tells the inspiring human stories of the people in Abad Colorado’s photographs, exploring the pertinent themes of resilience and forgiveness, and what they mean to those for whom so much is at stake. The film generates a strong emotional connection with the conflict, felt even by those who experienced the violence indirectly or from a distance.
Following the screening, Gonzalo Sánchez and Lina Malagón, a Colombian human rights lawyer teaching at the University of Bristol, reflected on whether Colombia is now ripe for reconciliation. It is time to know the truth, said Malagon, because we all have a story to tell and we need to move on.
Bristol Colombia Week 2019 provided a valuable opportunity for many Colombians and friends of Colombia to learn more about the CTC and to connect with the country’s transitional justice process, and with one another, so we can support peacebuilding from afar. Truth-seeking in Colombia will not end with the culmination of the CTC’s three-year period. It is hoped that the final report produced by the Commission will create the conditions conducive to peace and will be accompanied by meaningful efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence on a local and national level, and beyond the national borders.
Mary Ryder (email@example.com) is a PhD researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research explores the conflict narratives of rural farmers in drug-producing regions of Colombia, within the country’s transitional justice processes.
‘Esther, can you see Amir. He’s been refused Section 95 support …’
‘Samira, I need you to do an urgent HC1 for this chap with kidney failure …’
‘Mariana, we’ve got a young boy off a lorry just turned up. He has nothing. He’s with Muna in the main hall just now getting a cup of tea and some warm clothes …’
Harriet, the Caseworker Coordinator, is allocating appointments. If the work sounds complicated, it is: Section 95, Schedule 10, Section 4, Pre-Action Protocol, HC1. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Harriet’s team were hot-shot lawyers, well-remunerated for their extensive knowledge and experience. But this is Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), and Harriet’s team are all volunteers.
Some years ago, when I worked in the sector, there were specialist providers who received statutory funding to help asylum-seekers – who are not permitted to work – to apply for financial support and accommodation. But government policy put an end to that funding and now, in Bristol at least, those seeking access to the little to which they are entitled come in despair to the advice team at BRR. I’m an academic now and a trustee of BRR, and I’ve come to find out about the everyday impact of the Hostile Environment on its intended targets.
When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May enacted a policy aimed at creating an environment ‘so hostile’, that those seeking safety and security in the UK would abandon their quest, give up fighting for their rights and entitlements, and leave the country. This policy has not been successful: the number of those removed voluntarily and by force from the UK has fallen year by year, while recent research estimates that for every ‘authorised’ migrant in the UK, there is another ‘unauthorised’ one.
But the policy has caused untold harm to many. The national media has reported on some of the casualties. The plight, for example, of the highly-skilled, recruited with the hope that they would make the UK their home and then subsequently refused leave to remain after many years on the spurious basis of tax return discrepancies. The abrupt curtailment of the visas of tens of thousands of students following evidence that an unspecified number had cheated at an English test. And the terrible injustices and hardships suffered by many of the (often British) children of the Windrush generation.
These groups of ‘authorised’ migrants and/or their children are portrayed as being the innocent victims of the Hostile Environment Policy; collateral damage caused by confusing unlawful with undocumented. But what about the toll of this policy on its intended targets – asylum-seekers, failed asylum-seekers and the ‘unauthorised’? And what about the damage to British justice and reputation? Can we really still claim to be a welcoming society?
Once Harriet has finished allocations, she asks the team if there are any issues that need to be discussed. Esther relates that she gave up after spending two and a half hours waiting in a telephone queue last week on a routine call to Migrant Help, the charity awarded the Home Office contract as the ‘point of call’ for migrants who have questions about their applications or need to inform the Home Office about a change in circumstances. I’m aghast. Two and a half hours! But Esther is not complaining about the length of the wait. Kafkaesque-style government bureaucracy has become so normalised for this team that waiting – the very condition of being an asylum-seeker – is no longer noticeable as an outrage. She is complaining instead about Migrant Help’s recent decision to remove the indication regarding the position you are in the queue and therefore the potential length of the wait.
Later, Advice Team Manager Elinor explains to me that before the introduction of the Hostile Environment Policy, asylum-seekers and caseworkers could contact the Home Office directly about their applications for the basic support to which they are entitled: £37.75 per week and accommodation. The whole process of applying usually took a few weeks, and if further evidence was required, the Home Office would call and request it. Now, applications typically take twice as long, and then have to be chased and actively pursued by BRR volunteers. For a new claimant that usually means 6-8 weeks of living on the streets or sofa-surfing. Migrant Help is the only point of contact for everything support-related, including numerous housing problems such as broken boilers, rat infestations, major damp problems, no locks on the door. One BRR member spent six months with no running water.
‘They would be better called “Migrant Barrier”,’ says one volunteer. ‘They do not help.’
Volunteers recount experiences of waiting for hours, only to be cut off when they get through; of staff who seem to have little to no understanding about the process and who mis-advise. Complaints about the atrocious service fall on deaf ears: this is after all one aspect of how an environment is made hostile. Meanwhile the process of claiming financial support has become more complex and more bureaucratic. The volunteers give me examples where the Home Office has sent out a request for a different document week after week, or even the same document, repeatedly causing delay to applications. Or worse, refusing applications outright over failure to tick a box, meaning that they need to be appealed which takes more time.
I ask them to describe the system to me:
‘So far from justice.’
‘Chaotic but also cruel.’
‘Hostile. Deliberately hostile.’
These are applications made not just for the welfare of the migrant who will be destitute without this basic entitlement, but also for the welfare of our communities and the streets where we live. Street homelessness takes a terrible toll on the mental and physical health of the individual involved, but it also has a financial and social toll on all of us.
After the meeting I am given the opportunity to observe Esther as she talks with Amir, the BRR member who has been refused ‘Section 95’. He had applied for just the financial element because he was staying with a local family. They themselves were on a very low income and struggled to feed an extra person. The decision to refuse Amir has led the family to decide that they can no longer offer him accommodation. They have written a letter explaining their circumstances: feeding Amir on their very tight budget means they have had to scrimp on heating and clothing. They add that Amir often wakes up screaming, which disturbs them and their children.
Amir must now apply for both the financial element and accommodation. He has nowhere else to go. He is softly spoken, apologetic and deeply sad. He tells Esther that he has not seen his own family for ten years. Esther takes him through the application patiently and slowly. She says everything of importance at least three times. She tells him right at the outset that he is unlikely to be housed in Bristol. He tells Esther that he has friends here and a support network, and his mental health is bad and it would be too difficult to move somewhere else. Esther explains that she understands all this but if he applies for accommodation, he will be housed somewhere else, possibly far, far away.
While the asylum support system has justifiably been described as ‘disabling’, Esther is consistently enabling. She and fellow advice volunteers are just one part of BRR’s aptly named ‘Welcome Team’, a 30-strong group of volunteers who do all they can to provide hospitality and warmth to counter the overt government hostility.
‘Sometimes there’s not much we can practically do,’ explains Mariana, ‘but just listening to the person and treating them like a fellow human being goes such a long way.’
By the time I leave, the line of silent, crushed and despairing faces that waited outside the hall on my arrival has gone. In its place, the hall reverberates with the noise of chatter, games, crafts, cooking and laughter.
If a policy that deprives residents of jobs, homes and money is going to be introduced, one would hope it would be targeted using the best available data with strong failsafe mechanisms in place to reverse any errors. It would, you would have thought, be a disaster if innocent individuals ended up being forced into penury and out of the country as a result of incorrect information.
In reality, Home Office data on the immigration status of residents of the United Kingdom is often wrong and this has become increasingly clear in the years following Theresa May’s announcement in 2012 of her intention to make Britain a ‘really hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘. Public confirmation was provided as early as 2013 after a contract was awarded to the private company Capita to track down 174,000 suspected unlawful residents on the Home Office database. As soon as the company started sending out threatening text messages, though, it became clear that lawful residents and even British citizens were somehow on the database (Dixon, 2018). In 2016 it emerged that hostile environment bank account checks were throwing up incorrect results as much as 10% of the time (Bolt, 2016). In these cases, people were wrongly being refused permission to open a bank account. Officials admitted that relevant changes to a person’s status might not be entered on the relevant database ‘until some months after the event, and that data was often entered in the wrong field, commonly as free text.’
Similar issues arose with the new duty on the DVLA to cancel driving licences. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration examined the use of these powers in 2016 (Bolt, 2016). The Home Office made 9,732 revocation requests to the DVLA in 2015, all but meeting the target set of 10,000 per year. Some of these licences were wrongly revoked, though. The same year, 259 licences had to be reinstated after complaints. In the meantime, those affected would have been unable to drive or would have committed the strict liability criminal offence of driving without a licence. As the Chief Inspector said, ‘the Home Office did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of such errors for the individuals affected.’
As well as getting the facts wrong on people it does know about, there are many people living in the UK the Home Office does not know about. The vast majority are lawful residents and many are British citizens. They just do not have documents yet, perhaps because they did not really need them until the hostile environment was launched in 2012. There is currently no population database or register for the UK, nor is there a central register of British citizens. There are plenty of British citizens who have never applied for a passport, for example. The last census showed that 17% of UK residents (about 10 million people) do not have passports, the majority of whom are likely to be British citizens. There is simply no reason for the Home Office to know about these people and, traditionally, it would be considered none of the Home Office’s business to know about them. There are also plenty of foreign nationals living in the UK unknown to the Home Office, millions of whom are lawfully resident. Some have been resident for decades and were granted status many years ago, before Home Office computer records began. Nevertheless, they are all potential victims of the hostile environment.
One of the fundamental flaws in the whole conception of the hostile environment scheme is that it is intended to affect unlawful residents but it is actually aimed at undocumented residents. Sometimes these things overlap and a person who has no documents is also unlawfully resident. But that is very far from always being the case.
This leads us to the most famous victims of all of the hostile environment: the Windrush generation. Broadly speaking, this is the label that has been attached to lawful long-term residents from Commonwealth countries. Many either came to the UK themselves when they were in effect British citizens or are the children of those who did so (before the British Nationality Act 1981 there was no such thing as a ‘British citizen’, just ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies’). Typically, they are lawfully resident because they were granted a status called Indefinite Leave to Remain many years ago, sometimes automatically by law and sometimes in the form of a stamp in a long-expired passport. For decades, they lived in the UK without anyone asking them to prove their right to be here. That started to change as the hostile environment geared up from 2012 onwards.
In 2014, Fiona Bawdon researched and wrote a report entitled Chasing Status for the Legal Action Group (names were changed for the purposes of the report). The report highlighted the plight of thousands of long-term UK residents who were unable to prove their immigration status or have ‘irregular’ status, despite having lived legally in the country for most of their lives. Bawdon called these residents ‘surprised Brits’ because they felt British, many thought they actually were British, and yet they had been caught out by the new hostile environment laws.
The Chasing Status report seemed to sink without trace. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, though, the media found a new appetite for stories critical of the Home Office following a string of articles about generally white, middle-class EU migrants who were facing difficulties proving their permanent residence. A journalist at the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman, started to investigate the cases of destitute Commonwealth migrants. Realising that the examples she was seeing must be the tip of an iceberg, she unearthed a shocking series of similar cases (see Gentleman, 2019, for the full account). As Bawdon had earlier shown and predicted, lawful residents were finding themselves turfed out of jobs and homes, denied life-saving NHS care and threatened with deportation to a country they barely knew.
In April 2018, what became known as the Windrush scandal finally received the attention it deserved. Immediately before a Commonwealth heads of government meeting, Prime Minister Theresa May refused to meet with a delegation of twelve Caribbean high commissioners to discuss the situation of long-term residents facing immigration difficulties. An article about this diplomatic snub appeared on the front page of the Guardian. Suddenly, as Gentleman writes, ‘ministers who had shown no interest were falling over themselves to express profound sorrow.’ Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to appear at the Commons dispatch box to make the first of two comprehensive admissions that the Windrush generation had been treated ‘appallingly’. Theresa May herself was forced repeatedly to apologise, although her initial efforts were weak attempts of the ‘sorry-not-sorry’ variety. Belatedly, the special unit that Bawdon had advocated in 2014 was set up, along with a compensation fund for those affected.
The fundamental flaw in the design of the hostile environment persists, though, and this will have major consequences if or when the UK leaves the EU and scraps free movement rules for EU citizens. This is because the majority of lawful residents without status papers are citizens of EU countries who entered the UK under free movement laws. Immigration officials are literally forbidden from stamping the passports of EU citizens entering and leaving the UK and have no idea why an EU citizen is entering the UK or for how long he or she stays.
Brexit therefore represents a huge challenge; no-one knows how many EU citizens live in the UK but estimates go as high as four million. When EU law ceases to apply in the UK, all of these EU citizens and their family members need to have acquired a new immigration status under UK law. If they do not apply by the deadline, they will become unlawfully resident. No registration campaign around the world has ever achieved a 100% success rate and it is estimated that as many as hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will miss the deadline. Some will be elderly residents in care homes, some will be young children, others will not speak good English, some may be afraid of applying and some will have believed the Leave campaign promise that their rights would be protected. Some will just be disorganised or unaware; a lot of people miss the deadline for filing their tax return every year even though they get fined for doing so. Some may refuse on principle.
No matter their reasons, the effect of being exposed to the hostile environment will be the same. Their jobs will be lost, their bank accounts closed down, their tenancies terminated and access to the NHS and welfare benefits ended.
Colin Yeo is a barrister, writer, campaigner and consultant specialising in immigration law. He founded and edits the Free Movement immigration law blog.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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 activitiesto 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’).
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 SSGreat 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,whichcultural activities, including diary-writing,were designed to alleviate – a third participant wrote: ‘Day 50: I threw my homework in the sea.’ (An environmentalistaside: this child also seemedto 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 bysailors, 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.’
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 existence – with 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 tryingto 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?
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 – email@example.com.
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.
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’.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pankhuri Agarwal is a PhD Researcher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.
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.
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.
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!