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The Asylum Monologues

The so-called “European Refugee Crisis” has renewed a debate not on whether but on how much to control and limit immigration to Europe; in the process reducing the issue to one of numbers. But why do people cross borders and leave behind their home countries and loved ones?

What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in Scotland? What new boundaries do migrants face, once they arrive in a country that is foreign to them – and treats them as foreigners? These questions were being creatively examined through a performance of the Asylum Monologues, followed by a panel discussion on Monday 13th March 2017.

Ice&Fire, a theatre company that explores human rights issues through performance, created the first script of the Asylum Monologues in 2006. Since then the company has recorded and performed various testimonies of asylum seekers, aimed at raising awareness of asylum seekers’ experiences by sharing their stories with the communities to which they now belong. The three Ice&Fire performers took turns in telling the stories of a Kurdish unaccompanied minor, a young Pakistani man, and an Iranian woman and their experiences in Scotland. These narrations were candid and often bittersweet, taking the audience on the asylum seekers’ journeys, oscillating between the fear of state persecution and the sensations of loss, hope, and homesickness.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Jenny Munro from Beyond Borders Scotland. The panel comprised Professor Anthony Good, Social Anthropology; Phil Jones, manager of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers; and Steven Ritchie, one of the three performers. They were joined by two surprise guests: Tony and Aras, the two young men whose stories we had just heard. The audience asked Tony and Aras more about their new life in Scotland, while Steven, involved in interviewing them, revealed more about the process of recording and retelling their life stories. Prof Good, who has frequently acted as an expert witness on asylum appeals in various countries, clarified the asylum process in Scotland. The Home Office structures its interviews with asylum seekers in a way that does not accommodate a chronological order of their experiences, he elaborated. Questions are often phrased ambiguously so that asylum seekers’ answers could vary, in turn leading to an intentional undermining of their credibility – a credibility required for gaining refugee status. Phil explained how the Night Shelter’s work attempts to mitigate the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow.

After a vote of thanks, the event ended with much applause and a donation appeal. The audience donated a total of nearly £200, which were equally split to support the work of Amnesty International and the Glasgow Night Shelter.

Co-sponsored by the Centre for South Asian Studies, the fully-booked event attracted an audience of well over 200, of which more than three quarters were students, approximately 7% staff members and 5% alumni of the University of Edinburgh, as well as about 12% interested members of the public.

As many attendees commented, the event was a success because it made the people behind immigration numbers visible again.

Posted on 24 Apr 2017 10:39am

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