Seeking sanctuary:Refugee Week events

Encouraging people to take a positive look at asylum and celebrating the contributions of refugees in the UK forms the basis of Refugee Week.  The University of Exeter is hosting and supporting events from 27 February through to 13 March to bring awareness to individuals seeking sanctuary in Devon and around the world.

The reality of detention centres, domestic asylum law and the ongoing international refugee crisis in places like Syria, where the displacement of people through civil war is now the biggest humanitarian disaster since the 2nd World War forms part of a discussion at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) at 3pm on 27 Feb. 

University of Exeter Politics professor Mick Dumper is leading one of the talks, focusing on the role of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and how refugees are increasingly being portrayed as a security threat.  The consequence of this view is the dehumanisation of the refugees according to Professor Dumper, who will also look at how the deployment of policies does not address the root causes of their displacement. 

As a regular advisor to organisations involved in the Middle East peace process, such as the United Nations, European Commission, and a number of governments including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United States of America, Professor Dumper has an in-depth understanding of the challenges faced by all sectors.

Professor Dumper said: “In a world that is increasingly interconnected, managing the flow of refugees from conflict zones is becoming a priority in international relations.  At present, despite the best efforts of many of the key agencies involved, we are failing to do this adequately and as a result we are storing up more problems for the future. At the same time, the most important challenge is how to respond compassionately and respectfully to people whose lives have been turned upside down.  Rather than a threat, they are people very much like you or me trying to make the best of an awful situation.”

As part of a recent major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Foundation, Professor Dumper will be studying how conflicts arise and are managed in holy cities in different parts of the world. The project will draw on research previously carried out in Belfast, Mostar, Nicosia, Beirut and Jerusalem, but will this time focus on the “holiness” of a city in order to explore the relationship between the religious features of a city and the conflicts that occur in them.

Dr Nick Gill, a Human Geographer from the University of Exeter, is also part of the afternoon talk at the RAMM, drawing on his current research in asylum appeal tribunals in the UK.  It will set out the legal process of asylum claim determination including appeals in the UK and examine the injustices and flaws in this system.  The talk will draw on accounts from asylum seekers about their experience of navigating legal systems, as well as observations of asylum appeal hearings. For example, one unrepresented male asylum seeker, originally from the Gambia and interviewed in Cardiff said:

“This is stressful.  I am alone I have no family, so it is me alone fighting for my life.  The Home Office solicitor was saying I was lying. But it is all on the judge, let him decide now.  I’ve got no solicitor, no one to speak to, so I go and speak for myself, that’s what I do.”

The free talk at the RAMM also includes a contribution from Professor Mary Bosworth, University of Oxford and is part of the bi-weekly ‘Asylum Talks’ on refugees in the UK.

As part of the national Refugee Week, University of Exeter students have arranged a series of free events 9 – 13 March at the University’s Streatham Campus. The Red Cross will talk about their work in supporting refugees and asylum seekers on 9 March, in the Forum and on the 10 March they will present a talk ‘Trading in Flesh: Human Trafficking in the South West’ 6pm, in the Amory Moot Room.  The National co-ordinator of the City of Sanctuary movement in the UK, Tiffy Allen will be discussing the challenges that asylum seekers and refugees face in the UK, and what we can do to help. The ‘Discrimination, Degradation and Destitution’ event led by the City of Sanctuary movement is on Wednesday 11 March at 7pm in the Forum Alumni Auditorium.

Yasmin Millican, a 4th year studying History and International Relations is one of the student co-ordinators of the event. She said: “Through the various events we have planned during Refugee Week, we hope to raise the profile of those individuals who are seeking sanctuary here in Exeter and to both support and celebrate these groups. Not everyone realises the number of refugees and asylum seekers who live in Exeter, some of whom are struggling with destitution and discrimination practically on our doorsteps. Beyond this, however, many are well integrated into local society and are making a wealth of positive contributions to the community.”

The end of the week involves contributions from Amnesty International who will be encouraging people to join the campaign to get the UK to live up to its international refugee obligations. Myth busting will also play a role in providing a clearer understanding of the lives and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers at an event on Friday which will also provide the opportunity to meet members of the community of refugees in Exeter.

Date: 26 February 2015

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