Why do French asylum seekers love the colour pink? (and hate yellow?)
How do you live off £36.95 per week? How does an 85-year-old apiarist with declining health manage to take care of his allotment and two bee hives? How can a dwindling Spanish village survive?
These are just a sample of questions implicitly raised, and answered by The New Arrivals, a fresh and thoughtful project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
So what is The New Arrivals?
The New Arrivals focuses on the daily lives of a selected group of refugees or 'new arrivals', in France, the UK, Spain and Germany, as they navigate through the complex immigration systems, adjust to their new living situations and try to forge a better life for themselves and their families.
This is a four-way initiative, combining the skills of The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El Pais, four of the most liberal and pro-refugee newspapers in Europe. The 18-month project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who bequeathed a one million pound grant for a journalistic project that will provide sustained and detailed coverage of the refugee experience, and in so doing, answer some important questions.
What are its aims?
Up until now, news articles on refugees have tended to focus on 'the odyssey' of the migration story, and more recently on the resulting political backlash:
"Like the people it covers, the migration story itself is on the move. In 2014 and 2015 it was all about the odyssey, the journey made by hundreds of thousands, haphazardly, perilously, up into Europe. In 2016, it was about Europe’s hesitant response, the political backlash.
In 2017, the focus is turning to the people who are suddenly in our midst. How are they adapting to their new lives? What do they miss? What's it like swap Homs for Hamburg, Kabul for Croydon- or Mosul for the Mosel, for that matter. Which European countries are best helping refugees settle?"
- The New Arrivals
This type of human-centered coverage has hitherto been lacking, with most big media groups preferring to focus on more hyperbolic story lines- this journalistic tactic may be more lucrative, but unfortunately it does not furnish the reader with much of an idea about the more mundane aspects of refugee life. In terms of the wider welcome culture movement, it is unhelpful to foster the simplistic notion that refugees are 'victims' (or in some cases 'vermin' *ahem Katie Hopkins*), rather, let's start talking about them as real people, with ordinary lives. The media have a big role to play in this, and it is extremely encouraging to see The New Arrivals Project taking the lead.
It is not only the 'human connection' aspect that The New Arrivals aims to promote- the project also serves an extremely pragmatic purpose: to explore and learn more about the 'settling in' period when refugees eventually reach their destinations, and to answer some important subsequent questions, such as, "What are host nations doing well?", "What could be improved?", "Have host countries been keeping their promises?", "In what ways can we encourage the integration process?"
... And a previously unexplored question: What can refugees bring to US?
Why is it good?
The potential societal contribution refugees have to offer is an area that is largely disregarded, with refugees predominantly viewed through the 'victim/vermin' binary lens already discussed. In actual fact, they are normal people with very distinct stories, and a wealth of knowledge and skills that we as a society can learn and benefit from. Welcoming them needn't be seen as a burden, rather a mutually beneficial and enriching experience! New Arrivals aims to illustrate this in its exposé of refugee life.
And why is that a good thing? Because there are still many pernicious myths circulating about refugees: misconceptions about their motivations for being here, how much governmental support they receive, and their general attitudes towards their host countries. It is important to challenge these ideas, and the most effective way to do this is to provide examples of how refugees are playing important and positive roles within host communities.
So let's stop all the hype!
The refugee story is changing, and with it, so must the language and content of new articles. With so many news outlets, even the liberal ones, the 'refugee crisis' (case in point) is discussed using lame rhetoric and tired hyperbole. The panoramic, morbid scenes adored by big media, of freezing boats from Libya, or lost children in the migrant jungles still has a place within the news, but as Europe continues to respond and deal with the situation, more light must be shed on the next phase of the journey.
The biggest issue is continuity: We don't want sound-bites or flimsy backstories, we need sustained and detailed coverage of the lives of a selected group in order to fully understand, and feel connected to their reality. It is time to focus on the people behind the headlines and the details of their every day lives- the agonizing wait for asylum, the joy of finding a new job, watching their children flourish at school, struggling to pay for their food and clothes, creating new lives and new connections.
So join us, as we keep track of this awesome project! Let's take a look now at some of my favourite articles so far.....
DER SPIEGEL: 'MASCHMANNS GESCHENK'
(via der Spiegel)
Check out Der Spiegel's heart-warming article 'Maschmanns Geschenk' (Maschmanns Gift), the story of Abu Rashed and Manfred Maschmann, a 55 year old Syrian refugee, and 85 year old bee keeper from East Germany, who slowly build a friendship and respect for one another through working side-by-side in Maschmann's allotment.
" Wenn ich hier bin, erinnere mich an meinen Hof" (When I am here, I remember my farm)
Rashed wistfully recalls his bee hives in Damascus; he owned a farm where he kept 60 bee hives, 500 olive trees and various livestock. He explains that the nectar from the Eucaliptus plants in Syria tastes much better than the urban bees in Germany, explaining that dry weather in Syria means that the nectar is undiluted by rain droplets, which is a common feature of European bee nectar.
Maschmann describes how 5 years ago he would visit his allotment every day, but now he is older, he can only make the trip twice weekly. But luckily he has Rashed, who comes every day to look after the bees.
"Ich bin froh darüber, hier weiterhin Bienen zu züchten" (I am glad to continue breeding bees here)
There is something extremely beautiful about this story, but it is written truthfully, and the interviewer notes that Maschman still has his reservations about Germany's refugee policy, and he is unsure if it will work in the long-term. Nevertheless, he has found a friend in Rashed, and their mutual respect and fellowship is heartwarming to see.
EL PAIS: 'INMIGRANTES PARA SALVAR LA ESPAÑA QUE SE MUERE'
(via El Pais)
In 'Inmigrantes Para Salvar la Espana Que Se Muere' (Immigrants Save the Spain that Dies', El Pais explores the current crisis happening in rural Spain, and how the relocation of immigrants to these areas is the key to solving the problem.
For over a decade, Spain's rural villages have been in steep decline. The youth have all moved to more populous cities such as Madrid or Barcelona in search of jobs, leaving an ageing demographic, a dwindling agricultural sector, schools and shops shutting down, and whole villages being abandoned ... Spanish village life is withering on the tomato vine!
Enter Said al Gory, his wife Omkeltoum and their two children Yasmin and Fidaf, a refugee family from Syria looking for a new life. They arrived in Tereul a few years ago, and due to their active participation in village life, they have managed to keep the village school open, and assist in other key public roles, including sheriff duties.
"I am delighted here (...) Suddenly my daughters already feel they are from here (sic)"
Said and his family were established in Terueal thanks to the 'New Trails of the Cepaim' foundation, which helps immigrant families relocate to rural depopulated areas in Spain.
"It is interesting to make a dead people a living village (...) It is very important that the natives who are born in the rural environment take into account how fundamental it is for them to welcome new settlers."
says Vicente Gonzalvo, representative of the New Trails project in Aragon. This project has helped hundreds of refugees forge new lives for themselves, and in return, these families have provided crucial support to native rural communities. This is one of thousands of similar stories of hope and rejuvenation happening across Spain.
LE MONDE: 'LE JOUR OÙ ALSADIG À RECU LA RÉPONSE A SA DEMANDE D'AISLE'
(via Le Monde)
"Ce matin-là, son corps ne lui obéissait plus, ses doigts encore moins. Alsadig a quasiment fait une croix, en guise de signature, tellement une peur panique avait pris le contrôle de son cerveau"
(That morning his body no longer obeyed him, his fingers even less. Alsadig almost made a cross, as a signature, so much panic and fear had taken control of his brain
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to receive the verdict of your asylum application? In that moment knowing that the contents of a single letter has the power to change your life? Imagine what it must feel like to hold that letter in your hand, and to know on opening it, its colour will announce your fate: Pink for 'Yes' and yellow for 'No.' Le Monde takes us on this journey, as it documents the fateful day that Sudanese refugee Alsadig receives his letter...
Read Le Monde's full article: 'Le jour où Alsadig a reçu la réponse à sa demande d’asile' (The Day Alsadig Received The Reply to His Asylum Request)
THE GUARDIAN: 'HOW DO YOU LIVE ON £36.95 A WEEK?'
The Guardian's 'How to live on £36.95 a week?', is one of my favourite articles from The New Arrivals series so far. This titular question is explored in detailed interviews with four different asylum seekers (two with large families to care for).
Excluding housing and utility bills, this money must cover everything: transport, food, clothing, technology and any amusements for the children. When you begin to total up the £50 train fare to Liverpool for your asylum interview (which then gets cancelled and the ticket money non-reimbursed!), or the £25 per month you need for unlimited data so you can telephone your wife and daughter in Iran, or the money you need to save in order to buy your child a birthday present, you realise that £36.95 really doesn't stretch that far.
(via The Guardian)
Each set of new residents have developed their own methods of dealing with their financial limitations; from accepting hand-outs of broken toys, to searching charity shops for old suits, to waiting in the reduced aisle for the 5 o'clock watershed, they do what is required to survive.
What really struck me from the interviews with the two families, was the consistent prioritization of the children's needs above the parents. Nesrin and Binar, parents of Zara and Araya, explain their struggle to afford clothes and toys and special things for their children. Binar laments that he is not able to take his daughter to the Zoo, when he knows all her friends have been, and he confesses that although they cannot afford it, he still tries to buy chocolate and ice-cream for his daughters. It is their daughter Zara's birthday in a few days, and Nesrin and Binar have been saving up for weeks to be able to buy her a cake and some presents. But the constant financial strain, and the resulting feeling that they are letting their children down weighs heavily on Nesrin, who says,
"They give us asylum benefit so we will not beg, but actually we are begging (...) Sometimes I cry for myself; everything is secondhand, everything is help. I can never do something for myself, go to the salon, do something for my hair. When you become a mum you have everything dreamed for your daughter, and I can't do anything. I've given up actually,"
I actually got quite tearful, when I read Afghan Mohammed's description of his outfit; he cheerfully explains that he has put on his best clothes for this interview, including his 'finest shirt' which he found at a charity shop for £1. Mohammed, has been waiting for his asylum application to be processed for 3 years.
(via The Guardian)
These are only four examples of how asylum seekers live in the UK, but these four stories echo the reality of thousands. A thought-provoking and deeply touching article. Read it in full now!
Phewww (Did you read them then?)
So yeah, I hope you got just a little flavour of what the New Arrivals Project is all about. There are many articles on all four news sites worth exploring- some of my other favourites include, Le Monde's 'L’exil de Hassan..', El Pais' 'El Ingeniero "Loco" del desierto' ('the mad desert engineer'), The Guardian's 'Wanted: one Syrian family for small welsh village' and Der Spiegel's 'Rauus Weg' (Rauu's way)
We, at Pass the Crayon, wholeheartedly support and respect the work of this initiative; we wish to thank all four newspapers for being involved and using their extensive media influence to draw attention to this important area of discourse, and to the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation for funding this wonderful project.
We will bee keeping (*just couldn't resist) our eyes peeled in the months to come, so expect plenty more posts about The New Arrivals, and updates on all of the families and individuals involved.