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How can we convey the complex issues of migration and welfare to school students?

In the second of three blogs on holding workshops with school pupils on the issues of migration, Umut Erel and Elizabeth Newcombe discuss an attempt to introduce pupils to the complexities of the language and the policy issues surrounding immigration, at a time of great global inequality and economic recession.


When holding a workshop for a school from Sussex at the Migration Museum Project’s Call Me By My Name exhibition in July 2017, it was striking to see school pupils becoming passionately engaged with issues of migration. The group of 15 pupils and their teachers arrived on one of the hottest days of the year, having already spent time wandering through London. Emily Miller, MMP’s head of learning and partnerships, started the workshop with an interactive game, using questions and movement in the space of the museum to break the ice and find out how everyone relates to migration. Some of the questions she asked were:

  1. Do you know someone who has migrated?
  2. Do you speak more than one language?
  3. Has anyone in your family migrated?

If our answer to these questions was ‘yes’, we had to take a step forward; if the answer was ‘no’, we were asked to take a step backwards. Soon most of us were concentrated in a tight circle in the middle of the room, and it had become clear that there was a lot of experience of migration, whether personal or indirect.

Drawing by Laura Sorvala.

The workshop then moved on to look at some of the key terms in the migration debate. A young refugee told of his experiences of migration, finding his way around life in the UK and how he now works in arts and education organisations in which he initiates dialogues on the experiences of refugees and migrants. All of us were stunned to hear of the difficulties he had overcome on his journey to the UK in the early 2000s. Some of the pupils shared their personal experiences of the country he came from and the countries he had passed through, which gave the encounter added poignancy.

After this informative and emotionally charged part of the workshop, we changed gears slightly and introduced a more academic take on the issues. Starting with an interactive exercise on global inequalities of income, we began to question the term migrant, pointing out that, when we use the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’, this does not refer to a legal figure or a dataset, but to a political figure. We discussed how British people living abroad almost always think of themselves as ‘expats’ not ‘migrants’, while Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people who were born and have lived all their lives in the UK are often called ‘second generation migrants’. So, the decision about who counts as a migrant is often framed by assumptions about race, class and nationality.

When discussing migration, we often hear about the need to protect the welfare state from outsiders, but how can we understand the welfare state against the backdrop of global inequalities? We are living at a time of the highest level of global inequality in human history, when the wealth of 67 people is the same as the combined total of the world’s 3.5 billion poorest people, and the poorest 50 per cent of the world have 6.6 per cent of total global income. There are issues with the methodology of these estimates, but it cannot be denied that the world has changed from the 19th century. Today, for most people in the world, what is key to your life chances is the country you live in. The fear for those living in wealthier states is that there are a lot of people who are hard up in the world and that, if you don’t have much, you need to hold on to it.

Photo of the PASAR project’s ‘From Margins to Centre Stage’ workshop, February 2017 © Marcia Chandra.

Migrant families’ exclusion from the welfare state was a topic in another research project – Participation Arts and Social Action in Research (PASAR) – we are currently running with our colleagues Erene Kaptani (Open University), Maggie O’Neill (University of York) and Tracey Reynolds (University of Greenwich). The PASAR project conducted participatory research with migrant mothers affected by the policy No Recourse to Public Funding (NRPF), which means migrants who are subject to immigration control are not allowed to access benefits, tax credits or housing assistance. This policy affects both migrants who have the right to remain in the UK and those who are undocumented. The policy pushes these migrant families – many of whom include young children, who are among the most vulnerable people – to the margins of society through poverty and racism. In a workshop with policy makers, practitioners and activists, we worked with a group of migrant mothers affected by NRPF to enable their collective voice to be heard. To do so, we showed a short theatre piece developed through the research.

Photo from PASAR project theatre scene © Marcia Chandra.

At the schools’ workshop, we watched a short scene from this theatre piece about Elaine’s experience. Elaine had been working for many years for a large supermarket. She needed to take time off every two weeks to sign into the Immigration Reporting Centre, a requirement of the Home Office. Her manager used his knowledge of her vulnerability to bully her and change her onto an unfavourable night shift, even though she had just had a baby. Her union representative’s response was that as an immigrant she should be glad to have a job. She also experienced stigmatisation by fellow workers, who saw her as an ‘illegal’ immigrant. Eventually, she lost her job – unable to pay rent, Elaine, her husband and six-year-old son have for four years now been living in the houses of friends and acquaintances, surviving on their monetary support.

This example shows how racism, anti-immigration policies and austerity intersect. An increasingly hostile climate to immigration has made it more difficult for migrants to find formal and informal employment. As a consequence of increasingly stringent migration regulations, particularly since 2012, more and more migrant families are subject to migration control, prevented from accessing public funds and rendered unable to economically support themselves (Price and Spencer, 2015). In a situation of crisis – through the loss of jobs or accommodation, relationship breakdown or health problems – they cannot draw on the relative safety net of the welfare state to help them overcome these points of crisis and are pushed more and more to the margins of society.

Having watched a short video clip of these theatre scenes with the school pupils, we had an interesting discussion about some of the issues raised by Elaine’s story:

  1. How can labels such as ‘illegal migrant’ be misleading and stigmatising?
  2. Why are some people, and not others, allowed to draw on welfare services?
  3. Should contributions through work be the criterion for deciding whether migrants can participate in the welfare state?
  4. Should there be other criteria for inclusion into welfare, based on colonial and postcolonial ties?
  5. Should there be criteria based on shared humanity?

It is hard to summarise the workshop, as it was rich and varied, but it seems to me that this variety of modes of engagement (personal testimony, interactive activities, and audio-visual material and information) has been fruitful in raising many questions, showing the complexity of issues of migration and welfare, and linking conceptual discussions to personal experiences of migration, which are often far richer than those portrayed in public debate. While teachers challenged us as academics to present information in accessible ways, especially for pupils who are still learning English, their feedback was heartening: ‘Our students learnt a lot from the experience both about migration at the human level but also the bigger picture of why these issues are so pressing for the UK at the present time. A great day well spent!’

 


Reference

Price, Jonathan, and Spencer, Sarah (2015) Safeguarding Children from Destitution: Local Authority Responses to Families with ‘No Recourse to Public Funding’. Oxford: COMPAS.

Umut Erel is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Open University. She is Principal Investigator of PASAR, an ESRC-funded research project investigating the opportunities and challenges of using participatory theatre and walking methods for social research.

Emma Newcombe is the Head of External Relations for COMPAS and the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity. She oversees all COMPAS’s communications work, and also supports the development of the ESRC Urban Transformations project. She has an MA in Migration Studies from the University of Sussex and a BSc in Social Policy from the University of Bristol.

The Migration Museums Network

Image credit: Joseph Hyman and AVEX 2010

The Migration Museum Project is excited to be coordinating the Migration Museums Network.

This network is generously funded by Arts Council England and Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

This network aims to increase and improve outputs associated with migration and related themes in museums and galleries across the UK. This is vital at a time when migration is front page news almost daily. How do we as a sector effectively respond to this?

The network focuses on sharing best practice, highlighting case studies and facilitating partnerships across the sector.

We created an online survey about migration themes in our sector earlier this year which was widely circulated and completed. Many thanks to those who participated. The results of this survey will soon be available on our website.

We had our first event at the British Museum on Friday October 6. The feedback from the 80 delegates was very positive. Thank you to all those who contributed and participated. The next event bringing people together to learn, share best practice and gain in confidence on working with migration themes will be at The Discovery Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Tuesday October 31. Please spread the word and register for the Newcastle event here.

To find out more about the Migration Museums Network or to express interest in getting involved please contact our Head of Learning and Partnerships Emily Miller: Emily@migrationmuseum.org

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Imprints: our first London Migration Walk

We went on a walk last Sunday, along with about 130 others.

It started in the cold, grey and wet, at a time when many of us would still be, if not in bed, certainly doing nothing much more energetic than turning the pages of a Sunday paper and slurping coffee. It ended in glorious early-evening light, with a rainbow over the Serpentine and, if not actual gold at the end of the rainbow, then the next best thing – cakes and prosecco.

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Somewhere over the rainbow … Looking east from the Lido café in Hyde Park, the end-point of our Imprints walk. © Faiza Mahmood

It started in Greenwich, where so many migrant stories have started in the past – George I prominently among them, borne to his disembarkation at the Old Royal Naval College aboard the ship Peregrine, but also, though much less regally, Ignatius Sancho, born on a slave ship and later a lobbyist for the abolition of the slave trade. It ended in Hyde Park, just short of the Albert Memorial, flamboyant statue to one of the most-loved migrants of the nineteenth century and the inspiration for the cluster of museums and institutions – Albertopolis – that now draw so many visitors to our capital.

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The outline of the route the Imprints walk took through London. © Brandingbygarden

Not all migrants migrate from east to west of the city, of course, but it’s a useful hook to hang an event of this kind on. It’s certainly a long walk, that walk from arrival to establishment, and not all migrants make it with equal success, happiness and good fortune. And it was a long walk, literally, on Sunday, a full 15 miles and counting, which not all participants made with equal success, happiness and comfort of foot. But the overwhelming majority of those who started the walk completed it, and there was a sense of euphoric satisfaction in Hyde Park at the end of the day that may have had something to do with the prosecco on offer, or possibly with the sheer relief of the walk now being at an end – but which was mostly down to the sense of fulfilment and enjoyment of a day spent in good company, learning something about the myriad migration stories that make up the history of London, and of the multiple layers that make each street and region a palimpsest of the migratory experience: whether it’s the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid mosque, in a building that had previously been a synagogue and was, before that, a Huguenot chapel; or the building in Old Jewry, now housing the visa office for the People’s Republic of China but almost eight hundred years previously the site of the first synagogue in this country; or 25 Brook Street, home to George Frideric Handel in the 1700s and the more raucous stomping ground of Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

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The Jamme Masjid mosque in Brick Lane – previously a synagogue and, before that, a Huguenot chapel. Spectacular minaret sadly not shown. © Aditi Anand

Divided into groups of 10 to 15, each led by an incredibly well-versed volunteer guide and supported by one of our magnificent volunteers, we walked along the south bank of the Thames to Tower Bridge, meandered through the East End, Brick Lane and Spitalfields, wandered through empty and storm-soaked streets in the City, rising again into Clerkenwell and Holborn – passing through the world of clockmakers, jewellers, lawyers and artists, before moving westwards through Covent Garden, Soho, Kensington and Mayfair. In Postman’s Park, Bill Bingham (our very own Ian McKellen) appeared out of nowhere, surprising us with a rendition of Shakespeare’s Thomas More speech (‘Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise / Hath chid down all the majesty of England … ’), delivered (in theory) in the early 1600s to quell riotous discontent at the arrival of the Huguenots. We stopped along the way to hear the story behind particular buildings, or about individuals who had lived in that area, or whole movements of people; and in-between we talked to each other about our own stories, about plans for the Migration Museum Project, about how our country would change in the wake of the recent referendum decisions.

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Emily Miller, the MMP’s education manager, in Chinatown with Isabel Morrison. © David Wigram

We liked it so much we are already planning to do it again next year – at least once more in full length, and maybe on a number of other occasions, in a shorter form. And already we’re thinking, if this works so well in London, why wouldn’t it work just as well in any number of other cities: Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Belfast, Bristol, Leicester? Get in touch with us if you want to help us plan how to extend it.

Oh, and we raised hugely important funds for the MMP’s work, too. Our target was to raise £20,000 to enable us to continue delivering exhibitions, events and education work in schools as we build the case for a permanent Migration Museum for Britain. At the time of writing, we are still a little short of our target – the equivalent of finding ourselves in Regent Street, when we need to be in Hyde Park. If you would like to help us reach our target or destination, please go to our MyDonate page.

And, just in case you can’t quite take our word for it, have a look at what some of the walkers had to say about the experience:

Epic day with informed guides – great fun despite the rain!

What a fab day! Like walking through a spread of London’s amazing history!

A wonderful way to explore London and discover how migration is a fundamental part of the city’s identity.

Amazing experience, informative and enlightening. Highly recommend it
I enjoyed seeing so much of London in one go, and learning about all the little histories and significances that would have gone unknown otherwise.

I loved the content and it’s great to have the map as a momento. Lots of highlights that I have been boring my nearest and dearest with: Mayflower pub selling US stamps – Rotherhithe tunnel used to have shops! – De Hems pub history … and of course the wonderful performance in Postman’s Park, a speech which I didn’t know and now love.

Very interesting, and I learned lots! Like the fact that it was easier to be black than Catholic in Tudor England! It made me think about things in a totally new way – I hadn’t thought of Paul Reuter as a German immigrant to London before!

We went on a walk last Sunday. It was a huge success, raising funds and fun in equal measure. Why don’t you come on the next one we organise?

 


 

The first Imprints: London Migration Walk took place on Sunday 16 October 2016. Huge thanks to our team of volunteer guides, all of whom were mines of information, wit and inspiration – and to the volunteers who supported them. Without you, this project would be struggling! But the biggest thank you goes to the 130 participants who so good-naturedly and energetically gave up their Sunday to support us on the walk, and did so without complaint, even when the skies emptied their load on us in the early afternoon. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Here’s to the next one!

The evolving dynamics of the refugee and migration response

The Migration Museum Project (MMP) is jointly hosting a civil society forum at Rich Mix, London, on December 2, from 10am – 2pm, exploring the evolving impact of and response to refugee and migrant issues worldwide.

The evolving dynamics of the refugee and migrant response is a showcase event and panel discussion hosted by MMP, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Open University, The University of Oxford’s Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and actREAL.

The event will feature selected works from the MMP’s Call me by my name: stories from Calais and beyond exhibition, as well as a panel discussion exploring the ethos and ethics of adequate responses to the current refugee and migrant situation, and where responsibility for these responses should lie.

There will also be live illustration of the panel by graphic artist Laura Sorvala, and a performance by school students based on material devised during a series of education workshops run by actREAL, an organisation using theatre and performance to bring academic research on social issues to life.

The event marks the culmination of The ethics and politics of the refugee crisis, an integrated programme of activities about migration aimed at strengthening collaboration between academic research, civil society, education and the culture sectors via avenues of creative expression. The programme is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Admission is free, but registration is required. For enquiries or to book a place, please visit the Eventbrite page.

Exhibition:
Extracts from Call me by my name: stories from Calais and beyond

Performance:
Students from City and Islington College, exploring media representations of migration and the Calais camp, based on a series of workshops run by actREAL

Live illustration:
Laura Sorvala