Global Development Institute Blog

This blog originally appeared on the Manchester Migration Lab website

Blog by James Shraiky, PhD Candidate, HCRI, The University of Manchester

The Migration Lab Conference explored some of the most contemporary, complex, and current migration issues facing our modern time. Participants arrived from all corners of the world; North America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Presenters came from diverse, interdisciplinary, and overlapping backgrounds such as; Medical Anthropology, Political Science, Migration Studies, History, Conflict Studies, and Humanitarian Research.  While the conference theme centered on “World on the Move: Migration, Societies and Change,” presentations touched on migration and migrants culture, political landscapes, policy, education, creative methods, technologies, and many other related subjects. Conference presentations encompassed a broader spectrum of migration issues; from individual slavery stories, all the way to the larger future migration policy.  The first day sessions focused on “Brexit and Migration;” the second day interrogated migrants’ rights and migration policies, and the third day sessions discussed specific case studies on migration issues. All days covered issues concerning countries from all over the world including countries from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Perhaps the conference core message culminated in the Be // Longing play. The play, performed the last day of the conference in the historic Hope Mill Theatre, presented a microcosm of the forced migration journey as a whole — a sensory explosion of grim colours, sights and sounds, equally enriching and overwhelming, hopeful and daunting. The play experience commenced before the performance even started as theatre staff greeted the audience similar to how migration officers receive asylum seekers on border points – the play “boarding pass” was a symbolic residency card issued for refugees.  The long dark hallway entrance to the theatre space was teemeing with florescent colours and noisy traffic, including sounds of refugees pleading for help as they embark on the life-defying journey across the sea while brightly painted life vests were scattered on a symbolic shore. A gauntlet of ramshackle booths lined all sides of the lobby, piled high with messages, texts, quotes, and fact that paint a realistic and daunting picture of the current refugee movement. Audience stumble through several phone booths where individual can listen to audio recordings that represent migrants lives and aid members’ experiences.

The performance itself is an amalgamation of 10 different stories that outlined refugees’ experiences throughout the displacement and assimilation processes. One striking theme outlined what scholars call “The Triple Trauma” theory. Refugees experience the trauma during the initial war, the trauma of the migration process, and the biggest trauma of all, the assimilation process post resettlement in a host country. Actors performed two striking stories that outlined the third trauma. The first performance presents a story of a mother who was granted asylum in England; she lived in a cockroach-infested apartment where insects crawled out of her infant’s food. She struggled finding work, learn the language, and assimilate in the new culture. Her deteriorating living conditions pushed her to think, perhaps wish, she never left the war; her howling pleading voice expressed “the pain of war is more tolerable than the pain” she is experiencing in her new country. The second story reviewed racial profiling and discrimination some refugees experience in host countries. On actor told a story of a Syrian refugee who was trying to find his way in Northern Europe; he had to find a government immigration office to renew his temporary asylum card. Actors outlined pivotal events where refugees experience ruthless discrimination through the lens of his journey. While booking a train ticket, someone yelled “go back to ISIS,” on the train, disgruntled passengers expressed disdain because of his presence, and while asking for directions, many informed him that he doesn’t belong here.

The performance concluded with a message to all; we must be involved, we must become agents of change. Several HCRI faculty members and students attended the play. As I discussed the performance with several HCRI students, we were all left with an inspired and overwhelming call, we all must be part of the migration movement, and we must be part of the solution.

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.