One Hundred Views from the Edge
by Paul FitzPatrick
Since 04 December 2014, in those days before Brexit, before Covid-19, before the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 and the spectacular cruelty of the Patel-Braverman disciplinary regime, DCC’s newsletter has attempted to faithfully record events in the lives of the people who make up this community. It is not a full record, of course: many things are left unsaid, many activities go unnoticed, and encounters of insight and trust pass unrecorded in published accounts.
It is, nevertheless, salutary to look back and observe some constant refrains, some things which have changed and others which remain the same, and emerging trends which were not necessarily apparent at the time.
Our first edition introduced itself as a means of connecting all those who wanted to see DCC flourish. It recorded the Birmingham Declaration from the Sanctuary Summit of 15 November 2014: All asylum seekers, refugees and migrants should be treated with dignity and respect. A fair and effective process to decide whether people need protection should be in place. No one should be locked up indefinitely, or left sick or destitute. We should welcome the stranger and help them integrate.
It is hard to reread these aspirations and not feel a sense of desolation at the stages in the subsequent direction of government policy. What happened to the Home Office’s ‘indicators of integration’ reported in Issue 55 (June 2019)? Communities were integrated when ‘people, whatever their background, live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities’.
They recommended that access to English classes and integration activities should begin as soon as possible after arrival. We suggested in Issue 88 (April 2022) that progressive integration policies must ensure that the arrival of refugees did not deepen the housing crisis, increase school segregation or put additional strain on healthcare systems. This would require conscious choice and a long-term perspective which could embrace zero-emissions, self-sustaining, feminist city planning and equality-boosting social housing. Support for people seeking asylum is not at the expense of fellow citizens. Nor are people seeking asylum the cause of Britain’s failures in social policies.
In 2018 (45, August) we noted how muted the liberal reaction to a moral panic about asylum seekers seemed. Subsequent editions have traced the growth of the hostile environment towards persons seeking asylum, leading to the 2022 Nationality and Borders Act, the policy on Rwanda and the shrill determination to ‘stop the boats’ via the Illegal Migration Bill published on 8 March 2023.
Even in Issue 7, an article advocated the issue of humanitarian visas to travel legally to an EU member state via regular air- or shipping lines. This would avoid both the lethally dangerous journey in traffickers’ boats and ensure that what money the migrant pays for travel did not go to the traffickers in the first place. This was in May 2015 when the concern was with rising deaths in the Mediterranean.
Boats across the Channel featured in Issue 50, January 2019. In February 2020, we noted the increasing border restrictions and hostile measures across Europe.
We have drawn attention to the manifest influence of right-wing think tanks such as Policy Exchange and the Centre for Policy Studies on framing increasingly restrictive government policy: government documents are prefaced with anxieties about large numbers of people who might claim asylum in the UK (80 million according to Priti Patel, many more according to Suella Braverman, the population of China according to the CPS).
It is galling that harsh and frankly racist policies are presented in humanitarian terms: the moral imperative to defeat the gangs and shut down illegal routes. The objection to Rwanda is not that Rwanda is an African country or incapable of exercising hospitality. It is that Rwanda is a poor country, where more than half the population live in ‘multidimensionsal poverty’ (UN) and which is already contributing much more than the UK, proportionately, to hospitality towards refugees.
We have also sought to understand something of the conditions which have driven people now in Doncaster to seek protection here. We have published reports from Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Sudan, Cameroon, Ehtiopia, Kuwait, Ukraine and El Salvador, as well as first-hand accounts of experiences in Calais, Croatia, Germany, Zimbabwe, Kos, Lesvos, Belgium, Paris and Za’atari camp.
Meanwhile, against this policy background, we have recorded the ‘ordinary’ activities of DCC, those which have taken place regularly within the Quaker Meeting House, involving the day-to-day well-being of people seeking asylum, their claims for protection and the conditions of their accommodation, as well as those visits and outings which have taken us beyond the confines of the building and helped to build links with the wider community.
Doncaster museum, CAST theatre and Club Doncaster Foundation have been notable allies and supporters. We have established links with the Red Cross, SYMAAG, Freedom from Torture (15), Doncaster Minster’s Literacy Project and the Museum of the Moon, QARN, DEMRP, XP school. With the help of the Museum, we have promoted the history of Doncaster to help people understand the place they have come to rebuild their social worlds.
The ground beneath our feet: pottery with Sarah Villeneau, October 2020
Within our limited means, we have encouraged involvement in artistic expression of all kinds, including photography, pottery or poetry (poems in the Frenchgate), comparison of the modernist architecture of Doncaster and Asmara, and Public Acts’ production of the Doncastrian Chalk Circle. Right Up Our Street have supported such engagement. We have recognised the role of poets and artists in challenging our sensibilities and presenting us with unpalatable truths: Alfredo Jaar’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park presciently included a neon sign stating BE AFRAID OF/ THE ENORMITY OF/ THE POSSIBLE (39, Feb 2018).
Kayaking on the Don: September 2018
We have enjoyed kayaking, tenpin bowling, swimming and dancing. We have visited Potteric Carr, Sprotbrough Church with its sanctuary chair, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Sandall Beat Wood, Cusworth and Brodsworth. We have eaten in Stainforth and danced at St James’s Church. We have sourced, repaired and distributed hundreds of bikes. Over the years we have visited York, Hathersage, Mam Tor, Glenthorne, Conisbrough Castle, Cresswell Crags, Lincoln, Epworth Music Day, Bridlington, Lifewise, and Caphouse Colliery.
Bridlington, August 2019
We kicked off Refugee Week 2015 with a 5-a-side football tournament on Town Fields, ably facilitated by Club Doncaster Foundation, the community development arm of Doncaster Rovers FC, who provided the pitches, coaches and referees.
They organised technique building exercises in the gaps between the matches to ensure that everyone who wished to was involved, age, gender or ability being no barrier to participation.
Our involvement in football sessions appeared in issue 8, and issue 17 (April 2016) reported on regular Friday afternoon games. We noted how ‘playing football is good for the health and for fitness. It is an opportunity to meet friends and chat together, and to get out and break the dull routine. We don’t have shoes for football.’
By February 2019, there were regularly 25 participants (51): three years later, there were regularly over 30 players and not the same 30 every session, and by March there were over 40. Teams participated in a match with Fit Rovers in April 2019, joined a six-a-side league, played against Leicester City’s refugee team (61, January 2020) and took part (twice) in a Football Welcomes tournament in Burnley (62, February 2020, and 91, July 2022). Amnesty’s Football Welcomes project, which continues to sustain our footballing activities, was introduced in June 2019 (55).
The last decade has changed the geopolitics of migration and diversity. Renewed debates about the legacies of slavery and colonialism and their impacts on understanding Britishness, together with the Black Lives Matter Movement, have helped to shape our thinking about people seeking asylum. The language used to describe people seeking asylum, and the political capital derived from such usage, have been continuing concerns of this newsletter. However, we cannot claim that the newsletter has yet become a platform for asylum-seeking voices which still remain largely inaudible.
As early as Issue 16, we highlighted Ezio Manzini’s appeal to move away from projects which represent ‘traditional service’ (doing things for those who are seeking asylum) and which are ‘migrant-oriented’, to ones which are community-oriented: ones which demonstrate collaborative practice in utilising local resources, promote integration and collaboration, challenge myths, and build reciprocity and trust.
Against the background of a hostile environment, it is easy for organisations like DCC to be pushed into the position of providing services, but more difficult to forge an alternative to the ‘them and us’ dualism of ‘helper’ and ‘helped’ and thereby imagine relationships differently, and imagine politics differently. This remains our challenge even as we celebrate the recurrent themes of solidarity and mutuality, of shared humanity and common interests.