ARISE: Challenging ideas about the European refugee crisis

Sonam, a MA Comparative Literature student at King’s, attended ARISE, 6-day training in Italy. Here’s how ARISE challenged Sonam’s perceptions of the European Refugee crisis.

I attended a 6-day training in Lamezia Terme, Italy as part of a new Erasmus+ Project called ARISE (Analysing Refugee Inclusion in Southern Europe) with several other students from King’s and individuals from different charities. The project aims to challenge prevailing ideas about the European Refugee crisis, and our training involved lectures, discussions, visits to local centres working with migrants, and meeting with cultural mediators, with the emphasis being on women and unaccompanied minors.

A part of the training involved a visit to a housing for unaccompanied minors which accommodated 8 teenage boys. Everyone was really welcoming, and the social worker explained how the boys are all regularly involved in community activities, shared responsibilities within the household; SPRAR (the Italian system for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees) also provide opportunities for vocational training and employment support once they turn 18. We were very aware, though, that the community home we were visiting was far from the norm – it was model example of a system that promotes social inclusion, integration and community.

Currently, the SPRAR reception system does not have the capacity to meet all accommodation needs and this insufficient number has led to a number of unaccompanied minors being illegally placed in reception facilities for adults. In Italy, between January and June 2016, the number of unaccompanied minors reaching the country by sea more than doubled compared to the same period in 2015, reaching about 10,000.

An eye-opening experience was learning about the connection between gender, migration and violence. The increasing numbers of migrants moving to Europe has made it easier for traffickers and smugglers to infiltrate the situation and migrants, especially women, are extremely vulnerable to sex traffickers who leverage their desperation to deceive them into exploitation.

51% of all human trafficking victims are women, with Nigeria being one of the countries with the largest number of trafficking victims overseas. Most people are never identified as trafficking victims, mostly due to women being afraid to denounce the perpetrators for fear of repercussions, and therefore cannot access most of the assistance or protection provided. A sad and surprising reality is that many victims of human trafficking ultimately end up becoming ‘Madames’ (the trafficker who handles the victims of trafficking) themselves, convinced there are lucrative profits to be made.

A key take-away of the training, especially for those of us who volunteer or a have job that involves interacting with migrants, is the need to be conscious of not viewing migrants and refugees solely as passive victims in tragic situations that need to be saved. The prevalence of trauma and other mental health issues that migrants face, as well as the often simplified media representations of migrants as incapable of action can lead to beliefs that migrants are powerless individuals who are completely dependent on external support. Instead, we need to recognize that migrants can and do display forms of agency (e.g. by adapting to daily routines and social interactions) and resistance (e.g. refusing to be fingerprinted or protesting in camps).

If you’re interested in getting involved with The Migration Research Group at King’s, check out their website here. The group’s projects include research, training, advocacy, policy advice and artistic practice. Applications are now open for the projects Analysing Refugee Inclusion in Southern Europe (ARISE) and Re-Thinking Migration. 

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