English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]

refugee

English classes: the key to integration

English classes

by Dr Jenny Philimore

For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric.

Using survey data – the “hard facts” favoured by politicians – we were able to show that refugees’ second highest priority after feeling safe and secure was learning English. Indeed they placed more emphasis on the importance of speaking English than the policymakers who completed the same survey. Unfortunately refugees’ desire to learn English was frequently thwarted with many unable to attend language lessons and even more refugees finding that they did not make the progress they needed to get on in life. Our data supports earlier interview based research that showed refugees were being excluded from lessons through lack of childcare provision or high costs and that many of those who attended found lessons to be of low quality.

Furthermore we show there is no evidence whatsoever that forming social networks with friends, people of the same faith, or relatives makes refugees less likely to engage more widely. Indeed the opposite was true. Networks with friends and family led to formation of networks with other groups and organisations. Most problematic for integration was the lack of social networks. Those without them fared worse in health and employment terms while individuals who not only had networks, but were in frequent contact with those networks, the healthiest. Ability to speak English was crucial in the formation of networks and for good health and accessing employment.

So rather than focusing on “bad” networks we need to recognise the critical role of all networks in helping refugees to settle and perhaps focus on poor access to ESOL classes. Investing in quality language lessons and ensuring decent outcomes for refugees would overcome many of the key barriers to refugee settlement and ensure they can develop the wide range of social networks they need to get on with their life in the UK.

Social networks, social capital and  refugee integration by Dr Sin Yi Cheung, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University and Dr Jenny Phillimore, Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/social-policy/departments/applied-social-studies/news-and-events/2013/04/social-networks-social-capital-refugee-integration.aspx

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

Photo by Craig Cloutier

By Tania Farias

Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations.

A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning that she could be relocated anywhere in the UK as many times as the UKBA considers it necessary. Following the new guidance on pregnancy and dispersal established in July 2012 by the UKBA a “protected period” of four weeks before and after the birth was introduced. During this period a pregnant woman cannot be dispersed.

Yet a 2013 report by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action, When maternity doesn’t matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum*, points out that the guidance does not take into account pregnant women’s mental well-being and health needs. The report highlights the risks to which this vulnerable group is being exposed. It is the result of exhaustive interviews with twenty women who have been dispersed during their preganancy.

The report shows that sometimes women have had serious health conditions such as HIV and diabetes or other factors such as depression and high levels of stress that put them at risk during pregnancy; frequently when women are relocated they are separated from family, friends, and healthcare arrangements and they are thusforced to give birth alone. In some cases women were dispersed against medical advice and journeys caused additional health and psychological problems; sometimes they were moved several times and accommodation was unsuitable because of lack of space, hygiene, inadequate food and overcrowded spaces. Moreover, interviewees found that they had insufficient money for essential needs such as clothes or food for their new born.

Dana, one of the interviewed women said “It was freezing (December 29th) but if I didn’t go I would lose my money. For £35 I left my baby. Two hours after I gave birth I left the hospital to go to the post office. The nurses said, ‘No you are not allowed to take the baby with you because you are not fine.’ I said, ‘No I have to go because she doesn’t have clothes. I have to buy clothes.’ So when she was born for two hours she didn’t have any clothes so they covered her with towels.”

The report concluded with a series of recommendations aiming to improve the conditions of pregnant asylum seekers, raising awareness about their care needs especially when they have been exposed to traumatic and violent situations in the past.

*When maternity doesn’t matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum a research report by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action (February 2013)

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

The Red Bus by Renata Domagalska

By Mercedes

What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me?

I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange languages came. No one asked her if she wanted that war, if she wanted the diseases or if she had enough to eat.

She is peaceful now. She feels relieved, this city will protect her, and her child will be able to grow and learn the language of the people helping her, a language so similar to the language of the men who came to her town.

No one is listening. No one responds, no one asks her how she is coping. She feels the city’s eyes looking at her with mistrust. She thinks: why do they look at me like that? Why are they sending me away?

She talks loudly so people can hear her. She tells them “I can work; I can pay for your help I am a strong woman. I crossed the oceans and several continents.”

I see other people wanting to communicate, wanting to tell their story but the city is becoming a city full of fear, closing doors and windows, not wanting to see, to hear or to talk, not even to their neighbours. I see the woman and her child in the street, begging and sleeping rough. Wishing to tell her story, but no one is listening.

But if I really really listen I can hear a child talking to the woman’s child, becoming friends, listening to each other in the park, and in this park a rose strong and bright is growing. Hold on, other children are talking, other children are listening. They talk about peace, about the games they used to play in their country realising they are the same but have different names, and they laugh at the sound of their voices and their accents. They will build a different world and they will grow listening and appreciative of each other.

When I whispered this to the woman’s ear she smiled and the star of hope sparkled in her eyes.

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse

Photo provided by Jesuit Refugee Service

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country.

In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative writing workshops at JRS over the last year, with clearly positive results. In 2012 participants had their poems and prose published in “Big Writing for a Small World”. They also presented at the Joy of Speaking event in London in 2013.

Louise Zanré, Director of JRS UK articulates why Jesuit Refugee Service has enjoyed hosting creative writing workshops, “It is very important for us to work in partnership, in particularly with English PEN, so that the refugees that we support have access to activities and opportunities that they might not have, including space for self development and growth, and also to feel normal. We are grateful that English PEN want to work with us in this way.”

Philip Cowell, Head of Programmes at English PEN, explains, “We saw the participants in these workshops flourish through their creative writing, under the guidance of poet Malika Booker. We know it can be so unsettling travelling to the UK. Our workshops don’t heal that, but they do give participants a chance to explore their new lives through free expression. More than anything, though, we aim for a safe, fun and uplifting setting for people to feel relaxed and confident – and JRS and Malika certainly helped our participants with that.”

‘Naz’, took part in the third round of creative writing workshops offering by English PEN at JRS’s Wapping centre. He wrote two contrasting pieces, one with a memory from back home and one expressing his sense of being in the UK. He shares his writing experience.

Tell me about how you got involved with creative writing workshops with English PEN.

When I came, I was very excited and motivated. The trainer told us how do to this, it is just about being creative, so I wrote my first poem on that day. She gave us poems to read from other writers and she gave us time to think about writing ourselves. Even though I had never written a poem in my life that is how I did mine. She was really good to push us how to write something.

What was the experience like for you?

After the training, I can see anything is possible, I can train to do anything in life! Even though English is not my language, I felt this is something that I can do.

How is it writing in a different language to your mother tongue?

To write a poem it is all about being creative first, so when you have creativity you can use any language to express what you want to say. That is what inspired me to write. Even though I have many difficulties since living in this country with speaking and writing English, when it is creative writing I can express myself.

What did you learn about writing?

To express my feelings about my situation through words, rather letting them stay inside me and causing depression. By writing it is like I am taking it out and putting on paper through words it is better than just not saying anything.

What inspires you in your writing?

The way the trainer was, she was the one who inspired me. There was a woman who came here to speak to the group who had been an asylum seeker in the same situation. She had been a medical doctor and gave each one of us a copy of the book she herself had written. She gave us a boost that we can do it as she is now a full time writer. That kind of thing also motivated me.

Is there anything else you want to say about the poems you write?

The poem I wrote is about expressing the life of a refused asylum seeker in this country. The second poem you see is about remembering when I was young and my mother and so on. I don’t know what else I can say, read the poems!

 

I REMEMBER

by Naz

I remember when my mother was waking me up

In the morning for bath.

The water was so cold,

She kept saying she ain’t got money

To heat the water

Every drop of the water on my body

Causing drops of tears, I remember.

In the morning bathing was a hell.

7 o’clock in the morning after bath

She dressed me up and served me breakfast

The school was miles away

And I had no money to pay for my bus ticket.

In the morning walking to school was a hell.

A long sandy road in the noon

Full of hot sand, I remember.

My feet got burnt

When walking back home from school.

However the drop of rain can be heard

And puts a smile on my face as I can walk

Without feeling the heat of the sun in the noon.

DESTITUTE

by Naz

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities.

I have been thinking all my life

To make my way to this land,

Many of us called the rich land.

But when I reached

This so-called rich land,

I t’s like a white storm,

The whole land is so cold

As Arctic

With no home, no shelter.

Calais three years on

By Zubair Gharghasht

Photo by Chiara Lauvergnac

For refugees, hoping to find a home in Britain, life – of a sort – goes on, just across the Channel…

Sangatte, on the northern coast of France overlooking the English Channel, is best known as the location of a refugee camp, closed in 2002 following concerns it was a base for illegal immigration into Britain. The camp was run by the Red Cross to shelter 900 people, but it housed some 2,000 refugees. Shortly after its closure, makeshift camps – known as The Jungle – sprang up in the woods around the Calais ferry ports, but these camps also closed seven years later in 2009. 

Zubair Gharghasht reports on the current plight of refugees who wait in Calais, dreaming of coming to the UK.

“On my arrival, I noticed how much Calais had changed since I last came in 2009. There were more fences but a lot less migrants – many had spread out to Dunkirk and Dieppe, while others returned to Paris.

“But some things hadn’t changed: life continues to be hard. The chasing by police has decreased, but living conditions seem more difficult; there is less disease but more injuries – I could not find out why, but it seemed a combination of things, from police violence to random accidents.

“Food distribution is centralized and fenced off: you could lock it and arrest everybody inside. But the activists broke the lock off one of the big gates, so migrants could come and go.

“There are water points and some shelters from the rain. Charities distribute food, three times per day. But the cooked food is still ‘slob’.

“I was invited into one shelter, covered with colourful blankets and tarpaulins, and, following Afghan tradition, offered food and a warm welcome. For a while the migrants forgot about their own struggles, they just wanted to know what it was like in the UK.

“Not all of them were Sans Papier (without papers), some had papers, but nowhere to live. Some just needed the company of their own people. They explained the chances of crossing were still the same. People still seem to cross, but some had been in Calais for more than six months, and the arrival of winter worried them.

“The migrants feel humiliated, treated like criminals and completely let down by the West. Still, most had faith for a better future.

“An activist who has been living with the migrants explained that the numbers are increasing again. While I was there, no one wanted to leave their shelters to try to cross the border in the rain.

What future for the children of irregular migrants

by Nando Sigona

More than 120,000 children living in the UK are at risk of isolation and serious crime as a result of their status as ‘irregular migrants’, researchers have found.

The children, 65,000 of whom were born in the UK, often struggle to access basic healthcare and education because their families fear they will be reported to the UK Border Agency. Many families also suffer at the hands of serious criminals, yet avoid turning to the police because of their immigration status.

In a study titled “No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, Oxford University researchers revealed that the UK Border Agency had increased its demands on public service providers and social services to report suspected irregular migrants creating a culture of fear among children and families.

This conflicts with both British and International laws requiring that children are given access to education and healthcare irrespective of their immigration status, and that public authorities put the interests of the child first.

The report comes in the wake of a landmark decision by the Obama’s Administration to pass an executive order that effectively suspends deportation proceedings against young undocumented migrants under 30 years old who arrived in the US before their 16th birthdays.

The passing of the executive order is in part thanks to the DREAM movement—named for the perpetually stalled bill (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Bill) that would create a roadmap to citizenship for young undocumented migrants. The DREAMers campaigned steadily for the change, even occupying Obama’s campaign offices. But while 800,000 thousands of young people in the US finally have peace of mind, the UK children of irregular migrants know no such security.

The Major of London has recently withdrew his support for ‘Strangers into citizens’, a campaign for an earned amnesty for irregular migrants, despite support from a coalition of NGOs, Churches and local authorities .

And while the campaign stalls, tens of thousands of children who call the UK home continue to live without the basic services and protections that all children deserve.

“No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, by Dr. Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes, published by COMPAS, is available at: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/files/Publications/Reports/NO_WAY_OUT_NO_WAY_IN_FINAL.pdf

The long road to teaching

By Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua

Ashraf Javdani outside Rokeby School in Newham. Photo by Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua.

Iranian teacher Ashraf Javdani recalls the struggle of finding a permanent position through the Jobcentre despite extensive teaching experience and university qualifications.

Ashraf left Iran for London in 2005, before her country was hit by a series of anti-governmental demonstrations. With little knowledge of English, yet 15 years of experience working as a speech and language therapist at the Ministry of Education in Iran she thought she could start in a UK school as a Teaching Assistant in Farsi and Dari – Iranian and Afghan languages. She didn’t expect it would be so hard.

She says, “It was really challenging to find out the correct information and the right direction.

“But I really wanted to teach.  I‘ve always loved teaching.”

In her first year in the UK, Ashraf improved her English. While looking for more information on how and where to work as a special educational needs teacher, she received income allowance.

To work in the UK overseas teachers need a recognized UK degree equivalent, GCSE English and Maths (and sometimes a science subject) and experience in a mainstream school classroom.

Unaware of the GCSE English requirement, Ashraf studied biomedical science at university in 2007. She says, “I went to an information centre, and I was told I needed a degree from here, nobody said to me I needed a GCSE in English.”

After her honors degree Ashraf spent one year as a jobseeker at the JobCentre.

“If someone had to ask me, that was the most difficult period of my entire life,” she says. Despite her qualifications and experience, Ashraf couldn’t find a suitable position and felt the JobCentre was not working well for her since they did not have enough information for professionals. Through the Internet Ashraf found the Refugee into Teaching project at the Refugee Council and Employability Forum.

Employability Forum referred her to Empowering Learning, a teacher training and recruitment agency, through which Ashraf obtained a position as a special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant (TA) at Rokeby Secondary School in Canning Town, where the English designer Alexander McQueen also studied.

Lynne Hannigan, director of Empowering Learning, remembers helping Ashraf through her journey. In November 2010, the teacher was taken up by Rokeby school for a work experience role as a SEN TA, first one day a week, then five. After six weeks she was offered a temporary post and in January, Ashraf  was offered a permanent position at a higher level.

Ms Hannigan adds that part of the problem when migrant and refugee teachers look for jobs is that schools fear that they will not fit in and that their teaching will be too formal. She adds: “By committing to six weeks working as a co-teacher, people like Ashraf can prove they can adapt and schools like Rokeby can see the strengths they offer.

“I believe migrant and refugee teachers find it even more difficult to work in a recession, I saw this when teaching in the 1980’s and meeting professional refugee parents who desperately wanted to make a contribution.”

The Office of National Statistics says that between 2010 and 2011 the number of migrants coming to the UK looking for a job decreased by 22%. And those here are sometimes advised to use alternative services to the JobCentre.

Sarah Lawson is assistant head teacher at Rokeby School. She says they successfully hire foreign teachers. About Ashraf she says:

“No one else in the school has her range of expertise. She had worked for many years with disabled students and so had insights into working with certain types of student that other candidates did not have.

“Ashraf speaks languages that no other member of staff speaks and shares many experiences with some of our students. This gives her added insight into how they are feeling and facilitates communication with families.”

Smiling outside what she defines as “the most wonderful place” she ever worked in, Ashraf is now satisfied and keeps studying to improve her teaching skills.

Luol Deng: A man to look up to

By Carlos Villegas

Team GB’s basketball star, winner of three major sportsmanship awards because of his ethical behaviour, fair play, and integrity on the court. A Sudanese refugee  who has not forgot his roots and works hard to bring education and sports to millions of displaced children in USA , UK and Sudan.   He plays for the Chicago Bulls in the USA as well as the UK team.  

Luol was only five when he had to flee Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War to go to Egypt with his siblings and was separated from his father for several years.  They were reunited when Luol moved to the UK when he was 10 following the decision to grant his father asylum in 1993.

His first impressions of the UK was that the country was “very clean with a lot of glass buildings”.  He lived in Brixton at the time which he felt was special.  It felt it was like a family – everyone the same – with similar problems.  Young migrant men were focused on getting better at sport, particularly basketball.  “..we needed to stick closer, work as a team and try harder to improve ourselves”. It was tough though, not speaking the language.  Now Luol continues to speak his native Dinka with his family but also speaks Arabic and English and is learning Masai.

Luol believes that it is very important that kids do not forget their roots, their mother tongue and their culture.  He felt that his Dinka language and culture gave him and his family a unique identity, strong family values, respect for his parents’ teachings and the desire to work hard and smarter in a different education system.

He became a British citizen in 2006 and says that he didn’t have problems integrating into British society.  “I came young and it was easy to learn the language.”  His respect for his parents meant that he was always focussed on having the right attitudes, not causing trouble, and being disciplined.  He says that the family always thought that they would be successful.

His father remains one of the biggest inspirations of his life.  He came from a humble background from a small village and rose to become the Minister of Education and Transportation in Sudan.  All of his family are doing well in the UK despite their struggles in his early life.

Luol was drafted into the NBA when he was 19.  He currently plays for the Chicago Bulls.  Away from the court, he has set up the Luol Deng Foundation to help children in South Sudan, USA and the UK who have not been as fortunate as himself. He believes it’s important not to be self centred and says “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”.

Prose in Plight, an evening at Poetry Café

by Hasani Hasani

Writers Abol Froushan and Mogib Hassan presenting at the Exiled Lit Cafe. Photo by Álvaro Moliner.

“Apartheid is the period I grew up in and it is the reason I came to the UK,” said Shereen Pandit an exiled writer from South Africa as she took to the microphone at a recent “Exiled Lit” event in London.

Held at the Poetry Café in Betterton Street in London’s Covent Garden each month, the Exiled Lit event, organised by Exiled Writers Ink, has, for the past twelve years, been offering a platform to writers like Shereen to share their experiences through reading poetry and prose.

Founded by Jennifer Langer, the child of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Exiled Writers Ink has become the destination of choice for international writers who face persecution in their home countries because of their writing.

Every first Monday of the month (except bank holidays when it is on the second Monday of the month), the basement of Poetry Café on 22 Betterton Street WC2H 9BX hosts exiled writers from different countries, whether living in the UK or just passing through, to read their work.

At the most recent event, four writers: Shereen Pandit (South Africa), Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian (both from Iran) and Mogib Hassan (Yemen) shared the stage. The evening offered prose writers a chance to share their work – a change from other events.

“In the past, our events have focused on poetry, so writers of short stories and novels may have felt excluded over the years. We felt it was high time to give prose writers the chance to share their work, as well as poets,” said Abol Froushan, chairperson of Exiled Writers Ink.

Shereen read from her first novel ‘Burnt Child’, which chronicles the life of a South African exile in London. A lawyer by profession, Shereen came to the UK with her husband in 1987 and has won the Booktrust London Award among other short story prizes. Back in South Africa during the Apartheid era she was political activist; this put her life in danger of the governing regime and she sought sanctuary in the UK.   “I wanted to struggle for our freedom like other young people were doing,” she said.

Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian read two short stories, ‘Family Problems’, and ‘Anxiety’ respectively. The massive censorship by the notorious Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran meant half of Navid’s work could not be published. In Iran, a ‘best-seller’ can only hope to sell between 3,000 to 5,000 copies despite a population of 70million, said Navid.

Mogib Hassan was attacked and detained last year in Yemen at the height of the Arab Spring. Born in Yemen and now a citizen of the Netherlands, Mogib came face to face with state brutality when he went back to his home country. “You cannot help to be an activist when you go back, because everything is possible”, said Mogib.

To find out more about Exiled Writers Ink and similar events go to www.exiledwriters.co.uk or email Jennifer@exiledwriters.fsnet.co.uk

 

Focus on migration at the Tate

By Shirvan Arslan

'Between the Two My Heart is Balanced' by Lubaina Himid. Photograph © Lubaina Himid

The Migrations: Journey into British Arts exhibition at Tate Britain explores the rich contribution of immigrants to British Arts. As a German with Kurdish-Armenian roots, the museum’s promise that it would “reveal how British Art has been fundamentally shaped by migration” aroused high expectations within me. Sadly it failed to deliver. The exhibition begins with a portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington, by the Dutch artist Marcus Gheeraerts in 1592. The visitor is then taken on a journey from the 16th century to the 20th century through the work of mainly western European artists. The highlights include Flemish Baroque artist Antony Van Dyck, painter to King Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria; 18th century Swiss artist Angelica Kaufmann; and 20th century German artists Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.

Marcus Gheeraert’ss Portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington.

One of the stand out inclusions is a painting Between the Two My Heart is Balanced, 1991, from African artist Lubaina Himid, who was one of the pioneers of the Black Art movement in the 1980s which put black identity on the artistic agenda.

The exhibition ends with a selection of short films such as Measures of Distance (1988) by the Lebanon director Mona Hatoum, which is a poetic reverie on the pain of separation. There is also a film shot in Mauritania by Algerian born artist Zineb Sedira, that shows the African coastline dotted with ruined buildings and the remains of ships. It represents the hopes of immigrants leaving Africa for a better life in Europe.

A visit to the exhibition is worthwhile, but the link between migrant artists and their influence on British art is not as strong as I had hoped.  The omission of important artists such as British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare, who is best known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism and the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, who designed the Orbit in the Olympic Park, was disappointing.

Migration: Journeys into British Art is at the Tate Britain until 12 August