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The book explores how we understand global conflicts as they relate to the ‘European refugee crisis’, and draws on a range of empirical fieldwork carried out in the UK and Italy. It examines how global conflict has been constructed in both countries through media representations – in a climate of changing media habits, widespread mistrust, and fake news. In so doing, it examines the role played by historical amnesia about legacies of imperialism – and how this leads to a disavowal of responsibility for the reasons people flee their countries. The book explores how this understanding in turn shapes institutional and popular responses in receiving countries, ranging from hostility – such as the framing of refugees by politicians, as 'economic migrants' who are abusing the asylum system – to solidarity initiatives. Based on interviews and workshops with refugees in both countries, the book develops the concept of ‘migrantification’ – in which people are made into migrants by the state, the media and members of society. In challenging the conventional expectation for immigrants to tell stories about their migration journey, the book explores experiences of discrimination as well as acts of resistance. It argues that listening to those on the sharpest end of the immigration system can provide much-needed perspective on global conflicts and inequalities, which challenges common Eurocentric misconceptions. Interludes, interspersed between chapters, explore these issues in other ways through songs, jokes and images.
The chapter introduces the central concepts of the book, and sets out why it is important to consider global conflicts within a climate of changing media use, as well as distrust towards governments and other official organisations. It also flags the importance of considering how people are made into ‘migrants’ by the state, members of society as well as through informal and often contradictory demands to integrate, and simultaneously to feel that one’s status is precarious. It sets out the key findings and methods used in the research project which formed the basis of the book, and outlines the structure of the book.
The chapter explores how historical amnesia around the legacies of colonialism lead Western nations to disavow responsibility for the causes of global conflicts and the conditions of inequality which cause people to flee their countries. Based on a content analysis of newspapers in the UK and Italy, the chapter examines how this amnesia shapes attitudes to global conflicts and their presentation as depoliticised and de-contextualised. Conflicts are often simplified as actions and decisions of ‘great men’ or to single military operations in the field, with the role of local residents reduced to witnesses. The chapter then examines how this amnesia constructs the role of Western nations as either benevolent providers of aid, or as under siege from people crossing their borders in search of protection. Drawing on interviews with refugees in the UK and Italy, the chapter ends by exploring how postcolonial amnesia can be challenged.
This interlude is based on interviews with migrants in the UK and Italy. We asked them how they felt about the media coverage of the countries they have left, both by international news media and by the local media in their countries. In their responses, participants demonstrate their awareness of the global political economy of media, and how Western media dominance leads to an under/mis-representation of regions outside the West, as well as racialised communities within Western nations.
This chapter examines the impact of changing patterns of news consumption and uneven coverage of global conflicts on the repertoires of understanding available to media audiences in Italy and the UK. In a moment when the power and reach of European nations is shifting and the terms of mutuality in the international community are under question, how we understand conflict, international responsibility and interdependence impacts directly on how migrants are viewed and received. The chapter begins with an overview of histories of representing war, and the inadequacy of these representations in conditions where conflict is no longer limited to specific territories and may be primarily carried out by non-state actors. We examine how these frameworks affect attitudes towards population movement. In the rest of the chapter, we examine the response of audiences – focusing on young people and their changing media habits, based on a survey carried out in the UK and Italy.
This interlude is based on interviews in which we asked refugees in the UK what they did for fun and entertainment; it also draws on images and YouTube clips they shared with us. Songs, jokes and comedy programmes provide relief from the difficult situations they are facing, but also function as critical resources for developing critiques of the immigration system; in some cases, humour functions as a form of social solidarity, enabling participants to laugh at those in positions of power in situations where they have very little agency. The chapter challenges the one-dimensional representation of refugees in which they are asked to tell their migration story, which is often a story of suffering.
The chapter explores citizen initiatives in response to the ‘European refugee crisis’, based on online ethnography of Facebook groups and crowdfunders in the UK and Italy. Social media plays a central role in these initiatives. It is used by refugees to organise the journey (often in unsafe and clandestine conditions). Social media is also used by solidarity groups to organise donations, hosting, medical help and other forms of mutual aid, in the face of xenophobic public attitudes and state hostility – and in Italy, the criminalisation of solidarity. However, there are questions to be asked about the implications of using social media platforms which are the property of Silicon Valley tech giants, and are not publicly accountable. The chapter ends with an exploration of anti-refugee groups in both countries, and their use of social media platforms to spread hate and circulate conspiracy theories.
This interlude is based on five photomontages which developed out of visualisation exercises carried out with participants in Birmingham and the UK, and a painting created by one of the participants in Nottingham UK, Prabjot Kaur. The interlude reproduces both the images as well as the discussions around the visualisation exercises. Participants were shown quotes taken from interviews with refugees in other cities and were asked to think of metaphors and images which the quote might inspire. What results are images of restriction, frustration and longing. In one of them, a man stands outside a house and cannot go inside; in another, someone is looking at food but cannot eat it because he does not have enough money (reflecting the £36/week given to asylum seekers in the UK). Another involves a woman in a relationship with a man who does not love her anymore, but who longs for the love to come back. The extreme sense of restriction experienced by life in the asylum system is most powerfully exemplified by a painting entitled ‘Life in Handcuffs’, created by Prabjot Kaur, in which she creates a self-portrait wearing handcuffs.
In this chapter, the concept of ‘migrantification’ is developed; it refers to a process whereby public institutions, the media and members of society position people so that they are constructed as migrants. These processes construct the identity of ‘migrant’ as the pre-eminent aspect of any individual, flattening out other aspects of their personality and experience. The chapter explores this through interviews and workshops with refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham, London and Nottingham in the UK, and in Pisa and Bologna in Italy. Inspired by Frigga Haug’s methodology of ‘critical memory work’, participants are asked to consider how they have been constructed as migrants. The chapter explores everyday experiences of discrimination, stigmatisation and isolation that are intrinsic to the asylum system and more generally the ‘hostile environment’. It also examines the contradictory pressures experienced by migrants: they are expected to integrate and, it is assumed, are not trying hard enough; however they are also continually reminded that their status is precarious and are discouraged from creating a sense of community.
This interlude is based on spoof newspapers which were created in a workshop with migrants in Nottingham. The newspaper is called ‘The Double Standard’, referring to the double standard between how they as asylum seekers are treated, and how the wealthy and powerful are treated – particularly in terms of the ease of mobility for the wealthy in contrast to their absolute lack of mobility. The newspaper also points out the hypocrisy in which Western governments make high-handed remarks about despotic regimes in other countries, but will invite the despots of these regimes with the hope of encouraging trade. Through the ‘lifestyle section’, claims that asylum seekers live a life of luxury are debunked; there are sarcastic comments about the judgements that asylum seekers face (if they dress too smartly, they are sponging off the system; too destitute and they are treated like vagrants). The third page mimics the Sports section and refers to comments made about the boxer Anthony Joshua in the Daily Mail newspaper: when he was arrested for cannabis possession he was a ‘son of Nigerian parents’, but when he won a boxing match he was British – highlighting how the figure of the migrant is constructed.