Refugee Radio is a Brighton-based human rights charity. Their projects include a weekly radio show, live events and media training, as well as mentoring, a post-traumatic resilience panel, and a cookery group. Refugee Radio Times, a new book, was compiled by Stephen Silverwood, the charity’s chief executive, and Lorna Stephenson, who also edits a monthly newsletter of the same name. The book includes personal testimonies from refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants, alongside journalism and analysis by human rights campaigners.
‘Music has always been part of the process of cultural integration,’ Silverwood writes in his introduction, recalling the popularity of Two Tone in the 1970s, and Asian Underground in the 1990s. He founded Refugee Radio in 2008, combining his experience in the non-profit sector with past adventures as a DJ on pirate and community radio. ‘It was a deliberate choice to call it “Refugee” Radio,’ he explains, ‘as I wanted to reclaim the word as a positive thing and to resist the new-speak of “Asylum Seeker”, which had emerged laden with negative connotations…It was to become something of a barrier to some people, though,’ he admits, ‘and keeping it was an example of my personal belligerence.’
Silverwood goes on to list ‘Refugee Radio’s Top Seven Asylum and Refugee Myths.’ Perhaps the most bizarre (and unfounded) claim – that refugees eat swans – has appeared on The Sun’s front page more than once. But the most pernicious myths are far more mundane. The allegation that ‘Britain is the Number One destination for refugees’ is wildly (and provably) inaccurate, yet many in the UK still believe it to be true.
In ‘Bienvenue á Calais’, Lorna Stephenson talks to some of the several hundred undocumented migrants camped at the French port who view the UK as a last resort. Many have experienced racism at the hands of the police, local politicians and residents. One Sudanese man had spent the last eight years travelling across Europe, unable to find a permanent home.
Husnu Koloman, a Turkish refugee living in Brighton, writes about his experience of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and how this was aggravated by his dealings with the Home Office during the long process of seeking asylum. He was unaware of PTSD until he consulted a doctor about his physical condition. Husnu believes that access to education is essential: ‘Language is the most important thing – you need to express yourself and you need to understand what is going on around you in the place where you are now living.’
In the following chapter, Husnu interviews psychologist Shawn Katz, an expert in trauma. ‘There’s a lot of violence, danger, threat, uncertainty,’ Katz says. ‘There are many things that are wonderful; there are a lot of movements and positive social things. But I think there are a lot of really destructive things happening at the same time.’
Robert Miki Tamanyi has been campaigning for the independence of the Anglophone region of Southern Cameroon for over twenty years. He was regularly imprisoned and tortured in his home country. Ivo Kuka, another activist, was held at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre upon arrival in the UK in 2012. His claim was referred to the Fast-Track Detainment procedure, although as a victim of torture he should have been exempt.
In ‘Stories of Trauma and Strength’, Nina Yeo – group facilitator of Refugee Radio’s Resilience Panel – includes flashbacks, nightmares, and survivor guilt among the major symptoms of PTSD. One case study involves a young boy whose application for asylum contained crucial errors, due to his interpreter speaking a different dialect. Others suffering from trauma have also been sanctioned for inconsistencies in their statements, resulting from disturbed memories.
‘It has become a journalistic cliché to refer to the life of an asylum seeker as Kafkaesque,’ Stephen Silverwood observes, in an essay comparing the Czech author’s nightmarish vision to today’s asylum process. Detention centres are run for profit by large corporations such as G4S, enabling the government to evade direct responsibility. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or claim benefits, and are often treated with suspicion within the NHS and Social Services.
Older contributors remind us how diversity has enriched British life. Eleanor Clarke, daughter of a Shan princess, survived both Japanese occupation during World War II and civil war in Burma. She escaped to Britain in 1958, and has worked with blind veterans and in mental health services. Born in Iran, Farah Mohebati came to the UK after experiencing religious persecution during the 1979 revolution. She settled in Brighton, practising her Bahá’i faith and becoming a decorated volunteer.
Younger migrants can also help others to build a new identity. ‘In Britain people contribute by making money for the economy,’ says Gharghasht, founder of Afghan Voice Radio. ‘It is a very individualistic society, where your own choices come first…Contributing to society can be in many ways not related to money,’ he argues, ‘but more to country and community life.’
‘The political background to refugee lives continues to get harder,’ Lorna Stephenson writes in the concluding chapter. She advocates a grassroots approach, or ‘transformation from below.’ Refugee Radio Times combines human interest with progressive debate, casting a firm gaze upon a turbulent world.