Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
By Dr Francesca Stella*, Workshop Co-organiser
The first GRAMNet workshop ‘Migration and Intimate Life’, co-organised by Francesca Stella and Marta Moskal, was held at the University of Glasgow on 18 June 2014. The workshop was born out of our shared interest in the topic of migrants’ personal life and relationships: Francesca will be running an ESRC-funded project on the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants from Eastern Europe (with Dr Moya Flynn), while Marta has worked extensively on migrant children and family migration. The aim of the workshop was to bring together researchers, voluntary and public organisations, grassroots groups and practitioners associated with GRAMNet to explore their different perspectives on the formation and transformation of intimacy in the context of migration. Alongside the showcasing of academic work on the topic – particularly the work of GRAMNet doctoral and early career researchers – it was also a platform to share research findings and insights from practitioners’ work, to stimulate discussion, and to identify shared interests and scope for future collaborations.
It is widely recognised that migrants’ intimate lives are often under scrutiny, and that their legitimate presence in the host country can be dependent on, for example, their family status or on the vetting of their personal history, particularly in the case of asylum seekers. With the new 2014 Immigration Act, migrants’ intimate lives have come under more intense scrutiny in the UK. In light of the new legislation and of the increasing politicisation of migration, we wanted to share insights from researchers’ and practitioners’ work on how migrants ‘do’ intimacy, family and personal relationships, and to identify discrepancies between migrants’ practices and legal/policy definitions of family and intimacy.
The workshop attracted 55 registered participants. We were pleased to see a mix of academic researchers, representatives of voluntary and public sector organisations and grassroots groups (including Rape Crisis, Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, Scottish Refugee Council, Social Audit Network, Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice Glasgow, Scottish Immigration Law Practitioners Association (SILPA), Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Red Cross and Department for International Development). Academic researchers were affiliated to a range of universities from Scotland (Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh, Queen Margaret) and England (SOAS, Plymouth, Manchester Metropolitan, Manchester University and Leeds).
Speakers addressed a range of related topics on the day, including: the role of social networks and solidarities in migrants’ lives; trust and conviviality in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods; experiences of intimacy among Zimbabwean migrants and asylum seekers; how sexuality informs decisions to move for Eastern European lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants; and the impact of family separation on Polish migrant children. Our two keynote speakers, Dr Naomi Tyrell (University of Plymouth) and Dr Daniela Sime (University of Strathclyde), talked about their research on the impact of work mobility on migrant children and on Eastern European migrant children’s peer and family relations. One session focussed entirely on arts methods for public engagement; speakers talked about the use of testimonial theatre to share migrants’ life stories in a transnational context; a project based on experiential workshops to engage with migrant communities; and cultural institutions’ uses of migrant cultural heritage to facilitate multicultural dialogue.
One session remains in our memory as the most compelling, emotional and challenging of the day. Focussed on the experience of asylum seekers and refugees to commemorate Refugee Week, the session involved Beverley Kandjii and Angeline Mwafulirwa, representing the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, and Tanjeel Maleque, a solicitor from SILPA with experience of dealing with cases of family reunion and of LGBT asylum. All speakers talked about the gruelling experiences of asylum seekers and refugees, and of the difficulties they face in claiming a truly private life, in developing intimate relationships and in proving persecution where this occurs in the private sphere of intimate relations. They are faced with the constant scrutiny of their personal lives, lack of choice in housing arrangements, destitution, racism, sexism and homophobia. The discussion that ensued pointed to the importance of spaces where practitioners, activists and academics can come together to share insights and work towards meaningful change; however, it also raised questions about our limited power to influence migration policies and home office practices.
The day ended with a session on how to take forward ideas for future collaborations and creative engagements, based on a facilitated consultation exercise. This will shape the second and final workshop, which will take place in November (date TBA – more details will follow soon). We look forward to our next meeting and welcome suggestions for the next workshop and ideas on future collaborative activities participants would like to develop.
We gratefully acknowledge funding from the University of Glasgow (New Initiatives Fund and Robertson Bequest).
*Francesca Stella can be contacted at: email@example.com
Marta Moskal can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org