New Internationalist

Last Word… With Refugees

Issue 350

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Refugees / LAST WORD

Last word... with refugees
Plus Worth Reading

Esther Tshuma
Photo: Vanessa Baird

Esther Tshuma,
aid worker and political refugee from Zimbabwe.
‘Refugees are often confused and disorientated when they arrive. They need to be asked simple, direct questions. Not trick questions to trip them up. It’s not so bad for people with a high level of education or who know the language well. But others can seal their fate just by answering a question in the wrong way. The system needs to be speeded up. You are in limbo as a refugee...

‘Most of the people leaving their countries are in the most economically active age group: 25-40. We are not coming to beg. I would be the first to go back home – that’s where I’m needed.

‘Generally though, I think there should just be a policy of open borders.’


Mohamed Bushara,
a dissident artist from Sudan.
‘We have been lucky. I am grateful. My wife and I made our asylum claim at the airport. We were treated well. I know that this is not everybody’s experience. And I think people who are put in detention for any length of time are really damaged by it. I had tickets, passports, old passports and a written statement. I thought it best not to hide anything. For me, not being allowed to work and earn for the first six months was hard. It was very alien to my way of being to be dependent on benefits. This feeling of being useless makes you lose self esteem. But we decided not to sit around and lament that we had lost our country, lost our jobs, lost a lot of things. So we enrolled on courses and I got a small studio. Then, when I could work I got a job as a gallery attendant. It’s not in line with my qualifications but it’s okay, it’s not a humiliating thing, it’s better than doing something I don’t believe in. I believe that art is a saviour.’

Mohamed Bushara
Photo: Vanessa Baird


Philip Shamamba
Photo: Vanessa Baird

Philip Shamamba,
student and torture survivor from DR Congo:
‘It’s terrible to be detained like a criminal when you have not done anything wrong. I think detention should be scrapped. When I was in a detention centre I went on hunger strike and was moved to prison where I was locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for in creating such a bad image of asylum seekers. There is a lot of prejudice and hatred in society. I just want a normal life, with normal opportunities.

‘I believe in open borders to some extent, but I think it’s important that conditions improve in the countries of Africa or Asia and that America and Europe don’t support regimes that make lots of money selling off all our resources and exploit us all.’**

** Philip has since completed a degree in IT and gained British citizenship.


Gholam Mosa,
a tailor, who fled Afghanistan after being arrested and
tortured by the Taliban for making women’s clothes.
‘Some nights I dream I am in Afghanistan and I wake up crying for home. Other times I dream that the Taliban are burning my back and then I wake up crying with relief that I am here. I try to laugh – but it isn’t in my heart any more. If I have to be a refugee anywhere I’m glad it’s here [Britain]. But sometimes I know I could die in this flat and who would even miss me?’ *

* Interviewed by Marnie Smith.

Gholam Mosa
Photo: Marnie Smith


Jamila Abassy
Photo: Marnie Smith

Jamila Abassy,
an Afghan who has taken refuge in Pakistan, where she has set up two co-educational schools for refugee children, in spite of opposition from local Taliban.
‘I don’t recognize them. Taleb (directly translated) means seeker of knowledge and my students are more Taleb than they are. I try to forgive and forget what has happened. I hope for a ray of peaceful light. Recently I visited Kabul to see if it was safe to go back, but the continued instability concerns me greatly. We are grateful to the Pakistani people for letting us remain here.’*

* Interviewed by Marnie Smith.

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Worth reading
There are some excellent books on the subject. Jeremy Harding’s lucid, moving and memorable The Uninvited, first published in the London Review of Books, is now available in short book form (Profile Books, 2000). It’s a fine piece of deeply thoughtful journalism. Nigel Harris’s Thinking the Unthinkable, (IB Tauris, 2002) takes an almost neo-liberal approach but even this leads to a persuasive plea for the justice of open borders. Michael Dummett makes the moral argument in about as clear, journalistic and passionate a way as anyone could dream of from a philosopher in his succinct On Immigration and Refugees (Routledge, 2001). Most refreshingly he does not pull his punches. In Open Borders (Pluto Press, 2000) Teresa Hayter pushes the boat out further than most – but backs her argument with a plethora of detailed research. It may be bad form to promote an in-house title but former NI editor Peter Stalker’s No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration (New Internationalist/Verso 2001) is just too good to leave off this list. It is exactly what the title says: an effortless read and packed with facts.


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