Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Refugees and migrants - research objects and human realities - a reflection on ‘Queens of Syria’

By Eva-Maria Egger

Every day we hear and read about the horrific events in Syria, about refugees dying in the Mediterranean Sea, running from European police at borders, and still we cannot grasp that this is the reality of ordinary people.

What does it mean to be a refugee? What does it feel like to leave your home to be destroyed, not knowing when you will return - if ever - and what you will find left upon your return? How can you cope with the horrors you saw in war? When will you hold your children, your mother, in your arms again? What is it like to be constantly asked what it is like? Who will really help you? Who will let you into their country and into their home when you seek shelter? Articles and videos of journalists and researchers try to give answers to these questions. However, nothing compares to having a person look you in the eye and tell you their story.

In the theatre production Queens of Syria’ Syrian refugee women from a refugee camp in Jordan tell their stories, each one at her own pace, with her own voice, with her own strength and with all her vulnerability, and each one with the motivation that “I have a scream I have to let out. I want the world to hear it.” There is little that is this powerful to get a message across. There is little that is so purely human. There are few moments in which I felt so close, yet so distant to these women and their realities. One Syrian woman in the play said, that she wondered why telling her story in the form of a play would be of any use, but then she learned that the British really like theatre and that they take it very seriously. Thus, she understood that she would have to do theatre to make the British listen to her story.

As a migration researcher, this experience made me reflect on how we can communicate our research results. We should aim not only for methodologically and theoretically sound journal articles but also for ways that make everyone, from policy makers through to ordinary citizens and to researchers, understand that these topics are human realities. Thus, I am very excited to read the comic recently published by the Migrating out of Poverty consortium. It is one result from research our Sussex colleague Robert Nurick and Cambodian colleague Sochanny Hak conducted in Cambodia. The comic, Precarious Migration: Voices of Undocumented Cambodian Migrants, tells the story of irregular Cambodian migrants who move to Thailand in search of a better life and for a job that pays them enough to support their family, whom they’ve left behind. These people take risks that we cannot imagine, but the comic helps the reader to gain an idea of these experiences. In a few pages, in a few pictures, a range of emotions, from hope to fear, from desperation to relief, find their space. In this way, thousands of unheard voices, scarcely ever talked about in the news, are given the space to tell their story. And we, as researchers, and as ordinary citizens, get a little bit closer to their realities.

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