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In the News

Refugee stories behind the statistics and a UK policy shift

Alice Griffiths

29th June 2021

As geographers we’re used to dealing with key indicators, like birth rate or death rate, life expectancy, infant mortality rate. We use statistics about populations every day which have been calculated ‘per 1000 of the population per year’.

The fact that the lived experience of people within each ‘average thousand’ may vary is lost in the classroom; and perhaps this is right and proper. Economists and professional geographers like civil servants and policy makers need this kind of overview to make decisions about the allocation of public resources, to support services such as housing, health and education. But what happens if a focus on numbers entirely obscures the humanity?

Home Secretary, Priti Patel is about to publish proposed legislation to send asylum seekers overseas, while they await the outcome of their application to reside in the UK. If this approach sounds familiar, other European countries, including Denmark, have similar plans and countries like Australia have already tried it. Offshore detention centres for asylum seekers in third countries were introduced as part of the Australian Government’s notorious 2001 ‘Pacific Solution’ policy to address immigration numbers. This approach had terrible consequences for the human rights of those that languished for years in ‘out of sight, out of mind’ centres, as detailed in the leaked reports of officials working in Australia’s detention camp on the island nation of Nauru. All this means that it is arguably more important to share human stories, to try to change the overarching narrative about refugees being a threat, a blight or a difficult problem to manage.

The One Thousand Dreams project devised by photographer Robin Hammond sets out to share the stories of a thousand refugees around the world. To collect the tales and images for this creative project Hammond handed over his camera to refugee storytellers, who photographed others as he felt too often their stories are told by outsiders. These diverse stories are powerful and afford each individual dignity. ‘It’s stories that impact attitudes which go on to impact policies’ Hammond notes in the linked ‘behind the scenes’ short film, available to view on YouTube.

There’s no better time than the present to humanise refugees in the Geography classroom given the political context in the UK today.

For more information about the One Thousand Dreams project see this Guardian article.

For further details of leaked Nauru files see this 2016 Guardian report.

For today’s report on proposals to send asylum seekers abroad read this news article.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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