Changing the Conversation on Asylum in the UK

Woodbrooke/QARN event: ‘Changing the Conversation on Asylum in the UK’ held by zoom on 16 June 2022

Below you will find a video of presentations: the speakers agreed to be recorded and you can see the video of presentations by Mariam Yusuf, Rogelio Braga, and Moses Mbano

Loraine Masiya Mponela’s poem and the transcript, which was written for this event.

and a toolkit which can be downloaded

Changing the Conversation on Asylum

This evening event, coming just before Refugee Week, offers a chance to hear from those in the asylum system working to change the conversation on asylum through art, poetry and activism.

Loraine Masiya Mponela pre-recorded her poemThere is plenty room for those wanting to do the right thing’ for this event, because she was speaking elsewhere.

You can watch her recording here

There is plenty room for those wanting to do the right thing

There is plenty room for those wanting to do the right thing

refugees are human
we are all human
like all humans we laugh,
we cry, we get anxious
sometimes we get angry too
we are human

In life, we want absolutely nothing
outside the ordinary
we need space and a place
where we can be seen as human beings

our drives, hopes and fears are no different from anybody else
we want just the barest minimum that makes us all human.

on a daily basis we are hurt
by words uttered by the powerful and the press
words like “failed” asylum seeker
is this an examination in which some pass and some fail?
the correct word should be “refused” asylum seeker
refused asylum seekers failed by a hostile system-
towards our humanity and dignity

we are people denied the right
to be human by a system
because in the eyes of the system
we are not human

we are actually a “swarm of refugees”
as we were graciously described
by the then Prime Minister David Cameron

we are the “filthy other and pathetic subspecies”
in the eyes of Nigel Farage
and his ardent followers

as for the Daily Mail
I won’t even describe how new terms are coined
weekly to describe us

nobody stops
to think
why we have refugees
in the first place

we run away from wars,
rape, stigma and death
here we meet humiliation
name calling and utter disrespect

given a choice
none of us would choose
this kind of life
no rational human being chooses suffering

life is filled with uncertainty
things could change
many of us would turn into Refugees
if Mr Putin was to point his guns at the U.K.
instead of Ukraine

It’s easy to dehumanise others
if one has power and authority
However, proper leadership calls for an empathetic heart
that feels the pain of the stateless, the poor and the vulnerable

as for our friends
you can do something about this disruption
there is plenty room for those wanting to do the right thing
stand up for humanity
be an active ally
work together and support each other

respond to the hateful comments
be it on Facebook or twitter
challenge the bigoted ignorant brains
educate them and show them love

reach out to refugee groups to show your support
protest with us like our MP Zarah Sultana does
bring other people in
there is plenty room for those wanting to do the right thing
speak up when you see these things
ask always

as for you my brothers and sisters
may be we are the real “wretched of the earth”
as mentioned by Frantz Fanon?

although our lives and futures have been shaped
by wars, violent conflict, and other strife
in this environment let us learn to be self reliant

most of us are skilled
nurses, engineers and artists, poets and all
let us not sit on those God given talents
but exercise them even if for no money
just to keep sane in an insane environment

let’s not allow depression
and hopelessness we have carried
for a long time to take us to the grave
on account of not being accepted
or being labelled.

may we all remember
refugees are people
be kind to refugees
most of whom you see
are the only living members of their bloodline
some have not seen any relatives
or loved ones for years

we are just people
and never call us illegal ever again
we are human
caught up in a bad situation at home
and a hostile environment in the UK
there is plenty room
for those wanting to do the right thing.

You will find more of Loraine’s poetry here: and her organisation is here: CARAG – Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group

Rogelio Braga, also called Ogie’ has a website is here:

Moses Mbano’s voice is here:

Mariam Yusuf has a website here: Her organisation’s website is here: WAST – Women Asylum Seekers Together, Manchester


Changing the conversation on asylum in the UK

Credit: Erfan Alaei – the painting illustrates his fears, hopes and concerns. He has experience of the UK asylum system
Fears, Hopes, Concerns Artist: Erfan Alaei 2022

A painting by Erfan Alaei. Erfan has experience of the UK asylum system. The painting illustrates his fears, hopes and concerns.

In the Freedom from Torture guide on changing the conversation on asylum the focus is on the ‘persuadables’, the 64% of people (from their survey of 2,000 UK residents) who are neither firmly pro-refugee (24%) or opposed to refugee rights (12%). It is a hopeful document and contains useful suggestions of language to use/avoid and what they term ‘messaging principles’.

In 2018 Tatiana Garavito convened a small group, including some of us from QARN and some experts by experience on the Social Justice Committee, to look at the way language was used to talk about asylum and migration, and to suggest some alternatives. Our ideas were presented to the Committee. We found it helpful to explore how language is used to shape opinions and attitudes and often to obscure what is actually going on. Phrases such as ‘illegal migrants’ and ‘illegal routes’ are routinely used in mainstream media and are incorrect. No human being is ‘illegal’ and people are forced to choose ‘irregular’, not illegal, routes to reach the UK.

Here are some of the suggestions we came up with:

People we are failing/people with migrant and refugee backgrounds instead of illegal migrants/migrants and refugees.

Imprisonment instead of detention.

Forced removal/expulsion instead of deportation.

We agreed we wanted to avoid using the words ‘burden’,‘crisis’ and ‘issue’, and terms such as developed world, developing countries, underdeveloped, first/second/third world.

When we are having conversations about asylum and migration, we can choose our words carefully to help unpick the attitudes that colour language.

This evening’s speakers use their voices to protest and challenge narratives:

You might also find the leaflets produced by QARN helpful:

The arts can help us ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’

Erfan’s painting, made over several months of waiting to hear the outcome of his asylum application, conveys the emotions he felt at this time. Loraine’s poems speak to us directly and uncompromisingly. The pictures made by men housed in Penally Barracks are currently on show in Swansea . And The Other Side of Hope brings together writing by people with migrant and refugee backgrounds that expand our awareness and grow our empathy:

The cover of the first edition of The Other Side of Hope: journeys in refugee and immigrant literature

‘Light and Dark Life’ by George Sfougaras

The Toolkit can be downloaded here: