Opening Hearts through Arts

Updated 22 June 2022: Trying to heal in the midst of chaos

The retraumatisation of the hostile environment

shado and Counterpoints Arts have collaborated on a series of articles in celebration of Refugee Week 2022. They are written by artists, activists and journalists who are creating change in their communities and exposing first-hand the hostility of the UK’s asylum system. This piece is written by Loraine Mponela, a mother, writer, community organiser and migrants’ rights campaigner. She is originally from Malawi and moved to the UK in 2008 where she now lives in Coventry. Loraine is the ex-chair (2018-2022) for Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group (CARAG) and is the co-chair for the Status Now 4 All Campaign which is calling for Indefinite Leave to Remain for all that need it in the UK and Ireland. Loraine also sits on the advisory group of Refugee Week UK.

This year’s Refugee Week theme of ‘Healing’ has brought up a lot of questions for me around the healing that needs to take place for refugees trying to settle here in the UK. The immigration system is constantly stabbing and prodding at us. How can a wound heal if it keeps on being opened?

Many of us are wounded. By war, by violence and by the perilous journeys we make to seek sanctuary. Arriving in the UK is supposed to mean safety; the end of persecution and misery. But instead, we are met by a hostile environment. 

This environment awakens the nightmares of drowning relatives in surging seas.

They relive this experience in the hostile environment through a lack of compassion and empathy. This becomes mixed  with the indelible images of drowning, rape, torture and constant pain. This is the daily sound in our troubled ears. 

Soon after, we hear another message: “go back from where you came from.” Those that say this usually have no idea that for most refugees there is no longer a place called home. For a lot of us, home is now a site of ruins. Broken roofs, shrapnel and empty bullet cases.

Refugees get blamed for their pock-marked lives. It’s as if people feel we deserve this life. As if one day we woke up and chose a life of rape, killing and violence. It’s like the victims of violence and the perpetrators are one and the same.  

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has five stages. At the top there is ‘self actualisation’, and at the bottom are ‘physiological needs’ of food, water, warmth and rest. Refugees are lucky to even meet these.

We are tired. Tired of being told we are not allowed to eat. Tired of being told we are not allowed to work. Tired of being told we are not welcome. 

But I’m not only tired, I’m also angry. And I’m not alone in the feeling of rage and anger.

In the eyes of wider society, people seeking asylum are criminals. And this is a sentiment the government is reinforcing through their policies. We have no right to work, no right to a family life and it’s a struggle to even get legal advice.

Not only are we being left to drown in the channel, but even if we make it to the UK, we will now be shipped to Rwanda. A country still recovering from one of the worst genocides in modern times; a place where it is unsafe to be part of the LGBTQI+ community.

Many of us are forced to leave our homes due to issues of hunger, segregation, radicalism and racism. We are products of an unequal world. Most of us come from the Global South.  

Our countries are rich with oil, gold and rare minerals. But legacies of extractivist colonialism have stripped them of these riches; and government corruption has left violence in its place.

The men and women in gilded offices in the Global North refuse to acknowledge their own roles and complicity in our conflicts. They continue to profit off the weapons which are destroying our countries, yet complain when we show up hungry at their borders

Last year, the UK government brought in a new plan for immigration. The proposal is so dangerous and discriminatory that it is now commonly referred to as the “anti-refugee” bill. Shockingly, much of the proposal has already been passed into law.

No matter who or how a person finds themselves here in the UK, shouldn’t everyone be treated with compassion?

Apparently not, as the act of seeking asylum will now be criminalised by these laws. 

The narrative of the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ refugee does not help either. People are valued based on contributions they make; athletes, chefs in fancy restaurants or doctors. What they forget is that those of us who cannot cook to a Michelin standard, run marathons in record time or save lives are also in need of protection, dignity and freedom. 

Read more: https://shado-mag.com/all/trying-to-heal-in-the-midst-of-chaos/


Updated 16 April 2022: Do not piss on me and say its raining speech from todays protests- Loraine from CARAG
Do not piss on me and say its raining speech from todays protests – Loraine Masiya Mponela from CARAG

Updated 24 March 2022: The painting illustrates the artist’s Fears, Hopes, Concerns . He has experience of the UK asylum system.
Artist: Erfan Alaei 2022

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

Updated 8 March 2022, International Women’s Day: Launched today: Welcome to Sautizetu Website, a Swahili word meaning our voices.

We welcome Migrant and Refugees living away from their homeland to celebrate their voices in whichever way they want to.

Cultural identity is part of a person’s identity or their self-conception and self-perception. Living away from home, we embrace the culture of where we reside, here we encourage Migrants/Refugees to share experience of adapting the new culture and upholding their own culture.

It’s not very often that we tell our folklore stories. https://sauti-zetu.org/

see also No Audience Loraine (NAL)

Loraine speaking at Coventry Cathedral during a day of action in October 2020
Loraine speaking at Coventry Cathedral during a day of action in October 2020

a parking space for stories deemed as unappealing to the public

Welcome to No Audience Loraine (NAL) website. NAL is a long held dream come true. The NAL idea started on 13th December 2016 when I attended a training by a journalist on “what makes a story and how to get it across to your audience”

I was excited about the training because I wanted to tell about homelessness amongst asylum seekers which I found out when I had just been moved to Coventry in Feb 2016 and my first time living as an asylum seeker. The journalist however said “homelessness amongst asylum seekers would not be appealing to the British public. You need a different story that editors will approve and publish” she concluded

Shocking as it sounds, I owe this website to her insight because she did open my eyes: there are some stories which will deliberately be ignored despite the fact that there are lives of people at the centre of those stories because they are unappealing to the ‘British public’. She saved me from the frustration that may have come after writing the story and it never gets published yet no-one explains to you why it hasn’t been published. But she left an open wound in my heart which needed to heal by still sharing what I want to share because that is what is important to me

So NAL is here as a parking space for stories deemed as unappealing to the British public and beyond. NAL is about sharing our stories, deemed unappealing, as we seek healing for our marginalised and minoritised communities.

For more information please see the About Us page

Read more: https://noaudienceloraine.co.uk/


Updated 7 March 2022: MAOKWO PRESENTS: INVISIBLE THREADS @ Warick Arts Centre Wednesday 16 March 6:30pm – Friday 18 March 2022

A collaborative and experimental piece based on writing-development workshops with migrant women living in Coventry, Invisible Threads is presented by Maokwo, a local company which supports marginalised minorities groups and seeks to engage with communities via the arts. 

“When going through life, at various points, many of us feel like we are on our own,” explains Maokwo. “When our everyday labour and love is taken for granted, or when we suffer at the hands of our loved ones, our sense of ‘being alone’ is intensified… 

“In writing our individual journeys and sharing our experiences with each other and the wider community, it gradually became obvious to us that we have, in fact, always been bound by invisible threads.

“This resulting show is all about the journeys we’ve taken – and about the growth, loss and strength that came about as a result of them.”

https://www.warwickartscentre.co.uk/whats-on/maokwo-presents-invisible-threads-2337/


Updated 22 February 2022: Morning Star: 21st Century Poetry with Andy Croft:

While the enemy’s ideas of culture are disfigured by money, snobbery, ignorance and dullness, the left still has the poets with something to say

AT A time of deepening structural inequalities in British life, the world of contemporary poetry publishing is increasingly remote and inaccessible. It is hard to be heard. But while the enemy’s ideas of culture are disfigured by money, snobbery, ignorance and dullness, the left still has the poets with something to say.

Here are four strong new anthologies that try to bear witness to the dangerous and absurd world of the 21st century.

[…] Poetry and Settled Status for All (Civic Leicester, £9.78) consists of 114 poems by 97 writers from around the world. Introduced by Claudia Webbe, the MP (until recently, the Labour MP) for Leicester East, the book is a call for Settled Status or Indefinite Leave to Remain to be given to those with insecure or undocumented immigration status. Those who, as Diliana Stoyanova points out, are here already: “The rootless, the tongue-less, the restless, / The helpless, the aimless, the reckless, / The outcast, the voiceless, the faithless, / The exiled, the faceless, the state-less, / The immigrants, / The differents.”

The most memorable poems here – notably by Laura Grevel, Rob Lowe, Alice Herve and Etzali Hernandez – try to address the inhumane attitudes that make us fear those who we don’t know, and the inhuman system that is quick to demonise those we don’t understand. As Loraine Masiya Mpolela asks: “What does it take / For me to qualify as a good immigrant? / Good at what? / Am I not good enough as I am?”

Read here: https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/c/21st-century-poetry-with-andy-croft-february-21-2022


Updated 12 February 2022: Graphic by @MendoncaPen’ (Twitter), @penmendonca (Instagram), website www.penmendonca.com

graphic by @MendoncaPen’ (Twitter), @penmendonca (Instagram) website www.penmendonca.com describing the complexities of the the process for those seeking asylum
graphic by @MendoncaPen’ (Twitter), @penmendonca (Instagram) website www.penmendonca.com

twitter.com/Petra_OB/status/1488257311865020421


Updated 2 February 2022: The Walk: Little Amal – The Interactive Journey.

LITTLE AMAL NEEDS YOUR HELP – WALK 8,000KM WITH LITTLE AMAL – IN AN INTERACTIVE STORYBOOK – FROM SYRIA TO MANCHESTER – TO FIND A NEW PLACE TO CALL HOME

From award-winning storytellers Alchemy Immersive, The Walk has been brought to life in a new and engaging digital experience. Introducing Little Amal – The Interactive Journey.

Free to download now on iOS and Android.

See more here: https://www.walkwithamal.org/little-amal-an-interactive-journey/


Updated 21 January 2022: ‘Hostile’ documentary film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njxBduqZeyA

and https://www.hostiledocumentary.com/ Sonita Gale is an independent producer and director. Sonita’s heritage is central to her storytelling. As a daughter of migrant parents, elevating the stories of migrants and marginalised communities has been at the forefront of her work.
Sonita has recently completed her directorial debut, Hostile, a feature length documentary exposing the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants living in the UK. Through the impact campaign for the film, Sonita hopes to influence change in immigration policies.


Updated 20 July 2022: Film

Commissioned By: Peter Hopkins, Newcastle University; Funded by ESRC (ES/V015141/1) Animation and Illustration: Stacy Bias Sound design: Jack Benfield Voiceover: Sara Dweik, Amr Mallassi, Katherine Margaret, Marilla Wex


Updated 14 January 2022: The Bookseller: Refugee-led literary magazine opens submissions for new writing

A new literary magazine showcasing the work of refugees and asylum seekers is opening submissions for new writing next month, to feature online and in print.

Helmed by a team of refugees and immigrants, The Other Side of Hope aims to challenge common perceptions of refugees in the UK, and to chronicle the immigrant experience. It features non-fiction, fiction and poetry, with the last two categories open to refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants only.

The magazine takes its name from Aki Kaurismäki’s film. It publishes in print annually and online periodically, and was founded last autumn by editor and fiction writer Alexandros Plasatis, fiction editor Hansa Dasgupta, poetry editor Malka al-Haddad and non-fiction editor Maria Rovisco. Its interviews and reviews editor is Rubina Bala, with design and artistic direction from Olivier Llouquet.

The Other Side of Hope was created because there is no other similar literary magazine in the country,” said al-Haddad (pictured), who is an Iraqi human rights activist, teacher and writer. “This type of publication should have happened years ago but because it didn’t, we made it happen. As migrant editors, we believe that people need to understand each other, and this magazine exists to enable people to gain insights into us – our lives, our talents and our stories. It aims to be a bridge that will bring people closer through literature.”[…]

“It’s important to learn about refugees because we need people to know how a lot of people from all around the world could be displaced nowadays,” al-Haddad adds. “Moreover, refugees can have a great positive impact on their host countries. When people are forced to flee their countries because of war, crisis or fear, they carry their skills and experiences with them. Reading immigrant literature is important for better community integration. Our magazine is an open and bright window learning about new achievements and building bridges that have been broken by racism and hatred.”

Submissions will open in February and will be announced on the magazine’s website

Read more: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/refugee-led-magazine-opens-submissions-new-writing-1299062


6 January 2022: Byline Times: ‘Refugees and Migrants Do Not Come From a Different World’

Malka Al-Haddad introduces a new magazine aiming to challenge stereotypes about refugees and migrants by showcasing their writing and editing and building a ‘bridge’ of understanding

The Other Side of Hope: Journeys in Refugee and Immigrant Literature is a new literary journal edited by immigrants and refugees based in the UK. The magazine seeks to break down stereotypes about migrants and refugees by showcasing their writing and aims to support those careers that may have been cut short because of exile and migration. 

It was created because there is no other similar literary magazine in the country. This type of publication should have happened years ago but because it didn’t, we made it happen. Arts Council England funded us and we are supported by Journeys Festival International.

As immigrant editors, we believe that people need to understand each other, and this magazine exists to enable people to gain insights into us – our lives, our talents and our stories. It aims to be a bridge that will bring us closer through literature, and we want it to become a home for refugee and immigrant writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and for those writers who know about us and want to support us. 

Our first print and online issues have now been published.

Read more here: https://bylinetimes.com/2022/01/05/refugees-and-migrants-do-not-come-from-a-different-world


You will find the online version here: online volume, number 1, autumn 2021
ISSN 2754-2505 https://othersideofhope.com/online-magazine.html


3 January 2022: Congratulations Loraine Masiya Mponela on the launch of her website No Audience Loraine which you will find here: https://noaudienceloraine.co.uk/

Loraine’s powerful poetry has featured in many Zoom meetings, articles, and in live events. Please visit her Youtube channel – the link is on her website.

Loraine represents CARAG – Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group on the StatusNow Reference Group