My current work… Just now, I'm taking a close look at London as a city of inward migration, a cluster of communities whose origins lie elsewhere in the world. In particular, I'm seeking out and making case-studies of selected groups of people who have sought shelter here from armed conflict or political oppression. Kurds in flight from Turkey, for instance; Somalis from the Horn of Africa; Tamils from Sri Lanka.
London as a city of refuge… but from whose war? London may in this sense be seen a place of refuge. But the UK, like other wealthy countries, is often implicated in those very conflicts from which people are forced to flee. Britain's weapons exporters equip repressive armies; the UK government fosters many tyrannical rulers as allies; corporate investment projects cause stress and disruption.
The Border as barrier…When refugees, having survived the journey from a war-zone, set foot on UK soil, they encounter the UK Border Agency. Then begins a tedious and frightening process, with a highly uncertain outcome, that is the reality of 'immigration'. They encounter the book of rules that govern the Border, they meet the personnel, in and out of uniform, who enforce them. They must prove they are genuinely in peril in their home countries, truly 'deserving' of asylum. And this is to say nothing of finding a bed, a roof, friends, food, work.
London as a city of pursuit and hazard… Since the Terrorism Act of the year 2000, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, and the accompanying Proscribed Organizations Order, refugees are rigorously pursued by the security services intent on excluding supposed 'terrorists'. Besides, war and political oppression leap over national borders, pursuing the refugee to the country of asylum. Both or all parties to the strife in the homeland may be living and pursuing their political interests in London.
Case studies… Im in the process of studying and writing about four or five incoming groups, their conflictual history, diasporic life and community organizations in London. There will be a strong, though not exclusive, focus on women. In each case I shall draw out the story of individual women - their wars, their flight, their reception here, their remaking of 'home' - and the threat and harassment, both official and unofficial, they have encountered and survived in London.
Why women? My choice to feature women who have found asylum here is partly because my own experience of London has been that of a woman, but partly too because the voices of women are heard less often than those of men, and accorded less authority. More importantly imagining, from a feminist perspective, the positionality of a woman asylum-seeker guarantees that patriarchal gender power relations will not escape analysis along with those other macro-processes that have brought about the violence she is fleeing: the capitalist economic system and the imperializing order of nation states.