How can “us” and “them” become “we”?

By Susan Peatfield

‘The title of this post was a defining question of HRF’s Expert Meeting on The Home and Displaced People, held in Washington DC.

The “othering” of the displaced has long been recognized as a barrier to successful integration – to feeling at home in a new place amongst new people. Across the world, the question of how to manage the needs and expectations of would-be new citizens is becoming harder to answer by the day. Just as with more migrants, both economic and political, finding themselves on the move, the need for answers becomes more urgent.

In the UK, much controversy and debate has recently been provoked by the Home Secretary’s Rwanda policy. This would require migrants seeking residence in the UK to be processed and settled in the central African country. The legality – as well as feasibility – of the scheme is being contested as this article is being written.

Beyond the rights and wrongs of this policy, though, are the wider questions of the ability of a country to provide a welcome to those who arrive on its borders. These are relevant questions to do with social infrastructure: housing,  health and education provision. It is rightly argued that the welcome offered will depend on what is available to be shared. And on the perspective of those asked to do the sharing.

Also in the United Kingdom, but not limited to here, the policy of housing the displaced in under-used accommodation, such as hotels, often in already deprived areas of the country leads to conflict between locals and migrants. The perception, and often the lived experience, is that there is too little in terms of services to go round.

Real questions do need to be asked here, but it is also worth noticing that much of the debate is predicated on the “othering” of people, of the burden they represent rather than the opportunity of being at home – making a home – together.

Professor Myria Georgiou, Chair in Media and Communications at the LSE, throws a valuable sidelight onto this issue by looking at the situation from the perspective of a shared dialogue. She argues, in work presented in Washington DC, that the process of the reconstruction of home is in fact the process of regaining the strength and the right to belong. Professor Georgiou’s focus is on the making of a “Digital Home”; the ways in which those who arrive can remain connected to support networks in their first home countries, and also find ways of establishing strong and beneficial relationships in their new ones.

At HRF we recognize that this is not a simple topic, nor is it one that is going to go away. Greater respect and understanding for what a home means for us all is, we believe, key to finding policies which open minds and doors as well as borders.’


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