Close Encounters of the Third Kind
While the number of refugees who put their lives in serious risks to arrive to Germany is constantly increasing, the Media is only focusing on statistics, numbers and figures. Talking about refugees in mainstream media is, nowadays, not much different from, discussing financial crisis or changes in the Stock market. It is often the case with pro-refugee literature too where they justify their cause financially or statistically.
This was the issue we wished to tackle in our project: Refugee Insight. We were looking for a way to bring back the debates on the question of refugees to its original context which is human rights and morality. Rather than struggling with numbers of refugees, we decided to provide a platform for the refugees themselves to speak their minds. To do so, the idea of an exhibition came up.
We decided to interview refugees and ask them to tell us their stories, or anything they deem important for others to know about them. The interviews were planned to be edited just enough to have some coherence, and then be printed on posters with their portraits. Very soon we realized how difficult it is to get asylum-seekers who with no clear image of future are desperately struggling with the German Immigration law, to tell us their stories let alone taking their pictures.
The first step was gaining their trust. We had to explain the whole project and reassure them that we will do anything to protect their identities and make sure the information they give us will not affect their legal process. It was then we came across a student organization called Conquer Babel which is helping asylum seekers by organising language classes and legal, social help. Their contribution to this project is invaluable. They helped us get in touch with more refugees, they played the role of a mediator to ensure them that our project will not harm them at all and finally they provided us with translators for interviewing refugees who do not speak English.
After tens of hours of interviews, transcription, writing, editing and designing of the posters we had finally 10 posters, each represented a story of one (or two) refugees. Why they decided to leave their homes, how they did it, why they decided to come to Germany and how their lives now, what their hopes and dreams are. The stories are sad, shocking and heartbreaking. But that is not the point. They help to present each interviewee as an individual, a person, who has suffered from unfair or dangerous living conditions. A person with all the same dreams and desires as anyone else who at some point made the brave decision of gambling his/her life, embarking on an adventure for a better future. This would help the visitors to identify with them and imagine themselves in the same situation.
The exhibition was held at the main building (ZHG) of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen from 7th to 10th of July. On the last day we held a panel discussion with various speakers from different backgrounds. The first one was Manik Chander who as a student and the president of Conquer Babel organization talked about the role, importance and challenges of grass-root movements which are working on this issue. Then Scott Stock Gissendammer who is a member of the executive board of the Göttingen SPD talked about the political aspect and the role, concerns and plans of political parties, especially SPD when it comes to the refugee situation. Last but definitely not least was Claire Deery who is a lawyer with a focus on asylum procedures. She elaborated on the legal aspect, the difficulties of working with and for refugees and the impact of recent German legislations in this regard.
The turnout of the event was nearly 60 people which was higher than expected for an afternoon event on a Friday in July when many classes have already been finished.