W1 Day 2 - Experiences of urban exclusion/inclusion

For the second day of the workshop we were hosted by the City of Sanctuary Sheffield. This set the tone for our morning session, where Sarah (City of Sanctuary), John (SYMAAG) and Gina (Assist) shared their efforts in supporting asylum seekers in Sheffield. Two speakers in the afternoon, Nishat Awan and Maria Faraone, in relation to ‘Seeing the City Oherwise’. This was followed by a more interactive session related to DESINC Intellectual Output 2 where innovative practices were discussed in relation to various dimensions of inclusion.

Experiences of Migration and Reception in Sheffield

The City of Sanctuary (CoS) is a place of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield that started ten years ago. Since 2017, the City of Sanctuary has been located in the city centre. The space is allocated for asylum seekers and refugees and the local public to meet. People working for CoS, mostly on a volunteering basis, meet the newly arrived in a nearby health centre and invite them for a proper welcome to their space. CoS tries to help with basic support to find accommodation or to connect people to other initiatives that would provide services such as the conversation club that focuses on learning English. On first floor of the building, other organizations, such as the Red Cross are located with their office and asylum seekers and refugees can use their services, for instance with legal advice.

Symaag is a political organization that also has been operating since the last 10 years and represents the active interest of asylum seekers and refugees. They further lobby for asylum policies. The organization is run by locals and active asylum seekers members.

Symaag is lobbying against the idea of the UK being set up as a “hostile environment” that has been announced by prime minister Theresa May. Since 2000 the UK has had a deterrent policy.

The third presenter, Assist, focuses on supporting refused asylum seekers, which do not have access to public services, are not permitted access to secondary healthcare unless an emergency, are not allowed a driving licence, and can’t work. Assist provides accommodation (often in private houses), weekly money, and opportunities such as sportive activities.

What people that are new are mostly looking for is to learn English, leisure activities, and volunteering opportunities in order to keep busy. Transport is a major challenge, and activities, such as having a cup of tea, that we take for granted when arriving to a new city, are not accessible due to lack of finances. Asylum seekers are given 5 pounds per week to live on; often they only receive vouchers. Interaction with locals is difficult, due to the lack of financial resources and because people don't feel welcome in the public sphere and need introducing to environments.

The three representatives of the respective organizations allowed an insight into the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Many arrive here individually, however some come with their families. Sheffield is one of the first cities that signed up to the resettlement program, through which people are brought to the country directly from camps around the world. Those arriving to the country via resettlement programs are welcome to the UK; those who come on their own are not. The main challenge for those is to persuade the British government that they have a reason to seek for asylum. An independent asylum commission discovered in a research conducted, that there is a misbelief in the system and that it is widely assumed that asylum seekers are not telling the truth.

People arriving to the UK have to stay in an initial accommodation centre in Wakefield. From there, they get dispersed around to different towns and cities and mostly industrial areas. There is no choice of spaces, nor who they share a house with. Accommodation provided is owned by private landlords that want to make money out of it. Even though quality standards for housing are set, they are not achieved, and there is no monitoring which is part of the deterrent system.

Seeing the City Otherwise

This first afternoon session took us back to a discussion on the tools and methods that urban practitioners may choose to mobilize in order to tackle the question of apprehending inclusion in space and along migration routes. The first speaker, Nishat Awan (University of Sheffield) started by describing the project Migrant Narratives of Citizenship, based on the idea of expressing the voices of people who cross borders and focusing on the mapping of migration journeys along a less well-known route. Nishat discussed interviews where she asked migrants (having different statuses, with some qualifying as refugees, some still asylum seekers and some not having yet found their way into their aimed arrival point). All were asked to draw their journey on paper and this was used as a starting point to see how the categories of refugee and forced migrant are actually contested.

In the second part of her talk Nishat described a second research titled ‘Mapping Agencies: Diasporic Home’. Here she focused on a specific street in Hackney and on Turkish and Kurdish khave on that street to visualize another geography related to the notion of diasporic home. Part of the mapping activity consisted in relating the villages and towns each khave embodied with a map of Turkey, which then were stretched to try and show how regional affiliations distorted the nation’s boundaries. A second part of the work focused on visualizing the social networks of young men using the khave as a diasporic home, and show how their belonging stretched into a trans-local area that required a space to be sustained and were embodied in particular spaces.

Maria Faraone (Oxford Brookes University), the second speaker, discussed her work as a social urbanist by presenting some initial statements on setting a common ethos. These included remarks on how inclusion is related to the freedom of self-determination, a sense of belonging and the importance of feeling valued by being supported in human development. The second part of the presentation focused on collaborative practices. Maria stressed how practices based on one specific target group will inevitably create exclusion, which will in turn creates dissent. She then shared her framework for screening collaborative practices in relation to refugees in Europe, including (i) the practice’s actual spatial manifestation; (ii) the institutional-design nexus; (iii) the presence of co-design/ participatory methods in the shaping of practices. The third part of her presentation engaged with innovative learning and teaching tools, which included design charrettes, RIBA gaming and setting up initiatives such as the forthcoming global humanitarian competition.

Designing Inclusion - Case studies from around the globe

In the third and last part of the day, our partners from the University of Leuven and Housing Europe presented the work they have been doing which entails screening and collecting innovative civil society practices, that have been providing services for asylum seekers and refugees. They had initially collected 42 cases from all around the world, 29 cases of which are from Europe. This selection of the cases was made based on a framework they created, with which to evaluate the civil society practice. This framework is composed of 8 dimensions:

  • response type of the practice - whether it was a form of shelter, program, digital tool, social amenity or an entire community

  • location along the journey of an asylum seeker – whether it was along the border, or in the phases of registering, qualifying, being approved/granted refugee status, or allocated to accommodation.

  • practice’s fulfillment of at least 2 types of innovations – social, political or technological innovation

  • scale of the practice – whether it was at a unit scale, neighborhood scale, or city-scale

  • pattern – whether it was a centralized, dispersed or diffused pattern of intervention

  • short-term versus long-term intervention

  • involvement of different civil society practices, and the size of these practices.

Through their findings, they discovered that much of the formal support and larger civil society organizations operated after an asylum seeker is approved and granted refugee status. They found that current shelter response, when provided for asylum seekers (those still without approved refugee status) seems to be in the form of camps and detention centers, yet more profound social needs are typically addressed by smaller citizen groups, activists and small-scale civil societies. They stressed more attention needed to be focused on people in the phases before being approved in order to be inclusive.

Through their research, a critical point they made, is that the migration of asylum seekers and refugees is a process of movement in turbulent conditions where they are caught in limbo before even getting to the point of approval. This notion of being caught in time-space realm of suspension is when they are most vulnerable, and not enough addressed. They used the movement as a way to structure the cases they collected along the journey.

The session then opened up a group activity where five of the practices collected were distributed to five groups of three. The five cases were:

The exercise was to allow the workshop partners to engage in the process of summarizing a case and analyzing it with the dimensions of the framework. Through this, there was a sharing of the process that was undertaken to collect and select cases, but also through which feedback on clarifying the dimensions as well as other dimensions to include were made. Based on a suggestion from our partners at Politecnico de Milano, the cases will further be screened for their institutional setting, that is, whether the civil society organizations and their practices complement government response but stay autonomous, whether they act as a subsidiary to the government’s response, whether they act independently neither supporting nor opposing policy, or whether they are in opposition to policy.

The groups further evaluated the cases based on the 5 statements of inclusion that were co-produced during day 1 (https://www.desinc.org/single-post/2017/11/24/Day-one-setting-the-scene) and testing whether the statements apply to the cases selected. The session was finally closed with a reflection on those statements, so that they can be edited and refined throughout the course of the next 3 days.