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War Studies students capture lived experiences of undocumented migrants through digital platform

MA students have developed a project with Citizens UK to help settle the status of 1.2 million people in the UK

Home Office building

MA students in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London have developed a project with Citizens UK to help settle the status of an estimated 1.2 million undocumented people living in the UK.

Ninette Amarachi Iheke and Mediha Inan, who are undertaking the King’s Service-learning module ‘Migration, Social Justice and Community Organising’ that is co-delivered with Citizens UK, share their project in their own words.

 

Settle Our Status

From the injustices of the Windrush Scandal to the forced deportation and denial of citizenship to those who have always called the UK home, it is evident that 'hostile environment' practices are still very much operational within the Home Office. This view was certainly reflected in our work with Citizens UK to settle the status of an estimated 1.2 million undocumented people living in the UK.

As community organisers, we conducted interviews with undocumented migrants and those who had been previously undocumented. Their harrowing stories of unsettlement allowed us to piece together a sobering narrative of marginalisation, structural injustice and ultimately insecurity. The image looks even grimmer within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the upheavals it has caused to everyday life. The reality was that for undocumented migrants, the pandemic experience was not all that different from the perpetual lockdown of daily life created by unsettlement.

About the campaign

Citizen’s UK’s campaign to settle the status of Britain’s undocumented community is a direct response to the issues of structural inaccessiblity present within the UK Home Office’s immigration policies, which prevent many migrants from securing settled statuses that would guarantee them rights to live and work in the UK.

To support the campaign, we collaborated with London-based migrant support networks and spoke to individuals who are currently living without settled status, in order to get first-hand accounts of how their lives are affected by unsettlement.

Through these conversations, we became aware of the many barriers to legal settlement, such as the extortionate fees attached to immigration applications, the lack of legal aid available and an increasingly complex immigration system. Each individual shared with us stories of everyday insecurities resulting from living unsettled, where they find themselves and their families excluded from many aspects of society.

Undocumented migrants are denied recourse to public funds and restricted from accessing necessary social amenities including the national health service, higher education and the formal labour market. Unfortunately, what results are very difficult choices often made by these individuals to support personal and familial livelihoods.

The 'Settle Our Status' campaign is therefore about enabling access to home for all, and ending the vicious cycle of unsettlement that leaves many living insecure and precarious lives.

 

Spaces of (un)settlement: In pursuit of ‘home’

In light of the stories shared with us by those affected by unsettlement, we decided to approach the campaign through the lens of creative, radical community organising. Through this approach, we deliberately centred the experiences and voices of undocumented migrants, in order to create a digital interactive space for engagement, understanding and mobilisation.

As migrants ourselves, who have had personal interactions with various systems of immigration within Europe, and we felt a personal drive to use visual storytelling as a way to create self-advocacy. Our personal experiences of the arduous nature of ensuring you have rights as a migrant, along with the feelings of invisibility and alienation that compound processes of settlement, demonstrated to us the importance of bringing stories of unsettlement out of the woodwork and into the mainstream.

Through our website ‘Spaces of (un)settlement’ (which will shortly be launched) we have created an accessible platform whereby we pair the stories collected from our interviews, with images or audiovisual material personally selected by interviewees that spoke to their journeys with securing legal settlement in the UK. Spaces of (un)settlement therefore serves as a collective space by and for undocumented migrants, with the hopes of not only bringing much needed attention to the precarities of unsettlement, but also to mobilise action to change these inhumane realities.

Moving forward, we plan on speaking to more individuals and collecting more contributions to further develop the website and continue advocating for the settlement of our friends and neighbours. Our vision for the website once published, is that it also becomes a digital repository to bring forth wider narratives of living undocumented in the UK.

 

Ninette Amarachi Iheke is an MA Student in Conflict, Security and Development. Mediha Inan is an MA Student in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies.

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