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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  11 employment, health, culture, society etc.”. The site, apart from news, views, interviews, and a notice board, further offers a free email account 6 . As noted earlier, there is here another sense of the refugee community, one that includes its organised aspects. In other words, there are groups organised by the refugee community, which are then involved in representing it and its needs. These groups are often addressed by some of the Web sites under study. The Housing Association Charitable Trust has a project called Refugee Housing Training and Development Project, which distributes funds and expertise on matters of housing to refugee community organisations (RCOs); in its online guise, the association provides links to information on what the programme involves, what type of organisation may be eligible for funding, and a downloadable application form. The Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium invites the participation of refugee groups in ‘local multi-agency groups’, which then advise the “Project Team on a range of issues relating to the housing and support needs of asylum seekers and refugees” – all this, however, takes place offline, with the website acting mainly as an advertisement of the activities of the Consortium. In addressing the refugee community in several of its aspects, the websites under study appear to accomplish mainly two very important things: first, to offer practical help and advice to refugees; and second, to contribute to building, and sustaining, a refugee community in the UK, thereby empowering one of the most marginalized groups, enabling them to acquire some sense of control over their present and future. The offer of practical advice to refugees comes in the form of, first, the downloadable information on aspects of asylum law and policy – written not for a community of specialists, but clearly addressed to refugees themselves, and often translated in their own language; second, through offering directory services, including contact details of legal and other advisors. Moreover, this information can be equally addressed to those already in the UK, as well as to those who may be contemplating a move there. Again, the efficiency by which this information is disseminated is evident. At the same time, the value of the practical information offered to refugees/asylum seekers cannot be underestimated. There is, of course, a question here concerning the actual number of people who may be in a position to access this information; nonetheless, even if we assume that it can only reach a fraction of those who may be in need of it, its contribution is still significant for those people, and this type of wide diffusion has only become possible through the Internet. In addition, in addressing the refugee community, the websites also ‘interpellate’ it as a community – also here understood as a common world –, place a set of common concerns at its midst, set an agenda of issues, imply the availability of mutual help and support, and subsequently sustain this community through updates, resolutions, stories, news and so on. This building of a common world could conceivably have taken place without the intervention of the websites, and indeed it certainly must have an offline existence, in the physical coming together of people with similar experiences, either spontaneously, or through the help and organisation of refugee support groups. Yet the Internet’s contribution should not be disregarded; first, in the setting up and running of online publications such as New Vision 7 , ‘voice is given to the voiceless’, as poignantly put in its mission statement; but parallel to this, in the Internet address of the refugee community, such a community is summoned online, and despite the NASS dispersion scheme 8 , the new medium provides a space for a gathering, a ‘centre’, or a variety of centres, where the dispersed members of the community can come ‘together’ as it were and find out what is new, listen to stories, learn about training and job opportunities and generally become a community. In this sense, the Internet’s contribution to the refugee community has both a practical value and a symbolic significance.

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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background image
11
employment, health, culture, society etc.”. The site, apart from news, views, interviews, and a notice
board, further offers a free email account
6
.
As noted earlier, there is here another sense of the refugee community, one that includes its
organised aspects. In other words, there are groups organised by the refugee community, which are
then involved in representing it and its needs. These groups are often addressed by some of the Web
sites under study. The Housing Association Charitable Trust has a project called Refugee Housing
Training and Development Project, which distributes funds and expertise on matters of housing to
refugee community organisations (RCOs); in its online guise, the association provides links to
information on what the programme involves, what type of organisation may be eligible for funding, and
a downloadable application form. The Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium invites the participation of
refugee groups in ‘local multi-agency groups’, which then advise the “Project Team on a range of
issues relating to the housing and support needs of asylum seekers and refugees” – all this, however,
takes place offline, with the website acting mainly as an advertisement of the activities of the
Consortium.
In addressing the refugee community in several of its aspects, the websites under study
appear to accomplish mainly two very important things: first, to offer practical help and advice to
refugees; and second, to contribute to building, and sustaining, a refugee community in the UK, thereby
empowering one of the most marginalized groups, enabling them to acquire some sense of control over
their present and future. The offer of practical advice to refugees comes in the form of, first, the
downloadable information on aspects of asylum law and policy – written not for a community of
specialists, but clearly addressed to refugees themselves, and often translated in their own language;
second, through offering directory services, including contact details of legal and other advisors.
Moreover, this information can be equally addressed to those already in the UK, as well as to those
who may be contemplating a move there. Again, the efficiency by which this information is
disseminated is evident. At the same time, the value of the practical information offered to
refugees/asylum seekers cannot be underestimated. There is, of course, a question here concerning
the actual number of people who may be in a position to access this information; nonetheless, even if
we assume that it can only reach a fraction of those who may be in need of it, its contribution is still
significant for those people, and this type of wide diffusion has only become possible through the
Internet.
In addition, in addressing the refugee community, the websites also ‘interpellate’ it as a
community – also here understood as a common world –, place a set of common concerns at its midst,
set an agenda of issues, imply the availability of mutual help and support, and subsequently sustain
this community through updates, resolutions, stories, news and so on. This building of a common world
could conceivably have taken place without the intervention of the websites, and indeed it certainly
must have an offline existence, in the physical coming together of people with similar experiences,
either spontaneously, or through the help and organisation of refugee support groups. Yet the Internet’s
contribution should not be disregarded; first, in the setting up and running of online publications such as
New Vision
7
, ‘voice is given to the voiceless’, as poignantly put in its mission statement; but parallel to
this, in the Internet address of the refugee community, such a community is summoned online, and
despite the NASS dispersion scheme
8
, the new medium provides a space for a gathering, a ‘centre’, or
a variety of centres, where the dispersed members of the community can come ‘together’ as it were
and find out what is new, listen to stories, learn about training and job opportunities and generally
become a community. In this sense, the Internet’s contribution to the refugee community has both a
practical value and a symbolic significance.


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