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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  5 through more general references to, information on, and news about, asylum/immigration; third, through exhibiting/publishing refugee stories, poems, images, drawings, and other forms of artistic expression; and finally, through offering invitations to participate in events, campaigns, or petitions organised by the group, or to donate time and/or money to the group. Websites often start with a mission statement, which describes their aims, purposes and general raison-d’être. When this information is not directly accessible in the home page, a link to it was provided, often under headings such as ‘about us’ or ‘who we are’. Sometimes a website includes both an introductory statement of what it is about, and more detailed information in an ‘about us’ type of link. This general way of addressing the public appears to be an important part of the websites. Concerned with explaining what they seek to do, websites in this general address describe what they are doing and why, thus setting the pace for requesting the public’s active responses to the issues involved. This introductory address is subsequently complemented by a more detailed material, which includes information on the issues of asylum/immigration, and other resources of interest. Only rarely such detailed information is offered at the home page; more often it is offered as a link to be followed from the home page, under diverse headings, but still clearly recognisable as information on asylum/immigration. This information takes a variety of forms; for instance, Asylum Aid provides a link ‘about asylum’, where it cites the UN definition of a refugee; describes with ‘facts and figures’ the refugee situation in the UK; provides details on the current asylum law and policy; and finally, it gives information concerning women refugees. The Refugee Council provides a link to an ‘info centre’, which contains answers to ‘frequently asked questions’, such, as for instance, “why do asylum seekers use smugglers to reach the UK”. A central concern here is to dispel some common assumptions or ‘myths’ about asylum seekers/refugees, particularly as found in the mass media; thus the Refugee Council provides a ‘myth buster’ link, and Oxfam a link to a site containing ‘myths and realities’. At the same time, an important part of many of the websites is concerned with current information or news. The larger groups, such as the Scottish Refugee Council, more typically undertake regular updates while other groups may provide external links to relevant news stories, such as the Cambridgeshire Against Refugee Detention group, which offers a link to the BBC news coverage of relevant stories. As part of a general introduction to asylum/immigration issues, some websites also provide a platform for the voices of asylum seekers/refugees to be communicated to the general public. Often, this takes the form of stories, images, songs and poems, that is, of artistic expression. The Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium has an online exhibition of ‘asylum images’, which it also offers as screensavers. The North of England Refugee Service provides a link to ‘stories, songs and poems’, in which refugees recount their experiences and communicate those to the ‘general public’. Although such artistic expression may also result in a donation or membership, it seems that it has another purpose as well: that of promoting an understanding of the experiences of some refugees/asylum seekers, of promoting empathy with them, and thus recognition and acceptance in the host society and culture. It is interesting to see alongside this artistic expression a political reaction, addressed (also) to this public. The majority, if not all, websites under study took a position on the government policy on asylum/immigration, explaining it, commenting on it, disputing it, criticising it, and proposing additions to it. Reactions to the White Paper “Safe Haven, Secure Borders” (2002) and subsequently to the new Bill incorporating the White Paper’s proposals appear to be a crucial part of many websites. ‘New Labour, New Heights of Evil’ is the provocatively titled reaction of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants; the Refugee Council had links to two articles on the new Asylum Bill on its homepage (on 3 May 2002). CARF (Campaign Against Racism and Fascism) comments on David Blunkett’s (Britain’s Home Secretary) proposal of an oath of allegiance for immigrants as denoting “a new era in British racism”. This political positioning is an expected tactic of advocacy groups and it is, in a sense,

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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through more general references to, information on, and news about, asylum/immigration; third, through
exhibiting/publishing refugee stories, poems, images, drawings, and other forms of artistic expression;
and finally, through offering invitations to participate in events, campaigns, or petitions organised by the
group, or to donate time and/or money to the group.

Websites often start with a mission statement, which describes their aims, purposes and general
raison-d’être. When this information is not directly accessible in the home page, a link to it was provided,
often under headings such as ‘about us’ or ‘who we are’. Sometimes a website includes both an
introductory statement of what it is about, and more detailed information in an ‘about us’ type of link.
This general way of addressing the public appears to be an important part of the websites. Concerned
with explaining what they seek to do, websites in this general address describe what they are doing and
why, thus setting the pace for requesting the public’s active responses to the issues involved.
This introductory address is subsequently complemented by a more detailed material, which
includes information on the issues of asylum/immigration, and other resources of interest. Only rarely
such detailed information is offered at the home page; more often it is offered as a link to be followed
from the home page, under diverse headings, but still clearly recognisable as information on
asylum/immigration. This information takes a variety of forms; for instance, Asylum Aid provides a link
‘about asylum’, where it cites the UN definition of a refugee; describes with ‘facts and figures’ the
refugee situation in the UK; provides details on the current asylum law and policy; and finally, it gives
information concerning women refugees. The Refugee Council provides a link to an ‘info centre’, which
contains answers to ‘frequently asked questions’, such, as for instance, “why do asylum seekers use
smugglers to reach the UK”. A central concern here is to dispel some common assumptions or ‘myths’
about asylum seekers/refugees, particularly as found in the mass media; thus the Refugee Council
provides a ‘myth buster’ link, and Oxfam a link to a site containing ‘myths and realities’. At the same
time, an important part of many of the websites is concerned with current information or news. The
larger groups, such as the Scottish Refugee Council, more typically undertake regular updates while
other groups may provide external links to relevant news stories, such as the Cambridgeshire Against
Refugee Detention group, which offers a link to the BBC news coverage of relevant stories.
As part of a general introduction to asylum/immigration issues, some websites also provide a
platform for the voices of asylum seekers/refugees to be communicated to the general public. Often, this
takes the form of stories, images, songs and poems, that is, of artistic expression. The Scottish Asylum
Seekers Consortium has an online exhibition of ‘asylum images’, which it also offers as screensavers.
The North of England Refugee Service provides a link to ‘stories, songs and poems’, in which refugees
recount their experiences and communicate those to the ‘general public’. Although such artistic
expression may also result in a donation or membership, it seems that it has another purpose as well:
that of promoting an understanding of the experiences of some refugees/asylum seekers, of promoting
empathy with them, and thus recognition and acceptance in the host society and culture.
It is interesting to see alongside this artistic expression a political reaction, addressed (also) to
this public. The majority, if not all, websites under study took a position on the government policy on
asylum/immigration, explaining it, commenting on it, disputing it, criticising it, and proposing additions to
it. Reactions to the White Paper “Safe Haven, Secure Borders” (2002) and subsequently to the new Bill
incorporating the White Paper’s proposals appear to be a crucial part of many websites. ‘New Labour,
New Heights of Evil’ is the provocatively titled reaction of the Joint Council for the Welfare of
Immigrants; the Refugee Council had links to two articles on the new Asylum Bill on its homepage (on 3
May 2002). CARF (Campaign Against Racism and Fascism) comments on David Blunkett’s (Britain’s
Home Secretary) proposal of an oath of allegiance for immigrants as denoting “a new era in British
racism”. This political positioning is an expected tactic of advocacy groups and it is, in a sense,


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