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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  6 addressed primarily to the government and policy makers. Nevertheless, the online articles referred to above, are also addressed to the general public 4 , given that they are written in a straightforward non- legalistic, and also at times, sensational language. In this sense, such political position taking has at least the partial goal of persuading the public that the government’s position is wrong, and attracting them to their own proposals. The next type of addressing the general public builds upon on all the above, and directly asks the public to become involved. This involvement takes mainly three forms: first, the general public is invited to become a member; second, they are asked to support the group’s work through donating money; third, to support the group’s cause through active campaigning. A fourth request, clearly associated with the new medium, is to provide feedback and opinion on both the website and the group’s work more generally. All websites studied here represent voluntary, or not-for-profit, groups or associations, and as such they depend on ongoing membership for their survival; the websites can thus constitute an important platform for soliciting new members, and their donations. Links in the form of invitations to join the group abound: ‘Join Us’, ‘Membership’, ‘Subscription’ and so on. The tone here is an emotive one: “Please support our work by becoming a Friend of Asylum Aid. Your involvement could literally make the difference between life and death…By joining Asylum Aid as a member or by making a donation, you enable us to continue our important advice service for asylum-seekers and refugees as well as campaign for their rights” ( www.asylumaid.org.uk/get_involved.htm ). What is of further interest here is that several websites provide an online means for donating money, literally capitalising on the new medium’s capabilities. Clearly ongoing membership and donations are critical for most of the groups’ survival, but for achieving their aims, as stated in their mission statements, they require, and request, the active involvement of the general public in their campaigning. This involvement can, in turn, take many forms; some involve the use of other media, such as sending faxes to MPs, which can apparently be done for free at www.faxyourmp.com/ , an activist site which is linked by several websites. More ‘traditional’ media are also used, as in the Asylum Aid’s ‘Campaign to challenge media representations of asylum seekers’, which invites people to write letters of complaint to editors, make a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, or send press cuttings from local papers to Asylum Aid. Another type of invitation is send out to people in order to participate to demonstrations, and lists of relevant demonstrations are included in many of the websites, such as for instance the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, which provides information on demonstrations and a link to the website of Refugee Week, which “celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages people to take a more positive look at the asylum issue in Britain”. A final type of request is to provide feedback mostly, but not only, on the website; or else to contact the group for any reason through email. Evidently, there is nothing in all this that can be claimed as particular to the Internet. Yet all the above communications, although employed by social movements and charities in the pre-Internet era, were issued one at a time: thus a charity requesting a donation may have launched an emotive appeal, a social movement may have used factual information pointing to injustices, or issue posters calling people to a demonstration, but it was inconceivable that all these could be done all together and at the same time from a unique site. Moreover, the Internet has enabled the groups to considerably expand on content, since they are no longer constrained by issues of space and time. They can now go into considerable detail in explaining their argument, and use detailed information, whilst also keeping an ongoing, constant relationship with the general public through regular updates of the site, and through soliciting feedback and emails. In this respect, the Internet has enabled the simultaneous or concurrent

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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6
addressed primarily to the government and policy makers. Nevertheless, the online articles referred to
above, are also addressed to the general public
4
, given that they are written in a straightforward non-
legalistic, and also at times, sensational language. In this sense, such political position taking has at
least the partial goal of persuading the public that the government’s position is wrong, and attracting
them to their own proposals.
The next type of addressing the general public builds upon on all the above, and directly asks
the public to become involved. This involvement takes mainly three forms: first, the general public is
invited to become a member; second, they are asked to support the group’s work through donating
money; third, to support the group’s cause through active campaigning. A fourth request, clearly
associated with the new medium, is to provide feedback and opinion on both the website and the
group’s work more generally.
All websites studied here represent voluntary, or not-for-profit, groups or associations, and as
such they depend on ongoing membership for their survival; the websites can thus constitute an
important platform for soliciting new members, and their donations. Links in the form of invitations to join
the group abound: ‘Join Us’, ‘Membership’, ‘Subscription’ and so on. The tone here is an emotive one:
“Please support our work by becoming a Friend of Asylum Aid. Your involvement could literally make the difference
between life and death…By joining Asylum Aid as a member or by making a donation, you enable us to continue
our important advice service for asylum-seekers and refugees as well as campaign for their rights”
(
www.asylumaid.org.uk/get_involved.htm
).
What is of further interest here is that several websites provide an online means for donating money,
literally capitalising on the new medium’s capabilities.

Clearly ongoing membership and donations are critical for most of the groups’ survival, but for
achieving their aims, as stated in their mission statements, they require, and request, the active
involvement of the general public in their campaigning. This involvement can, in turn, take many forms;
some involve the use of other media, such as sending faxes to MPs, which can apparently be done for
free at
www.faxyourmp.com/
, an activist site which is linked by several websites. More ‘traditional’
media are also used, as in the Asylum Aid’s ‘Campaign to challenge media representations of asylum
seekers’, which invites people to write letters of complaint to editors, make a complaint to the Press
Complaints Commission, or send press cuttings from local papers to Asylum Aid.

Another type of invitation is send out to people in order to participate to demonstrations, and
lists of relevant demonstrations are included in many of the websites, such as for instance the
Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, which provides information on demonstrations and a link to the
website of Refugee Week, which “celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages
people to take a more positive look at the asylum issue in Britain”.
A final type of request is to provide
feedback mostly, but not only, on the website; or else to contact the group for any reason through email.
Evidently, there is nothing in all this that can be claimed as particular to the Internet. Yet all the
above communications, although employed by social movements and charities in the pre-Internet era,
were issued one at a time: thus a charity requesting a donation may have launched an emotive appeal,
a social movement may have used factual information pointing to injustices, or issue posters calling
people to a demonstration, but it was inconceivable that all these could be done all together and at the
same time from a unique site. Moreover, the Internet has enabled the groups to considerably expand on
content, since they are no longer constrained by issues of space and time. They can now go into
considerable detail in explaining their argument, and use detailed information, whilst also keeping an
ongoing, constant relationship with the general public through regular updates of the site, and through
soliciting feedback and emails. In this respect, the Internet has enabled the simultaneous or concurrent


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