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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  7 existence of a multitude of ‘publicities’, addressed to the general public, and has liberated the groups’ communications from considerations of time and space. In this sense, the Internet appears to be an addition to, and an amplification of, the groups’ voice, since they have now another channel through which to be heard. Moreover, the Internet has significantly contributed to the dissemination of messages and the speed of communication, thereby overall increasing the efficiency of the groups’ communication. But there is something more in all this: the descriptive statements, of the ‘myth busting’ and ‘facts and figures’ information, the artistic expression and political positioning, all these constitute different types of publicities, descriptive, expressive, emotive, and informational, and appear to address the public in different ways, as interested, critical, appreciative, and understanding. These publicities have a political goal, that of persuading the public both in terms of formulating an opinion favourable to refugees/asylum seekers and understanding of their predicament, and in more active ways of mobilising alongside the group in protesting against what they see as wrong and unjust. Both efficiency and publicity have, as we shall see shortly, a dominant presence in the next two forms of address. Addressing the Public of Specialists An important part of most websites is devoted to issuing communications addressed to ‘specialists’ – the term used here to denote those with more than a passing interest or stake in the refugee/asylum/immigration issue, including those who are involved in a service relationship with refugees/immigrants. In practice, this amounts to immigration law practitioners, (non-legal) advisers to refugees, other refugee support groups, researchers/academics, as well as the press/mass media and the government/policy makers. The ways in which this public of specialists is addressed, along with the information made available to them via these websites will be discussed below. Thus, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association is almost exclusively addressed to the legal community, in order to “promote and improve the advising and representation of immigrants, provide information to members on domestic and European immigration, refugee and nationality law, [and] secure a non-racist, non-sexist, just and equitable system of immigration, refugee and nationality law”; it offers information on training courses, a directory service, relevant publications, and its own submissions on UK and European immigration law and policy - all evidently addressed to law practitioners. The Refugee Women’s Legal Group clearly states that the aim of its website “is to provide practitioners and others working with refugee women access to appropriate sources of information and support to assist in the presentation of individual cases”. For this purpose, it offers access to the Swedish guidelines on gender and sexual orientation, as well as information on a relevant book, which can be ordered online. Similarly, the Electronic Immigration Network (EIN) is an online facility which “aims to link major information providers with advice workers and practitioners dealing with all issues relating to immigration, refugee and nationality law and practice in the United Kingdom”. Although legal considerations almost overwhelm the issue of asylum/immigration, and seem to constitute the majority of online resources offered by the sites, they are not the only ones. Thus, the website of the Refugee Council provides information of non-legal nature that is of interest and relevance to refugee advisers. It provides links to a variety of downloadable materials, such as, for instance, to a report entitled ‘Refugees and progression routes to employment’ which “should be of interest to training and advice services”. The Refugee Council further invites refugee service providers to enrol to its relevant directory of ‘Refugee Resources in the UK’. Other links offered by the Council provide teaching material and resources, such as, for example, a booklet containing bilingual words for school use, aimed at newly arrived children. This material is advertised and can be ordered online, but is not freely available to the site’s visitors. Information on training in asylum advice is offered by the

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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7
existence of a multitude of ‘publicities’, addressed to the general public, and has liberated the groups’
communications from considerations of time and space.
In this sense, the Internet appears to be an addition to, and an amplification of, the groups’
voice, since they have now another channel through which to be heard. Moreover, the Internet has
significantly contributed to the dissemination of messages and the speed of communication, thereby
overall increasing the efficiency of the groups’ communication. But there is something more in all this:
the descriptive statements, of the ‘myth busting’ and ‘facts and figures’ information, the artistic
expression and political positioning, all these constitute different types of publicities, descriptive,
expressive, emotive, and informational, and appear to address the public in different ways, as
interested, critical, appreciative, and understanding. These publicities have a political goal, that of
persuading the public both in terms of formulating an opinion favourable to refugees/asylum seekers
and understanding of their predicament, and in more active ways of mobilising alongside the group in
protesting against what they see as wrong and unjust. Both efficiency and publicity have, as we shall
see shortly, a dominant presence in the next two forms of address.
Addressing the Public of Specialists
An important part of most websites is devoted to issuing communications addressed to
‘specialists’ – the term used here to denote those with more than a passing interest or stake in the
refugee/asylum/immigration issue, including those who are involved in a service relationship with
refugees/immigrants. In practice, this amounts to immigration law practitioners, (non-legal) advisers to
refugees, other refugee support groups, researchers/academics, as well as the press/mass media and
the government/policy makers. The ways in which this public of specialists is addressed, along with the
information made available to them via these websites will be discussed below.
Thus, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association is almost exclusively addressed to the legal
community, in order to “promote and improve the advising and representation of immigrants, provide
information to members on domestic and European immigration, refugee and nationality law, [and]
secure a non-racist, non-sexist, just and equitable system of immigration, refugee and nationality law”; it
offers information on training courses, a directory service, relevant publications, and its own
submissions on UK and European immigration law and policy - all evidently addressed to law
practitioners. The Refugee Women’s Legal Group clearly states that the aim of its website “is to provide
practitioners and others working with refugee women access to appropriate sources of information and
support to assist in the presentation of individual cases”. For this purpose, it offers access to the
Swedish guidelines on gender and sexual orientation, as well as information on a relevant book, which
can be ordered online. Similarly, the Electronic Immigration Network (EIN) is an online facility which
“aims to link major information providers with advice workers and practitioners dealing with all issues
relating to immigration, refugee and nationality law and practice in the United Kingdom”.
Although legal considerations almost overwhelm the issue of asylum/immigration, and seem to
constitute the majority of online resources offered by the sites, they are not the only ones. Thus, the
website of the Refugee Council provides information of non-legal nature that is of interest and
relevance to refugee advisers. It provides links to a variety of downloadable materials, such as, for
instance, to a report entitled ‘Refugees and progression routes to employment’ which “should be of
interest to training and advice services”. The Refugee Council further invites refugee service providers
to enrol to its relevant directory of ‘Refugee Resources in the UK’. Other links offered by the Council
provide teaching material and resources, such as, for example, a booklet containing bilingual words for
school use, aimed at newly arrived children. This material is advertised and can be ordered online, but
is not freely available to the site’s visitors. Information on training in asylum advice is offered by the


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