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Writing Refugees: Mediation, Responsibility and Hospitality in Refugee Narratives

Wednesday, December 8, 2021, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Individuals seeking asylum must prove their right to refugee status by telling their story. Most commonly, an interpreter will translate the story being told to the interviewer, who looks for inaccuracies that may undermine its veracity. In the context of the asylum process, refugee narratives thus involve forms of mediation and hinge upon issues of credibility, two factors that can marginalise the voices and experiences of those whose stories are being told.  In response to this marginalisation, certain NGO projects have sought to create opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to share their stories without judgement. My talk will focus on one of these projects, Refugee Tales, which began in 2015 as a response to the human rights abuses of the UK asylum system. A key element of the project is Refugee Tales (2016), a volume of anonymised stories of those with direct experience of the UK asylum system. Yet, while the project emphasises their first-hand nature, these tales have in fact been mediated, the original oral narratives converted into written texts credited to established authors who have also made formal changes. There is thus an ambiguity in the term ‘refugee tales’. Are refugees the subject or object of these narratives? Are they writing or being written? And what effect does this ambiguity have on the project’s claim to create forms of narrative responsibility, solidarity and hospitality? Looking closely at the stories told, I will explore how the project foregrounds both the ethical challenges and the possibilities inherent in the retelling of these refugee tales.