In our second episode Professor Jules Pretty and journalist Martha Dixon, take you on a journey to discover why we need to learn from our past in uncovering the global impact of migration on our people and our land.
Our speakers have direct experience of migration and the impact it has had on their lives. We discuss why this is such an important issue and why we need to learn from the past to look forward.
Roma Tearne arrived on a boat from Sri Lanka more than fifty years ago. Her parents were Tamil and Sinhalese, caught in a conflict between the two ethnic groups. Roma is an award winning artist and novelist. Her art reflects departed memories and she works with asylum seekers and immigrants to make an imagined archive of what they've lost.
Professor Susan Oliver looks at past migration through literature. This provides valuable insights into trying to understand the current impact of migration and the longer view. But this understanding cannot happen without engagement from the public – the very people who have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict, poverty or just an inability to survive.
Professor Ahmed Shaheed is a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and a migrant from the Maldives forced to leave after a coup. He discusses how conflict creates more displaced people and the effects of climate change that force people to travel. But there is hope for the future –if people learn about each other and spend time with someone of a different identity and ethnic background.
Professor Jonathan Lichtensein, professor of drama at Essex, has recently published a book, The Berlin Shadow, about his father’s experience of escaping the Holocaust. They go on a trip to Berlin to re-visit his past. The experience is cathartic – for the first time in his life, though in his mid-80s, his father can sleep.
Audio Bite 0:06 Taking potential migrants from the Aegean coast, possibly towards Greece in order to-My name's Kasanand five years ago, I was on the other side of this channel trying to cross it--immigration concerns over open borders.
Jules Pretty 0:22 I'm Professor Jules, pretty. This is Louder Than Words, the pod from the University of Essex,
Martha Dixon 0:27 I'm journalist Martha Dixon. In this episode, we're putting migration under the spotlight.
Roma Tearne 0:33 I arrived in the UK at the age of 10 with my family, and we came on a boat.
Jules Pretty 0:40 There are over 270 million international migrants in the world today.
Martha Dixon 0:45 And figures are rising, meaning they're often in the news. The World Economic Forum's states that in the last 50 years, migrant numbers have tripled.
Ahmed Shaheed 0:56 The actual volume of numbers of people displaced is just staggering.
Jules Pretty 1:01 We'll be revealing unique research that has been uncovering the impact of migration, both on the land and on the people.
Jonathan Lichtenstein 1:08 It's rather like a shattering of the psyche, which is then-has to be reassembled.
Martha Dixon 1:13 And we'll hear about efforts to help migrants connect with a lost past.
Roma Tearne 1:28 So here are the photos that we're going to use do you remember them?
Molly Tearne 1:34 That's Grandma, isn't it?
Roma Tearne 1:35 Yeah.
Molly Tearne 1:36 Was that in-in Brixton?
Roma Tearne 1:38 That was in Brixton
Jules Pretty 1:40 Novelist and artist Roma Tearne has only three photos to show her daughter of her past life, arriving in London from war torn Sri Lanka at the age of 10.
Molly Tearne 1:51 Is that you?
Roma Tearne 1:52 That's me outside the house
Molly Tearne 1:54 That's in Sri Lanka.
Roma Tearne 1:55 That is outside the house in Sri Lanka, yes. And this is your grandfather with me. Also in Sri Lanka.
Molly Tearne 2:04 This one I used in a card-
Roma Tearne 2:05 I was born in Colombo. And I moved with my parents to the UK in the 1960s. I, we were fleeing the impending war in Sri Lanka. My father being a Tamil and my mother being a Sinhalese that there was conflict going on between the two ethnic groups. We arrived in Britain and moved to London, where we lived and where my parents lived for the rest of their life.
Molly Tearne 2:38 Where was this taken? Is it Southampton?
Roma Tearne 2:41 No, that's the boat train. Coming from Southampton.
Molly Tearne 2:46 Yeah.
Roma Tearne 2:47 And it's coming into Waterloo. And there's Grandma, and that's me.
Molly Tearne 2:51 Look at her sari.
Roma Tearne 2:52 Yes.
Molly Tearne 2:53 What colour was-this is black and white. What colour was it?
Roma Tearne 2:57 I think. God, I can't remember. I think it was sort of browns and greens. And I know-I remember that. I was wearing a blue dress that I do remember?
Molly Tearne 3:07 Do you remember that day?
Roma Tearne 3:09 Yes, fifth of August 1963. Look, you can see the hair-people with their back comb hair. It's-It's interesting. And you use that one, didn't you in your-During the journey we lost most of our family photographs. We-we came on a boat and the journey took 21 days it was rather horrendous, sort of looking back on it. Although at the time I was quite excited. And it was only later, much later when I was an adult and an artist that I realised what this loss actually meant.
Martha Dixon 3:53 Roma has now written several books about her family leaving their homeland.
Jules Pretty 3:58 Her art also reflects departed memories, including her latest project with migrants called Lost Luggage.
Roma Tearne 4:07 Lost Luggage is a-is a rather unusual exhibition really. It's-It's the result of an ongoing conversation over years between myself and my daughter, Molly, and we're both visual artists. And it-it came about as a result of the fact that we don't have-we only have three photographs of the past, the house I used to live in, the garden that my father tended. And for political reasons I'm not going back to Sri Lanka. We're working with refugees from the Gatwick Detainee Refugee Council. We are working with asylum seekers, immigrants to make an imagined archive of what they've lost.
Martha Dixon 5:08 This sense of loss within migration is felt sharply with the steep rise in the movement of people over the last half a century.
Jules Pretty 5:17 But of course, migration and loss are not new issues.
Susan Oliver 5:21 Michael, a pastoral poem by William Wordsworth. "If from the public way you turn your steps, up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Gill, you will suppose that with an upright path, your feet must struggle in such bold ascent, the pastoral mountains front you face to face, but courage-
So I'm Susan Oliver. I'm a professor in literature and environmental humanities at the University of Essex. My work is mainly on the late 18th and 19th century literature. And I'm particularly interested in the way that novelists and poets recovered the way that people thought about their relationship with the land and with place. Now that obviously includes the way that people were often forced, or sometimes chose to leave places in which they lived, and to leave the land on which their families may have lived for many centuries,"-and made a hidden valley of their own. No habitation can be seen. But they who journey thither find themselves alone. With a few sheep with rocks and stones and kites, that overhead are sailing in the sky. It is in truth an utter solitude."
A poet such as William Wordsworth, perhaps one of our best loved English poets, wrote about the Lake District, and the plight of small farmers, and people who perhaps were living as workers on the land, who lost their livelihoods and had to leave. It brings home to us a sense of the loss that is also there, when people have to sometimes uproottheir whole-their families and leave lives behind them"-spoke to me as shepherds. Dwellers in the valley. Men, whom I already loved, not verily for their own sakes, but for the fields and hills, where was their occupation, and abode-
Martha Dixon 7:24 So the question is, are we learning from past migrations, and the impacts on the land and the people?
Susan Oliver 7:33 It's immensely important to try to think in the way that people who have travelled are thinking about where they've come from. It's very easy for us to try and search -to try and recreate a sense of what people thought but they're the ones who really know. The people who've travelled are the people who really know what it's like to actually leave behind you somewhere that was your home. Somewhere that you had attachments to in all sorts of ways. And it's a smell of a place, it's the way something sounds it’s not just the way something looks. So there are all sorts of aspects of a place that can so easily be lost and only really recovered through people who are able to actually tell us about those experiences. If we forget the hardships that people suffered, historically it makes it more difficult for us to understand the situations that people face around the world now. Very often they're having to leave-people leave their homes because of conflict because of poverty, because of just an inability to make a living and survive where they are. That kind of thing has happened in places previously. And literature writing about place can help us to remember that kind of-those kinds of changes that affect-affect people, families, and indeed whole communities.
Martha Dixon 9:05 Susan gives talks all over the world about looking at past migration through literature. She says it can help people to see a long perspective, as well as giving her insights into current impacts.
Susan Oliver 9:18 I think it helps people to think about the, the way their lives are the way they connect with the places in which they live, but also with other people who live there and have lived there. But I think it's also important because it's important for me, and it's important for people who work in universities to have that contact with the general public. It's not a one way process of our research, just helping them. You know, they really inform our understanding. I have learned so much from talking to people. Talking to fishermen, talking to people who-who work in rural situations in cultures that I really don't know terribly well. I've travelled to Taiwan. I've been to Australia many times, North America a lot and travelled substantially in the American Pacific-from the Pacific Northwest, right the way down into the American West and met many people and talked with them about their experiences during that time.
Jules Pretty 10:33 Understanding migration and looking at the long view is Susan's work.
Martha Dixon 10:37 Promoting understanding is also the mission of another University of Essex academic Ahmed Shaheed 10:42 I think when people travel, there are concerns about, you know, how-about new anxieties as demographics change as neighbourhoods change.
Martha Dixon 10:52 Ahmed Shaheed is himself a migrant from the Maldives.
Jules Pretty 10:57 He was a diplomat for the government, but was forced to leave after a coup.
Martha Dixon 11:01 Now, Ahmed teaches about cultural diversity and human rights at the University of Essex, alongside a special UN(United Nations)role as a rapporteur spreading knowledge and helping societies around the world bond with incomers.
Ahmed Shaheed 11:17 So that there is a need to learn more about the other, because it's often fear and ignorance that creates-that-that creates anger and prejudice that often drives discriminatory practice and violence. So I think there's-it's very important that at the present time, we all work to ensure that people recognise that diversity is a blessing. And that to be able to know about each other better, and learn about ways in which people around the world who are succeeding in accommodating diversity are doing that. So those-where people are struggling, can learn from that.
Jules Pretty 12:04 What about those who have faced intolerance in the past
Martha Dixon 12:07 Faced hatred, violence, even extermination? How did they learn to live with that?
Jonathan Lichtenstein 12:15 At the head of one of the rows, I find the grave of my father's father, my grandfather, Walter Lichtenstein. The sight catches me, seeing his name in letters on the grave makes me suddenly transparent. My head spins, my limbs weaken-I'm Jonathan Lichtenstein, and I teach theatre. I'm a professor of drama at Essex, and I write plays, and I've written a book called The Berlin Shadow, which use ideas from Greek tragedy in them.
I'm the son of an immigrant father who escaped on the Kindertransport from the Holocaust. And that provides you with a certain weight to deal with in your life. I wanted to set the record down for myself about what had happened. And really to think through what is it to think about, you know, thinking through what-what do you happen-what do you do with the Holocaust if you're Jewish? And I think, not, not just if you're Jewish, but for me-and I can't answer for anyone else, but all I can do was answer for me and my father. So my father and I went on a trip we went to Berlin.
We-we retraced his rooted escaped from on the Kindertransport, we went to the station he had left from. I found out things about his sister, I found out things about his father, I found out his grandfather-I found out shops. I found loads of geographical things, places where he had lived. "Oh this is where I learned to ride the bike" he says, you know, as we're walking past this bit of a park, I said "ah". "This is where I used to live. This is where I was born."
My father walks over and joins me quietening at the site of his father's grave, seemingly all of a sudden, tranquil and even serene. His feet placed evenly apart on the ground, the weight of his body on the soles of his feet connected to the stabilising Earth. I pass my father two of the stones I've been carrying in my pocket. "I brought these from outside your house in Wales." I place two small stones on Walter's grave, my father places-And this, kind of, thing which began to happen was that we both kind of went into a really difficult silence. I mean, it was very hard for my father. And it was quite hard for me but it was very hard to watch my dad suffer so much. Except that on the way home, he was much more relieved, cheered and happier. And my father had these terrible-suffered terrible nightmares all his life.
So as a child, I grew up with him banging doors, getting up cleaning, kind of fraught in the night, you know. He-nightmares, he'd shout out. And when he got home, although he was in his 80s, for the first time in his life, he could sleep. And so it seemed to me that what I was finding out was if you can possibly find a way of even beginning to kind of look at these things, it won't-and it doesn't crush you. It might crush you, that's the danger. But if it doesn't, then it will put-it will allow you some rest and this links exactly to Greek tragedy, that somehow if you can look at what the human condition is like. If you have plays which will show you what it's like, if you can have a device where you can empathetically connect with an audience, with a-with an actor on stage, who is feeling things which you can identify with, you can, in some ways, reach this thing called catharsis. It's rather like a shattering of the psyche, which is then-has to be reassembled.
Martha Dixon 16:37 Trauma is a common feature connected with migration. But the numbers of people on the move in the world are going up.
Jules Pretty 16:46 According to the World Economic Forum, 3.5% of the world's population are now migrants. Here's Ahmed Shaheed on why that is.
Ahmed Shaheed 16:56 Protracted conflicts keep on creating more displaced people, that creates more refugees, and ever more migration. Failing-failing countries, that also creates more-more displacement and ever more refugees. And of course, you can look at things like the climate change, an impending situation where we can expect even more people to travel. And of course, you know, we talk about our economic migrants. And of course, that-that is think of a number of people doing that as well. But again, that is related to unequal distribution of wealth. Unequal, you know, growth trajectories in-in countries. People naturally, of course, seek better pastures when theirown communities are not able to sustain them in a decent economic life.
Martha Dixon 17:40 Despite the trauma that's been connected with human migration in the past, Ahmed sees hope for the future,
Jules Pretty 17:48 Firstly, because he himself has found happiness after the migrant experience.
Ahmed Shaheed 17:52 In my travels around the world, both as a diplomat and of course, now as a UN(United Nation) rapporteur, and also as a person having to flee my own country, throughout this journey I've been-I've been very blessed to meet people who've been very generous, Who've been very open to receiving people who are different I suppose to who they were. And so I really understand what it means for someone to be on flight and to-and to-and to, you know, be a strange in strange places, and to be welcomed by them.
So my journey has been a very happy one and I think it can be happy for everybody. We just need to make sure that-that we invest enough in ensuring that people, you know, learn about-about the-about the other. I've been very focused on educational tools with regard to, you know, the classroom context-regard to how youth ought to learn from-from each other.
In Sri Lanka about two years back, you know, identified one of the reasons for such communal hatred was that students, young people did not get to go to school with people of a different identity, they all went to their own polarised school. So it wasn't until 18+ or more that they actually got to spend time with someone of a different identity or different ethnic background. And by that time, it was often too late to dissolve the kind of stereotypes that become embedded throughout their life.
So these sorts of if you like, you know, opportunities, guide-guidance, these are used by many states to do the right thing. Although of course, many states also ignore many of this guidance. But I think working along the-along these issues, talking to various stakeholders, working with society actors building coalitions, is the way forward because these things can't be changed overnight. But we need to keep on pressing. And when we keep on pressing, all of us together, we do make a change. That's what's encouraging all of us to keep doing what we're doing.
Martha Dixon 19:50 We do hope you've enjoyed Louder Than Words the podcast from the University of Essex. This episode was about migration
Jules Pretty 19:58 Do join us next time when we'll be shining a light on mental health.
Martha Dixon 20:02 What works, what needs to work better to support those facing mental health problems?
Jules Pretty 20:09 Thank you for listening. This was the Louder Than Words podcast from the Centre for Public and Policy Engagement at the University of Essex. You'll find links to the contributors in their work and books on the Centre's website.