Arts A World Of Voices Muse

A World Of Voices : Finding Home: The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Martha Hobson on the realistic depiction of migrant life in Dugan’s book.

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Image Credit: Icon Books ltd, 2015

Priti Patel and mainstream media often portray migrants as a one-dimensional problem inflicted on Britain. As though they are numbers, deaths, extremists, illegal.

Finding Home follows the true stories of ten migrants in Britain in ten respective chapters, giving them a voice and a personality, but most importantly diversifying the word ‘migrants’ and showing that this word characterises a huge mixture of people. Dugan follows these lives with a perfect anonymity on her part, primarily observing and giving volume to other voices. She teaches us to undress our prejudice and focuses on the narrative of migrants not only as statistics and policy, but as people.

She follows a wide range of people spread well across Britain and across the world. We follow Harley, an Australian therapist threatened with deportation after ten years of working in the NHS and making a home here. Hassiba, a wealthy Algerian who moves to Edinburgh and works in a kebab shop. Emad, a Syrian who we see slowly lose faith in Britain, and who spends most of his time worrying about his mother as she makes the treacherous journey from Syria, through Jordan and on a boat to Italy.

Often we forget that the journey migrants make to safety by no means ends once they’ve reached Britain. In many cases, as portrayed in this book, the journey is only made more difficult and more lonely once they actually arrive. The stories are heartbreaking and hopeful, and illustrate how much work there is to be done within Britain to make migrants feel more at home.

Britain is so often perceived as a haven for self expression and liberation. However it’s important to be aware of this perception, and perhaps try harder to reinforce it not only as an idea but as a reality. Aderonke, a Nigerian woman, flees Nigeria to avoid persecution because of her sexuality, travelling to the liberal beacon she perceives Britain to be. Though she is somewhat liberated by her ability to go to gay clubs and date women, she finds it impossible to prove to the Immigration Office she is really escaping persecution, and is pushed to resort to desperate and crude ways of convincing the government of her sexuality. After years of homelessness and imprisonment, Aderonke became a Manchester LGBT activist and has since won awards for her role in the LBTQ community.

Dugan also rips up stereotypes and gives a platform to the reality of migrant experiences. Mihai, a Romanian who yearns for a national insurance number so he can pay taxes and work legally in Britain. Ummad, who suffers a shot to the head in Pakistan and is treated in London by a top surgeon of his same sect of Ahmadiyya, paid for all by the Ahmadi community, yet is accused of scrounging on NHS resources. And importantly, the fact that many migrants who travel through hell to reach Britain, feel utterly alienated, and wish for a time when their home is safe enough to return to.

Oftentimes these people find use and love in this country more than we ever could, and see it with fresh and hopeful eyes. Ummad moves to Newcastle and ‘knows the city better than many people who have lived there all their lives…rattling off a list of local discoveries from the Industrial Revolution.’

Dugan does not over dramatise these stories, and while some are naturally horrific, and some are more mundane, the combination of all ten create a picture of migrant Britain that is filled with loss, loneliness, sacrifice, and crucially, hope.

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