Pas­sage To Asy­lum: Liv­ing the life of a mil­lion refugees in 30 mins

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY - Anam.Aj­[email protected] San­jay Sekhri

New Delhi: She is an un­named 14-year-old refugee girl from So­ma­lia, a sur­vivor of con­flict who fled child mar­riage and rape and sought asy­lum in an un­known coun­try. Her ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected be­cause the de­tails of her past were sketchy, but her jour­ney has been brought to life through an “im­mer­sive” au­dio-vis­ual art ex­hi­bi­tion by Delhi-based refugee law cen­tre Mi­gra­tion and Asy­lum Project (MAP).

‘Pas­sage to Asy­lum: The jour­ney of a mil­lion refugees’ is a 30-minute art se­ries cur­rently dis­played at In­dia In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre. It con­tains six con­tigu­ous in­stal­la­tions or rooms that de­pict the life of refugees through var­i­ous stages — home, con­flict, tran­sit, alien coun­try, asy­lum tri­bunal, and if they are lucky, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

There are four pro­files based on real refugees from con­flict-torn coun­tries — So­ma­lia, Syria, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan — and the at­tendee can ex­pe­ri­ence the life of any one of them by pick­ing a card of their choice, and then walk­ing through the rooms. These cards come with de­tails of the refugee’s life — the So­mali girl, a 13-year-old Sri Lankan boy who fled after LTTE at­tacked his home, a mid­dle-aged busi­ness­man from Afghanistan whose house was con­verted to a Tal­iban base, and a biotech­nol­o­gist from Syria.

The refugee be­comes your al­ter ego as you walk through each room, plugged to an au­dio guide that recre­ates their lives in their homes — the sounds they heard in their na­tive coun­tries, the lan­guage they spoke. The first room or home is de­fined by un­fin­ished busi­ness — a half-knit sweater, two un­washed tea cups left on a ta­ble, a bro­ken wall clock. It’s the house of peo­ple who left in a hurry, some­times overnight, to save their lives.

The au­dio jar­ringly changes to sounds of gun­fire and bomb­ings when you step into the sec­ond room, or the con­flict zone. A bright red bro­ken bi­cy­cle, an in­fant fee- der, a paper lantern and some burnt mag­a­zines de­pict the state of limbo the refugees feel as they travel to un­known lands for safety.

“The pro­files are based on lives of peo­ple that MAP has rep­re­sented. We work to iden­tify and re­solve the le­gal gaps that a refugee faces when they reach an alien coun­try to seek asy­lum,” said MAP founder Roshni Shanker, a lawyer who worked with UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to as­sess asy­lum claims be­fore she founded MAP in 2013.

Cur­rently, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has 15 lawyers who provi- de le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for refugees seek­ing asy­lum be­fore UNHCR in In­dia.

The in­stal­la­tion is a re­sult of a two-year-long multi-ju­ris­dic­tional re­search project, sup­ported by the UK-based Univer­sity of York, to un­der­stand the im­pact of le­gal en­gage­ment for refugees in four coun­tries — In­dia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Egypt.

“We had the choice to present our find­ings through a sem­i­nar or a con­fer­ence, how­ever, those are at­tended only by ex­perts. An art in­stal­la­tion is more ac­ces­si­ble and open to gen­eral pub­lic who oth­er­wise don’t en­gage with top­ics like refugee cri­sis. I guess we could call this ‘artvo­cacy’,” said Shanker.

Artist Kalyani Nedungadi, who de­signed the ex­hi­bi­tion, is the only “non-lawyer” at MAP. She joined the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a dig­i­tal me­dia con­sul­tant a year ago after com­plet­ing her grad­u­a­tion in Stu­dio Art and His­tory at USA-based Mount Holyoke Col­lege. “The ideation be­gan in Fe­bru­ary 2018. Our aim was to ad­dress the myths about refugees. I have worked on some of these ideas be­fore, in­clud­ing the one in in­stal­la­tion 4, which I ear­lier called ‘Alone In a Room’,” said Nedungadi.

The fourth room Nedungadi men­tions is the alien coun­try, made up of flimsy white cur­tains, spread out like a maze. It al­most seems sani­tised, full of shad­ows of cit­i­zens of the alien coun­try as they go about their usual busi­ness. The au­dio ac­com­pa­ny­ing the room is a ca­coph­ony of noises, a buzz that’s dif­fi­cult to de­ci­pher for an out­sider.

“The alien coun­tries al­ways rep­re­sent un­cer­tain­ties. The refugees, if lucky, get asy­lum in a com­pletely new en­vi­ron­ment. There is a com­mon thread of lone­li­ness that binds all of them, but amid this lone­li­ness, there is a sense of hope of be­ing un­der­stood, and we can all do our bit to make things eas­ier for them,” said Nedungadi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.