Last month Reading University’s Student Action for Refugee (STAR) group had the pleasure of hosting the brilliant Ice & Fire theatre group in Minghella studios. Ice & Fire, who aim to explore humanitarian issues through performance, recited three harrowing, eye-opening yet hopeful monologues detailing three very different asylum seeker’s journeys from escaping persecution in their home countries to entering into the asylum system of the United Kingdom. Each of these testimonies had been created with direct conversations Ice & Fire has had with the asylum seekers in question, and with their consent these were performed to us to shed light on their experiences.
The monologues detailed the struggles of Margaret, a Ugandan woman persecuted for her sexuality; Sayid, a Syrian man fleeing the erupting civil war and Julie, a Ugandan woman who was detained and made subject of extreme physical abuse and rape for her political activism before being able to flee to the UK and enter the asylum process. As haunting the accounts of their experiences in their home countries were, the egregious treatment these individuals received from the United Kingdom Home Office was most surprising as it is so rarely publicised. Julie described the wait for the decision to be granted asylum as a diplomatic form of torture, and despite being pregnant with a child of rape and evident signs of serious physical abuse her claims were initially dismissed as she was not considered to be under serious threat. At any point in the process of waiting to be granted official refugee status, if the Home Office suspect an asylum seeker of misconduct they can be detained in detention centres, usually ex-prisons. With no legal limit to the amount of time an asylum seeker can be detained, it is easy to understand Julie’s sentiment.
The performances did end on high notes however, with each of the asylum seekers eventually being granted refugee status and right to remain for substantial amounts of time. Once all three monologues were completed we were surprised by the reveal that the woman reciting Margaret’s experiences was actually Margaret herself! While Sayid’s and Julie’s stories were recounted by brilliant actors Margaret’s was told first hand which made it all the more powerful in retrospect. Margaret is exceptional, despite her situation she has played badminton for Uganda in the 2014 Commonwealth games and currently plays for Lancaster. After the performances Ice & Fire opened up to an interactive and extremely informative Q&A with the audience. The entire event was brilliant and perspective changing, and it was clear that we all left the theatre more informed on the asylum process and the problems with the UK’s policy towards asylum seekers than when we entered. I recommend catching future Ice & Fire performances throughout the UK!