Dublin City University hosted its inaugural colloquium, Asylum Narratives, last Friday (September 29th), in the Cregan library, St Patrick’s campus, under its University of Sanctuary banner.
The focus of the day was to bring together academics, students, NGOs, voluteers and members of the public to explore issues relating to the lives of asylum seekers through a diversity of narrative lens, including story-telling, film, radio, drama, photography and poetry.
DCU University of Sanctuary Inaugural Lecture
The colloquium provided an excellent opportunity to launch the inaugural DCU University of Sanctuary annual keynote lecture, which was delivered by Prof Alison Phipps, OBE, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, University of Glasgow.
Her talk, entitled Broken World, Broken Word: Resilience in the Arts of Languaging Border Distress, was introduced by Prof Brian MacCraith, President of DCU.
Prof Phipps’ narrative was based on a devised dance and theatre performance, developed as part of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Project: Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Languages, the Body, Law and the State, which presents the epic story of exile, loss of language, life and land.
The paper discussed ways in which research has intervened and worked intentionally against the demands for clarity, coherence and control in three contexts: that of rural Ghana; that of the Gaza strip and that of refugee integration in Europe, notably Calais and resettlement programmes in Scotland.
Prof Phipps has indicated, through her work, that multilingual environments have the potential to become sites of resistance, mobilization and confidence through dialogic multilingualism.
She delivered her speech through a variety of media, including poetry and video, and it was received with critical acclaim.
The MELLIE project
Another highlight of the day was the presentation of the DCU MELLIE project (Migrant English Language, Literacy and Intercultural Education), which involves the co-construction of stories between residents of Mosney Direct Provision Centre and DCU staff and student volunteers, based on a model developed by Dr Peter Sheekey of Dublin City Intercultural Language Services (DCILS), who also spoke on the same panel about narrative methodology.
Representatives from both the Mosney and DCU community shared the podium to talk about their collaboration.
They included: Julie Daniel, SALIS, DCU; Verena Wolf, SALIS, DCU; Dr Bronagh Ćatibušić, Institute of Education, DCU; Zuhur Muse, Mosney Resident; and Fidaa Marouf, former Mosney resident.
A key finding from the project was the intercultural dialogue and developing friendship that has emerged from the joint collaboration.
In the same panel, Dr Veronica Crosbie, SALIS, DCU, also spoke about her research with female asylum seekers in Ireland, in so doing, problematising notions of hospitality in both ancient Greek and current times.
The poet, Christiana Obaro, who currently resides in Mosney Direct Provision Centre, read two of her poems to the assembled gathering, based on her experience of living in Ireland.
She is a member of the DCU Hope Mosney Book Club, has participated in the City of Sanctuary, Dublin, Sanctuary in Politics course and has been invited speaker at the Oireachtas and the recent City of Sanctuary Conference on Asylum Seekers and the Right to Work.
University of Sanctuary initiative
The colloquium also hosted a workshop on the University of Sanctuary initiative, chaired by Tian Yu Lloyd, coordinator of City of Sanctuary Dublin and Assistant Coordinator of Places of Sanctuary Ireland.
This afforded participants an opportunity to learn about the principles underpinning the University of Sanctuary concept, including: a) Learn, b) Take Action and c) Share.
Colleagues from three institutes of higher education in Ireland shared their experience of developing a culture of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees on their campuses.
Philip McKinley (DCU Chaplain) spoke about DCU becoming the first university in Ireland to receive the designation University of Sanctuary and the fact that it was very much a bottom-up approach, which was wholly endorsed by DCU’s senior management, leading to the offer of fifteen scholarships for the academic year 2017 as well as a range of other initiatives, including the MELLIE storytelling project (which was showcased separately on the colloquium programme).
Prof Mairead Moriarty then listed a number of initiatives undertaken by the University of Limerick (UL), for example,the creation of an innovative database of professional bodies, including doctors and dentists, willing to host internships for asylum seekers and refugees.
This was followed by a presentation by Dr Chris McDermott from Athlone Institute of Technology, who talked about the innovative low-cost ways that students and staff on the campus have engaged with the local resident community of asylum seekers housed in the Direct Provision Centre in Athlone, including a community cycle bridging the two locations.
An afternoon panel comprised speakers representing different art forms, including: Jean-Philippe Imbert (SALIS, DCU) talking about artivism via the Syrian Cultural Caravan; Vukasin Nedeljkovic’s Asylum Archive photo-auto-ethnography; RTE’s Flight Risk radio play, devised by Kevin Brew and narrated by Ellie Kisyombe; and Caoimhe Butterly’s film Freedom, depicting the lives of refugees in transit in Greece.
Asylum Archive exhibition
An exhibition of work by Vukašin Nedeljković’s Asylum Archive was hosted to coincide with the colloquium.
It is housed in the Cregan library gallery space on the St Patrick’s campus and is available to view for the month of October. It will then move to the the DCU John and Aileen O’Reilly library on the Glasnevin campus for the month of November.
An exhibition of MELLIE narrative extracts is also available to view in a poster exhibition adjacent to the Asylum Archive exhibition.
It was curated by Julie Daniel (SALIS, DCU).
Mount Temple Comprehensive Play
The colloquium concluded with a revival of the critcally-acclaimed play Éire: Land of a Hundred Thousand Welcomes, devised by Laura Doak and her students in Mount Temple Comprehensive School.
The play had been performed earlier in the year in DCU as part of the MELLIE project and was invited back again by popular demand.
Feedback on the colloquium has been hugely positive.
Attendees have written to say it was “inspiring”, “enlightening”, “astonishing”, “wonderful”, and “brilliant”.
The colloquium was co-facilitated by Dr Veronica Crosbie and Dr Agnès Maillot, SALIS, DCU.
It was supported financially by the President's Office, the Office of the Vice-President of External Affairs and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, DCU.
*Photograph c/o Aaron Harper