Now our co-mates in exile

LONDON Freelance Branch held its first information evening for exiled journalists, on getting started again as a journalist in the UK, on 1 December. Participants had had to leave Algeria, Turkey, Cote d'Ivoire, Pakistan (via Manchester) and one from Italy described herself as a "refugee from Berlusconi." Some had already joined the union as associate members.

Humphrey Evans and Phil Sutcliffe gave a tailor-made version of their "getting started as a journalist" workshop.

Branch member Umit Ozturk - a Kurdish refugee from Turkey who now works for Amnesty International - described the pressure journalists were under when they arrived. "Having been lifted out of a state of just trying to survive," he said, many feel a conflicting need to keep up to date with events in their home country, while also having to adapt to life in the UK. This conflict can lead to "depression and giving up", and requires great patience to overcome.

"It's easy to be obsessive about being a journalist," he said, after you've "survived people trying to extinguish your voice."

Umit recommends: "Read everything. Read every section of a newspaper, improve your language skills." Other suggestions on how to make use of the long wait for the outcome of your asylum case included brushing up your IT skills and reading up on media law.

What's most frustrating for exiled journalists is that they aren't able to practice their profession. Asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their case can no longer seek paid work in the UK, although the Legal Services Commission is apparently allowed to pay asylum seekers in exceptional circumstances to contribute background country reports.

Several participants were already active as volunteers in their profession. Manchester associate member Mansoor Hassan works for the Red Cross, while a network of South London-based Ivorian journalists are starting up the Africa Essor (Africa Develops) online newspaper.

Humphrey Evans pointed out that many exiled journalists have something that newspapers need - detailed background knowledge of areas of conflict that are often in the news.

They often have often contacts on the ground, contact phone numbers or even pictures that the UK's foreign correspondents can't get hold of.

Networking is vitally important to help exiled journalists break their isolation, through groups such as Presswise (www.presswise.org.uk) and Exiled Writer Inc at exiledwriterinc.org

Branch member Isobel Merminod also recommended that associate member refugee journalists turn up to Freelance branch meetings - "Even if you can't understand it all, you're learning a lot about the media in the UK."  

  • On 9 November more than 60 people attended a public meeting in Manchester in support of Mansoor Hassan following the failure of his application for asylum in Britain. Mansoor fled to Britain with his wife and four children after he was attacked and received several threats to the safety of his family from criminals and senior figures in Pakistan whose crimes had been exposed by his work. He and his family were forced to leave left their first home in Manchester after racial abuse.
  • Members are asked to support the campaign by writing to Immigration Minister Des Browne and to their own MPs, asking them to take up the case. For draft texts of letters of support go to www.nuj.org.uk and enter "Mansoor" in the "Search" box (without the quotes).
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