Cynthia Cockburn visits Kurdish, Somali, Tamil, Sudanese and Syrian refugee women living across five London boroughsby Sian Norris / October 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
A lot has been written lately about refugees and migration. But rarely do we hear from asylum seekers themselves. Cynthia Cockburn’s Looking to London: Stories of War, Escape and Asylum, seeks to redress that balance.
Cockburn visits Kurdish, Somali, Tamil, Sudanese and Syrian refugee women living across five London boroughs to learn more about their experiences of fleeing conflict and oppression, and their relationship with the capital. The stories she hears are devastating: a Kurdish journalist tortured and imprisoned for seven years; Tamils harassed out of Sri Lanka only to be re-criminalised in the UK; a Somali woman fleeing after her father’s murder. The interviews challenge common assumptions about the lives of refugee women. Rather than passive victims, they are taking action to improve the lives of their fellow refugees—especially other women.
Cockburn examines the considerable evidence against keeping women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and illustrates how austerity has squeezed council funds that could have been used for equality and cohesion projects. She criticises the policy of dispersing asylum seekers into towns around the country that are often already experiencing deprivation.
Cockburn presents possible solutions to the issues surrounding refugees: the closure of Yarl’s Wood and an end to austerity. It would have been good, all the same, to have heard more from her on specific policy matters. How do we increase our ability to house asylum seekers in London, for example? Would better funding for equality and cohesion efforts in the towns outside the capital help with the issues facing communities there?
However, this book is not primarily intended as a policy document—it is the stories themselves that the author hopes will inspire the reader, and the government, to action.