‘I want to be a free person in this country, to be equal. If you are a refugee, you are seen as dependent. I want to be independent and free, not someone who is waiting to be told what they can do and what they can’t do. This photography is about who we are and our way of life as new Londoners. This is our chance, we are making a piece of history.’ Mussie, New Londoners, 2008
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Photography & Integration
Why are photography projects useful for young refugees?

The situation of young refugees

Why do we work with young refugees?

How does photography help integration?

Summary of key points

The situation of young refugees

Though the total number of young refugees under 18 living in the UK isn’t known, it’s estimated that there are currently 82,000 refugee children in schools. Many young refugees come to the UK with their families but there are an estimated 6,750 unaccompanied or separated children in the UK who’ve arrived on their own with no parent or guardian.

Many young refugees have experienced conflict and suffered trauma. They’ve fled countries where major conflicts have taken place or where serious human rights abuses have occurred, including Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Young refugees experience new difficulties on arrival in the UK, which may include the following inter-related problems:

• living in poverty and having little or no money for social activities
• poor housing – often in run-down B&B and hostel accommodation, and frequent moves
• emotional or mental health problems, such as loneliness or depression
• social isolation
• not speaking English
• discrimination and racism
• difficulties in accessing mainstream services, such as GPs or school and college places
• confusing and stressful asylum application procedures, for example, dealing with
complicated appeals procedures
• living with parents or carers who’re experiencing emotional problems themselves, increasing risk of family breakdown
• separation from family and friends
• loss and bereavement
• navigating procedures and making difficult decisions without trusted adult support.

Refugee children also report the following problems in schools:
• racism and bullying
• isolation
• loss of identity
• barriers to educational attainment
• barriers to accessing further and higher education, especially for unaccompanied asylum seekers
• concerns about the future.

Young refugees cite making friends as their top priority.

While many young refugees do experience some or all of the problems above, it’s important not to see them as a group defined by problems. Many young refugees are able to adjust quickly to new circumstances in the UK. They demonstrate significant resilience and are keen to develop their talents, benefit from new educational opportunities, and build new relationships. Refugees make considerable social, economic and cultural contributions to the UK.

Why do we work with young refugees?

PhotoVoice’s work with young refugees is aimed at supporting integration. We aim to help them to:
• integrate into the education system
• feel valued and respected
• participate in community life
• build their self-confidence
• be part of social networks and relationships
• develop knowledge and skills to take informed decisions and build their lives in the UK.

How does photography help integration?

At its simplest, photography is an accessible tool for self-expression: it can be quickly learned and it’s not difficult for young people to take decent pictures. A young refugee – new to the UK – who might be lacking confidence, can quite easily master a basic digital camera. Digital photography gives instant results, and requires no formal training to become an effective tool for communication, observation and creativity.

Overcomes language barriers
Photography is an especially useful creative tool for new arrivals with limited levels of English. The language of images, offers opportunities for communication without using words. Young refugees can show visually, for example, things around them which they think are important, interesting, puzzling, new, or exciting.

Building relationships
At first, all the young refugees we work with – like all young people – are interested in taking pictures of each other more than anything else. They take instantly to the idea of ‘posing’ for the camera. Both the photographer and the subject quickly get involved in directing and giving instructions to each other. Taking these portraits of each other, in a fun and unthreatening environment becomes a step in building friendships and a sense of immediate community.

Exploring identities
Young people also quickly turn the camera on themselves and looking at their self-portraits over time it’s possible to see how they form a kind of visual autobiography. These self-representations are about performance and fantasy, idealisation, experimentation, humour and identity. They act out different roles for themselves: Bollywood star, East London hoodie, Afghani popstar, fighter, athlete, sports star, hard-working student etc. Photography is not just reflecting the process of creating new identities; it’s part of the process of rebuilding and renegotiating self-identity.

Self-expression and record-making
Photographs create instant and permanent records. Many of us do this in our everyday lives: we create tracks for ourselves through photos, diaries, videos, etc. When you’re uprooted from one place to another the need to do this can be even stronger. Photographs can be built into histories and albums that reflect a new life, a new start. Pictures can decorate walls in sparse bedrooms, fill the gaps with new memories and friends, pictures can be sent to families and friends, they can be emailed and sent through mobiles.
At a time when their lives are being defined by ‘official’ records and documentation, photographs provide a way for young refugees to create and control their own records and memories. In looking at the world through a lens, in deciding how to frame what they see, young people can mark out conscious moments in the endless process of observation.

Getting to know new places and a new culture
You can use a camera to expand horizons and explore unfamiliar places and cultures. PhotoVoice takes project participants on shoots around London – to the Southbank, along the Thames, to the City; and to places in their local communities – down the high street, to the park, to the local market. Many young refugees have limited opportunities to explore beyond their immediate neighbourhood.
Young refugees are faced with much that is unfamiliar. Attitudes, values, social codes and habits might all be different from their own countries. By photographing the things that seem strange and different young people can familiarise themselves with what is new.

Dialogue and conversation
Photographs can facilitate discussion by creating distance between the photographer and a subject of conversation. A photographer can talk around a subject, via the medium of an image, rather than directly. This depersonalization can help someone who might want to talk but finds it difficult.
Through discussion and dialogue photography enables learning, not just about image-making but about the world around us, and about each other. Engaging in photo projects and viewing and talking about each others’ photographs enables conversation about diverse topics from family to religion, relationships to dreams. In examining and discussing what an image communicates and means, opinions are voiced and shared and understandings develop.

Telling stories
The camera is a flexible tool for invention and creativity, and can be used for story-telling. Photos are used to illustrate stories in teenage magazines and children’s books and are a reference for many different film makers. Making photo-stories can be a brilliant tool for building confidence, exploring hopes, and different cultural norms and values.

As a tool for public communication
Public opinion is broadly unsympathetic towards refugees. The media has a part to play in this, generating myths about new arrivals, suggesting that traditional British morals are being eroded, and contributing to a climate of anxiety. Participatory photography projects, in which refugees are in control of image production, offer the potential to give the power of representation back to those who are traditionally subjects of the media.
Images are powerful, which means they have great potential as a means of providing young people with a public voice, and as a tool for public education, awareness raising and advocacy. Exhibitions can be held anywhere – in galleries, classrooms, libraries, shopping centres and cinema foyers. You can use anything from glass-framed prints to affordable computer printouts. You can use digital projectors to screen slideshows of images. You can also use images to create postcards, flyers, posters or DVDs and CD-Roms.

The potential for broad public communication is always present in any project, but should never be assumed. Projects should always remain accountable to the needs and desires of participants, who may prefer to maintain the privacy of their work.

In summary photography can be used as a tool to:

• help young refugees feel valued
• have fun
• re-build, negotiate and play with identities
• explore and learn about a new place
• learn new technical and creative skills
• share ideas, skills and experiences with others
• reflect on difficult issues
• make friends
• speak out
• create memories.

Copyright 2008 PhotoVoice
P: 020 7033 3878
E: info@photovoice.org
UK Charity no: 1096598