How Immigration Laws Have Changed

This is the third of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

The United States was built on immigration.

Generally, citizens have been proud of that history. However, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the rise, from popular politicians to online rumors and TV news channels. Even the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service changed its mission statement, deleting the line that described “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” In many ways, this reflects not merely rhetoric, but also reality.

The promise and hope embodied at the base of the Statue of Liberty – give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free – has long represented the ideal of America’s views of immigration. Changing immigration laws, however, continue to impact people now and are likely to continue doing so in the future.

Over the years, an idealized America presented itself as a welcoming, nurturing land for people from all around the world. Of course, migration to the United States has been marred by racially-prejudiced histories. These included laws that placed heavy or impossible burdens on East Asian and African immigrants whilst labelling many European immigrants as ‘white’ and, therefore, desirable. Jewish, Indian, and Southern European immigrants were excluded, even in the early 20th century.

Photograph courtesy of Luke Stackpoole for Unsplash

It is also worth noting that not all immigration was voluntary. Immigration also included the painful and brutal history of the transatlantic slave trade. Furthermore, while some people migrate for education or economic opportunity, many have been essentially forced to relocate as the changes imposed by economic globalization and climate change have severely affected their own countries. Even more have been forced to seek asylum due to war and oppression.

The Immigration Act of 1965 impacted migration to the United States in a positive way by legally stripping away many of the barriers non-Europeans had experienced when attempting to enter the United States. Now, one out of every five immigrants live in the United States, and their contributions have shaped the way Americans understand themselves, their culture, and their identity.

U.S. immigration law has long favored highly-skilled and educated workers, and many have come to the United States to advance their careers in skilled professions like technology and medicine. Despite benefits to a healthy, growing society and economy, immigration has become increasingly difficult for people around the world. In fact, an anti-immigration movement has been on the rise in Europe and the United States, even as widespread coverage of a ‘migration crises’ is on the rise.

Although the arrival of new immigrants has actually significantly decreased in Europe over the past two years, far-right political parties continue to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment. In some cases, they exploit real economic problems like a lack of well-paying jobs or a rise in housing costs. They highlight immigrants as a scapegoat for these issues, despite the limited effect of migrant populations.

Photograph courtesy of Anastasia Dulgier for Unsplash

Many of the same issues have arisen in recent U.S. anti-immigrant rhetoric, issues that raise uncomfortable similarities to the racist laws that excluded immigrants in the past. Economic anxieties about a changing economy and a loss of jobs are often redirected. Rather than questioning politicians or corporate leaders, the blame is directed at migrants.

The results of these anti-immigrant policies – including Trump’s travel ban – do not only affect those who want to migrate permanently to the United States. The travel ban (commonly referred to as the ‘Muslim ban’) excludes tourists and visitors from seven countries (five of them with Muslim majorities). This means that people from these countries are not allowed in the United States to study, work, perform, or visit their families. Thousands of Iranians have studied and worked in the U.S. before returning to their country, whilst thousands more regularly visit their families. Now, they face exclusion.

Immigrants are facing a tough political climate and changing policies that put even legal migrants and green-card holders at risk. It is more critical than ever for people migrating to the United States to avoid any potential conflict with the laws in place and work with an immigration lawyer in order to give themselves the highest level of protection.

Countries that are concerned about immigration have a responsibility to change their international policies to stop, rather than foster, war and environmental destruction. Many people do not wish to leave their homelands except to travel. The strengthening of welfare-state policies and a productive economy can reduce widespread fear about migration, as well as support for ever-tightening borders.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you are interested in reading the first two articles of Manji Law’s three-part series on refugees and immigration, please follow the links below…

  1. The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer
  2. What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?

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What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?

This is the second of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

Headlines around the world have recently drawn attention to refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom seek to avoid the spotlight rather than garner press attention. However, in order to understand the roots of what has been labeled a ‘refugee crisis’, it is important to understand who refugees and asylum seekers are, and how they are protected worldwide.

Refugees are individuals who are fleeing their countries because of war, violence, or persecution. They may face persecution because of their race, nationality, religion, political affiliation, or social identity. While many refugees long to return home, they cannot or are afraid of what will happen if they do.

When refugees flee their countries and seek to find sanctuary, they must apply for asylum. Asylum seekers are those who have applied to have their status recognized by another country, and receive material assistance or legal protections. In order to receive asylum and refugee recognition, people must show that their fear of persecution at home is well-founded.

Photograph courtesy of UNHCR

While the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol lay out the framework for refugee protections, not all asylum-giving countries provide the same support. The treaty has been ratified by 145 different countries and commits those countries to its principles. One of the central principles of the Convention is non-refoulement, meaning that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face threats to their lives or liberties. The treaty was initially drafted in response to the massive numbers of European refugees caused by destruction from World War II, and was then limited to refugees created due to events in Europe prior to 1951. The 1967 amendment to the treaty universalized the rights and principles of the document, making them applicable to all refugees worldwide.

While the principle of non-refoulement is central to the treaty, there are a number of other significant rights recognized for refugees. These include the right to work, and access to housing, education, public relief, and assistance. It also includes freedom from punishment due to entering a country illegally to seek asylum.

Over the years, the U.S. has contributed significantly to resettling and receiving refugees. Generally, every year it has offered more refugees asylum than all other nations combined. However, policies advanced by the Trump administration are useating the U.S. from its role as a leader in refugee resettlement and protection.

The U.S. 1980 Refugee Act integrated the international definition of a refugee into domestic law. That same definition forms the basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Each year, the President in conjunction with Congress determines a ceiling for refugee admissions. In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, that ceiling was set at 85,000. The Trump administration has set a ceiling of 45,000 for 2018.

In 2017, American refugee policy went through an abrupt overhaul. The Obama administration had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugee admissions for the fiscal year prior to the change of administrations. The Trump administration promptly sliced it to 50,000 amid pledges of a security overhaul, despite the fact that there was no indication of a security problem with the U.S. refugee admission system.

Photograph courtesy of Jeff J Mitchell for the Irish Times

Family reunification has been a cornerstone of American immigration policy. However, the Trump administration has, in addition to overall pledges to reduce immigration, supported a system more heavily weighted toward highly skilled or employable workers. Some other countries – such as Canada and Australia – already have such a system; however, Canada has also increased its refugee intake in recent years.

Other policies of the Trump administration have also showcased a harsh approach to refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants. The separation of parents from children in detention centers spawned widespread criticism, especially from those who see this policy at odds with a traditional U.S. approach to migration.

In Europe, children are rarely separated from their families and migrant detention is a less frequent policy overall. On the other hand, poorer nations like Bangladesh and Thailand have imposed extremely harsh conditions on refugees (Thailand is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention). Of course, the geographic proximity to war, as well as the economic realities of these countries vary greatly from that of the U.S.

Policies like Trump’s travel ban – often colloquially called the “Muslim ban” for its disproportionate effect on people from Muslim-majority countries – and the loudly promoted border wall illustrate the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States. This comes in parallel with a similar rise of far-right parties in Europe with migration policy at the center of their advocacy. The promise of the United States for refugees and asylum seekers remains alive despite these changing laws and regulations, even as migrant justice advocates push back against further restrictions. This country has been deeply enriched by those refugees seeking freedom. With a bit of help, it can keep that vision of America relevant in today’s new era.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. I also strongly encourage that you ready the first part of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series, the Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer. The third part will be published in the following weeks.

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The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer

This is the first of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

The United States has long been a nation of immigrants. However, recent changes to immigration policies may signal a new trend for the country.

In the 1600s, Europeans traveled to North America. Soon after, they began importing African people as slaves. During the 1800s and 1900s, the United States experienced immigration from China, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Although racial, religious, and cultural tensions accompanied these waves, the U.S. nevertheless attained its status as a melting pot where everyone could follow their dreams. In fact, in 2005, the mission statement for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) specifically recognized this heritage by including the phrase “a nation of immigrants.”

However, under the administration of President Trump, the federal government has eliminated that sentiment.

In February 2018, USCIS removed the reference to an immigrant nation. Instead, its updated mission statement focused on protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and administering immigration laws. L. Francis Cissna, the agency’s director, defended the change and emphasized the focus on serving the American people. This shift in language arose directly from the Trump Administration’s restrictive views on immigration.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign delivered a strong anti-immigrant message. Since taking office, his policies (which focused primarily on Latin America and Muslim countries) increased procedural barriers for immigrants, people seeking asylum, and international travelers. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the terms of his travel ban, which denies visas to people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Photograph by Marian Carrasqeuro for The New York Times

Trump’s next major shift, in April 2018, created the now infamous family separation policy at the Mexican border. This policy directed border agents to detain or deport all adult immigrants crossing the border, and seize any children, including infants. Within months, nearly 3,000 children had been separated from their caregivers. An intense public outcry forced the president to rescind the policy, but hundreds remain in detention.

These aggressive policies stem from Trump’s desire to build a Mexican border wall, which he claims will protect Americans from drugs and violence. Starting in 2015, Trump made this a primary focus of his presidential campaign. His ongoing verbal attacks depicting immigrants as criminals have translated to concrete changes.

Between 2016 and 2017, the drop in refugee admissions from 84,995 people to 53,716 illustrates the immediate results of his policies. In 2018, the federal government capped annual refugee admissions at 45,000, which is the lowest since the program began in 1980. As for foreign workers, a bill in the U.S. Senate would alter eligibility criteria and apply a points system to evaluate candidates for employment-based green cards. Furthermore, Trump has stated his desire to end the diversity visa program. Since 1995, it has provided a chance for over one million people to enter the country. The current administration has also placed the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program on the chopping block. TPS allowed over 320,000 people from 10 countries to live in the United States to escape wars or natural disasters occuring in their homelands. The majority came from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. These individuals can expect to lose their residency and work privileges in 2018 and 2019.

Due to the sudden changes, many lives have been thrown into turmoil, as the harsh rhetoric has stirred up political passions among Americans on both sides of the debate. Ultimately, much of the hostility lacks a basis in facts, and immigration supporters decry this open hostility. They have gone so far as to demand the disbandment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Current legal actions by the American Civil Liberties Union strive to uphold domestic and international laws for vulnerable people.

Photograph by Joe Raedle for Getty Images (as seen on Vox.com)

With the American public divided on the issues, the future is uncertain. There are a few predictions that seem unavoidable, at least in the immediate future. As long as President Trump is in office, immigration from local neighbors like Mexico will continue to be more difficult and contentious. Additionally, there could be further restrictions on travel from Muslim-majority countries with an enhanced ‘travel ban.’ If the administration’s actions hold true, we can almost certainly guarantee that the reduction of asylum and political refugee grantees will continue. There are even whispers that the Trump Administration will pursue further action on legal immigrants.

These actions will likely have a negative impact on the world’s view of what was traditionally considered an inviting country, one willing to welcome the tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.” In fact, as the U.S. under the Trump administration continues to isolate itself, the rest of the world may acquiesce. The U.S. may find it increasingly difficult to find other nations willing to work with.

Long-term predictions are less certain, and are dependant on future administrations. Harsh policies might become entrenched and even expanded. Perhaps, however, immigration law will revert to its former, more accepting positions. Only time will tell.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. The second and third parts of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series will be published soon.

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The Minimalist Traveler: How to Make Temporary Accommodation Feel Like Home

Maybe you’re renting out an Airbnb for a few weeks. Maybe you’re a student studying abroad for six months. Maybe you’ve just moved to a new country and haven’t the expenses to jazz up your new dwellings.

Sometimes the easiest way to make temporary accommodation feel like home is to break out the credit card, but retail therapy and a minimalist lifestyle make for uncomfortable bedfellows. It was only recently that I really started to appreciate the importance of feeling at home in unfamiliar surroundings, and so lately I have been enjoying exploring what I can do to achieve this without blowing the bank and sacrificing the minimalist habits I have been developing over the past eighteen months.

If you’re been following my movements over the past six months or so, you might know that I have recently up and left to Oxford in the United Kingdom. But one thing you might not know is that I struggled a little to make our apartment from a house, into a home. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly cheesy. But it’s the truth. I pride myself on owning few material items – if I own more than can fit in a suitcase, I start to grow antsy – but there’s no reason why those few material items can’t be special. If you disagree, tell that to the kitsch Darth Vader ornament I’ve been lugging across four continents.

Whatever your situation, here are six ways that you – the minimalist traveller – can make temporary accommodation feel like home…

Stock up on your favourite brew

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that, “… a cup of tea would restore my normality”. I am not here to argue with such words of wisdom.

A good cup of tea can go a long way. If you have a specific type of tea that you always drink, stocking up so that you can make regular brews can be a nostalgic and joyous way to bring the flavours of home with you. I personally like a strong Melbourne Breakfast first thing in the mornings, and this brew has certainly helped to establish a semblance of familiarity. The homeliness of tea doesn’t just have to be acquired through taste either; the therapeutic effect of brewing it up cannot be understated.

Photograph courtesy of Kira auf der Heide for Unsplash

Bloom

Something that I have noticed contributes heavily to the alienness of moving into a new place is the atmosphere of lifelessness. Have you ever noticed how, well, dead somewhere feels when you first arrive? It doesn’t exactly lend a helping hand when you’re trying to make somewhere feel vibrant and lived in. To boost both ambience and morale, I like to spruce up the place with some fresh flowers.

If you’re staying at an Airbnb – particularly one on the more extravagant side – some hosts will go out of their way to welcome you. You might unlock the door to your new dwelling and find a gorgeous bouquet of flowers waiting for you. However, for those of us that don’t have the luxury of such opulent greetings, we have to make our own joy.

I am by no means suggesting you go to your local florist and spend an arm and a leg purchasing a bouquet of roses. In my case, I like to wander out to the garden and just stick a handful of daisies and daffodils in an unused glass with water. I wake up every morning to this splash of colour on my bedside table, and they make me smile. Nothing more, nothing less.

Depending on where you are – I’m thinking alone the lines of Spain or Thailand – it is also relatively inexpensive to buy a small bunch of flowers at a nearby farmer’s market. Not only does having fresh flowers enhance your home aesthetic, but it is also an opportunity for you to nurture and cultivate something. This personal accountability can do wonders for your mental health in a new and foreign place. Furthermore, as they are living things, flowers do not last forever; ideal for the minimalist traveller.

Photograph courtesy of Nordwood for Unsplash

Bring the familiar to the unfamiliar

I mentioned above that I lugged a kitsch Darth Vader ornament across four continents, and I wasn’t kidding. My mother didn’t hesitate to raise her eyebrows as I struggled to close the zip on my suitcase.

Amongst my darling Darth Vader included a vintage world map, a Vietnamese fan, and a ceramic bowl in the shape of a cat. Throughout my travels, I also accumulated a small collection of postcards and art from across the Mediterranean, as well as a plush camel from the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Because, why not.

I tend to prioritise little things like these over clothing in my suitcase, so I can afford to be a little superfluous in my packing. But even if you haven’t the space to do so, there are still pieces of nostalgia that anyone can fit. Just as an example, if you are often troubled by homesickness, try slipping a birthday card from a parent into your laptop case. It will take up no extra room, and it’s something special to keep close.

It’s incredible just how familiar an unfamiliar space can become if you decorate it with just one or two personal items. I don’t usually encourage materialism (says the girl with the plush camel 🙄) but a little sentimentality never hurt anybody. This method also encourages appreciating what you already have, which is something sorely neglected nowadays.

Photograph Courtesy of Elsa Noblet for Unsplash

Reinstate habits from home

These past few months I have invested heavily in meditation, which has turned out to be an ideal exercise because it doesn’t require any equipment nor space. Throughout my travels and exchange experience, I would always set aside at least a couple of minutes every day to perch cross-legged on my bed, close my eyes, and practice mindfulness. Not only has it dramatically improved my mental health, but because it is something I only do wherever I am staying , it makes me feel at home regardless of where on the planet I am.

If meditation isn’t your kind ‘o thing, then other activities that spring to mind include yoga, watching stand-up comedy, or gardening. Anything would work really, as long as it is an activity that you would perform exclusively at home. Creating a strong mental association with that activity and your living space will help to foster positive associations with your new environment.

Photograph courtesy of Nik MacMillan for Unsplash

Embrace aroma

Not unlike reinstating habits from home, you might choose to reinstate smells from home. This is also not unlike brewing your favourite pot of tea, but instead of engaging your gustation senses, you are engaging your olfaction senses.

There is something so utterly healing about candles, I just can’t put it into words. I don’t know whether it is the dancing flame on the wick, or the soft scent that emanates from the wax, but what I do know is that as soon as I light a match, I calm right the f*ck down. Although this tip might involve some spending, candles are nevertheless an item that can be used. They will not last forever, and I think that part of their appeal is their finiteness.

A lot of places do not allow residents to burn candles indoors, but for those that do, I can strongly recommend finding a candle of your choosing and lighting it when you start to feel displaced. Objectively soothing scents include lavender and chamomile, but even better is if you have a scented candle you would normally burn at home that you can burn in your new lodging to restore the familiarity.

Photograph courtesy of Nathan Dumlao for Unsplash

Get cookin’

Last but not least, make an effort to cook your favourite homemade dishes. When you are in a new country, the newness of the available food can be especially overwhelming; I remember returning home from Southeast Asia and craving nothing more than meat and three veg (this was before the vegetarian phase). As much as I had enjoyed the Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, I swore I could not eat anymore rice for at least a month.

If you are in a similar situation and the local restaurants are not tickling your fancy, try and stock your pantry with ingredients from home, and relish cooking (and of course, eating) food from your own culture. Cooking can really become something special and almost intimate if you see it as more than a means to the end of quelling your appetite.

Photograph courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo for Unsplash

One last note I wanted to make is about attitude. Even if you commit to all of the above, your new place is never going to feel like home if you don’t at least approach it with an adaptable and constructive attitude. People can find themselves in new environments both willingly and unwillingly, but if your priority is to make the most of the situation, a positive attitude is essential. Now, sometimes a negative attitude is necessary to get out of a bad situation, but if you are reading this piece, then I imagine that doesn’t describe you.

Making temporary accommodation feel like home doesn’t have to mean blowing your budget or surrounding yourself with meaningless objects just to make the space feel less empty. Home means something different to everybody, and once you figure out what your home is, well…  that’s when you won’t need to read articles like this anymore.

In February of 2017 (lordy that feels like a long time ago…) I published a guest post on the Travelettes called How to Get Comfortable with Traveling. As I wrote, “I’m not talking about homesickness… at least, not entirely”, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably identify strongly with that unnerving feeling whenever you’re out of your geographic comfort zone. This article addresses that, and I am linking it here because I think that it’s very relevant to what I’ve discussed in the present article.

Let me know your thoughts.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”

I woke up this morning to an article in the Guardian by Stephen Burgen called Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome: Why Barcelona Chose Migrants Over Visitors. The refugee crisis is an issue I am fiercely concerned about; you may even remember an article I published earlier this year called Invisible Victimisation: The Gender Politics of the Refugee Crisis. Reading the Guardian, some spark of motivation gripped me – something that happens all too rarely of late – and I seized my laptop and began to jot down my own thoughts.

I warn you that this is not a polished, introspective response to Burgen’s piece. Rather, this is a somewhat fragmented collection of my thoughts at 9am on a Monday morning before my first cuppa. I haven’t even finished the piece prior to writing this introduction. But that’s what I wanted: something sincere and barefaced. A conversation with you, the reader – and conversations don’t have the luxury of review.

But without further ado!

If you haven’t read the article of which I am writing about, I strongly recommend you do. Nevertheless, I’ll give you some context. Burgen begins by remembering a protest that took place in Barcelona last year targeting Spain’s refugee quota. Around the same time, graffiti began cropping up around the city that read ‘tourists go home, refugees welcome’. The Spanish media quickly termed the phenomenon turismofobia.

What was driving this outcry? As Burgen writes, “… it is tourism, not immigration, that people see as a threat to (Barcelona’s) very identity”.

I harbour many thoughts about identity politics. A lot of those thoughts are still scattered and only half-formed, and for that reason, I will not offer my full opinion until I am confident that I can articulate it well. But what I will say is that I do not believe identity to be productive – at least not in the sense Burgen is appealing to. This is a position that I expressed in my post In Defence of Cultural Appropriation. To paraphrase and truncate this article, cultural identity is destructive because it divides communities and encourages hostility through an us-them mentality. If we are ever going to enjoy a society where people of all backgrounds are treated equal, then I believe that identity is a construct we need to challenge.

However, the plot thickens when we apply this line of reasoning to Burgen’s article. If we analyse the above quote, we understand Burgen to be arguing that refugees in fact form part of Barcelona’s identity, whereas tourists jeopardise it. Here, we observe that the traditional paradigm – whereby refugees are framed as the problem – is reversed. Barcelona’s identity politics are working towards helping an impoverished group who have consistently been demonised for their own suffering and plights. Barcelona sees embracing ‘outsiders’ as integral to its sense of self.

Thus, can I still argue that identity is a bad thing?

The answer is yes.

Even if in some cases identity encourages group altruism, I do not believe it to be constructive if it still comes at somebody else’s expense. Now, that ‘somebody else’ may be privileged tourists who might have spent more time contemplating what colour bikini they are going to wear on Playa Mar Bella than the refugee crisis, but that expense is still an expense.

I am neither arguing that tourism is always a good thing: as a travel blogger, I may be the pot calling the kettle black, but I am not ignorant to the negative impacts tourism can – and does – hold. In the context of Barcelona alone, the city receives roughly twenty times as many tourists as residents. To quote Burgen, this number is “… driving up rent, pushing residents out of neighbourhoods, and overwhelming the public space”. I do not disagree that these consequences are undesirable and should be addressed.

Is the answer to ban tourism? In my eyes, no. One of the major positive impacts of tourism is that it can expose people to the lives of others and teach them that different doesn’t automatically mean bad. It can teach people that their own experience does not reflect the human experience, and that they can learn so much from those they interact with.

“… immigration has changed the city, but tourism is destabilising it”.

Stephen Burgen

One of Barcelona’s district councillors, Santi Ibarra, further argues that “… tourism takes something out of neighbourhoods… it makes them more banal – the same as everywhere else”. I sympathise with Ibarra, although perhaps for different reasons. I also sympathise to an extent with Burgen, although I take issue with some of his claims. For example, he claims that diversity is to be celebrated rather than condemned, and yet he seems to imply that tourism cannot offer that. Part of me instinctively wants to cheer him on. When I think of the word ‘tourist’, my mind conjures images of homogenous white people wearing sandals and brandishing selfie sticks. I mean, I just googled ‘tourist’, and had to actually scroll before I saw any colour representation. Try it. But the reality is that tourists are no less diverse than refugees, and to insist otherwise will help no one.

Barcelona prides itself on maintaining a large immigrant population without interpersonal conflict, but I fail to understand how, in the same breath, it can also pride itself on breeding conflict between residents and tourists. Travellers need to hold themselves accountable for being educating about responsible tourism, and they need to treat the cities they visit with respect. Those that do not should be penalised in some just way. But they should not be banned from certain cities simply for wanting to experience more of the world.

So… what is the answer?

I don’t know. I’m not writing this to offer a solution to Barcelona’s tourism problem. I’m writing this to share my messy, 9am on a Monday, tea-less thoughts. I am feeling optimistic about the council’s 2015 approach to “… impose a moratorium on new hotels… contain the spread of tourist apartments and devise an urban plan… that prioritises local commerce over businesses aimed at tourists”. I can imagine a similarly optimistic outcome for extending these changes to public transport so that residents can actually move within their own city. What I am not feeling optimistic about is an outright ban on tourism in Barcelona – or anywhere else, for that matter.
In his Guardian article, Stephen Burgen reflects upon the palpable tension between Barcelona residents and tourists. I think it is fantastic that Barcelona is challenging the close-mindedness many communities experience regarding the refugee crisis, but what I don’t think is so fantastic is their use of identity politics to ostracise the tourist population. I sympathise deeply with much Burgen has said, and as someone coming from a country that harbours its own resentment towards tourists, I agree that it is an issue that demands urgent address. But Barcelona’s reasons for ostracising tourists is unjustified. Identity should never have come into the equation, and if the city wants to rationalise its animosity, it would do better to look to concrete logistics such as housing shortages and transport issues that simply cannot accommodate the hordes.
If this opinion piece has whet your appetite, make sure to peruse Airline Inequality: A Social Microcosm of Class. I would also love to hear your feedback on the articles I linked above in this post about the refugee crisis and cultural appropriation. Drop a line to my email below.
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Contrived Perfection: Why You Won’t Find Me On Instagram

In January 2015, I signed up to a little app called Instagram.

I remember vividly the joys of waking up in the morning, grabbing my phone from the bedside table, and scrolling down my feed to see what had happened in the Insta-sphere overnight. I would schedule when to upload my pictures with an almost neurotic zest, and the photo editing app VSCO became like second nature to me. Even in the days before the Ginger Passports, I followed an impressive selection of travel bloggers; some of my favourites were Lauren Bullen of @gypsea_lust, and the curated @dametraveler. I would be lying if I said that the jaw-dropping photography I saw through this platform didn’t in part inspire me to create my own travel blog.

Cut to late 2016.

“Why don’t you give that bloody thing a break for once?” asked my boyfriend as I was checking my phone for the umpteenth time to see who had liked my latest gram. It took me a moment to mentally pull away from the screen and engage with what he was saying.

He wasn’t exaggerating. I unwittingly seized any opportunity to disconnect from my immediate responsibilities and immerse myself in the app – a disconnection that is somewhat ironic, coming from a social application designed to facilitate connection. I didn’t pay him much heed at the time, but it wasn’t long before I began to really consider my participation in such a community. It wasn’t until it reached the point where I scrapped a potential trip to Portugal because I couldn’t find transport to a particular Insta-worthy location that I deleted the app in cold blood. My hard-earned followers and hours of arduous planning and aesthetic calculation circled down the drain.

Deleting Instagram was the best decision of my online life.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. It took a wee while for me to adjust back to life in the slow lane. For several weeks after, I still couldn’t meet a friend for coffee without being distracted by which filter my chai latte would look best under. I remember panicking when I booked my flight to Madrid because my ticket said I was seated on the aisle, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to post epic views from out the window. It took me a decent five minutes before it dawned on me that I no longer had to bother with any of that stuff. But at the end of the day – and one and a half years later – I can sincerely say that I do not regret my decision to leave that community.

It seems that I’m not the only one harvesting bones to pick with the social media giant. Time magazine published an article in 2017 called ‘Why Instagram is the Worst Social Media For Mental Health‘, and I couldn’t agree with their findings more. Studies show that the psychological distress fostered by the app can lead to debilitating anxiety and depression. An individual in the article commented that, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough, as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”

This is where I segue into why I am denouncing Instagram. The main problem I have with it is that it paints an unrealistic portrait of life. In the context of travel bloggers, this means a feed saturated with photos of ‘contrived perfection’, to quote former internet celebrity Essena O’Neill. Success on Instagram for travel influencers has been reduced to a formula: devastatingly beautiful model + turned away from the camera + isolated location + heavy editing = triumph. Anything outside of this formula is far less likely to garner such a positive response.

If you’re unconvinced, just take a look at the grams below. These are some gorgeous snaps taken by Jessica Stein of Tuula Vintage, Nicola Easterby of Polkadot Passport, Brooke Saward of World of Wanderlust, and Kiersten Rich of the Blonde Abroad. They also happen to meet the criteria stated above.

These photographs do not represent the the reality of travel blogging, nor of these travel bloggers’ lives. But when all anyone sees is the final product, you can’t blame them for thinking that. You can’t blame anyone constantly inundated with this sort of media not to question their own life, and by extension, their own self-worth. In a social culture that thrives off conspicuous consumerism, how we present our lives can become a reflection of their value. Digital manipulation and selective presentation can be dangerous.

I want to make it very clear that I do not for one moment think that these Instagrammers have their success handed to them on a silver platter. Nor do I for one moment think that their work is shallow or meaningless. People simply don’t understand the hard work that goes into ‘making it’ in this industry. I follow all of the blogs and read all of the content produced by these women, and I cannot even begin to imagine the sheer amount of time, effort and money that goes into these pieces. I don’t just follow these women, I look up to these women – just not for the pretty pictures you’ll find on the ‘gram. If you want to further understand why, take a moment to read about Jessica’s experience raising a newborn daughter diagnosed with a rare chromosome disorder, Brooke’s take on sacrifice and personal values, Nicola’s advice on how we can stop letting animals be abused for tourism, and Kiersten’s guide on how you can volunteer abroad.

I am not here to drag these women down; I am here to offer a critique as to how Instagram removes pictures from their context, and purveys an exclusive, one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all view of traveling.

“I joined Instagram relatively recently, mainly to look at travel photos of places and people around the world… but was disappointed (by) how many of the photos seemed to follow a particular format. A thin, blonde, white girl stands in a floaty dress, her back to the viewer, in a seemingly preordained beautiful location. Off camera, a queue of other ‘influencers’ wait patiently to get the perfect shot.”

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett for the Guardian

Columnist and author Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is onto something. As she continues to write in her article on how Instagram is sucking the life and soul out of travel, “when most travel photographs on Instagram begin to look like fashion editorials, you have to wonder whether anyone is learning anything.” Call me old-fashioned, but I like to think that travel should be an opportunity first and foremost to educate yourself on life beyond your front gate. Only a privileged few even get the chance, so why would you waste it on somebody else’s aesthetic taste?

The psychology behind Instagram proves to be particularly interesting. An article by Wolf Millionaire outlined several cognitive mechanisms by which we might understand the addiction of this app. According to the article, Instagram activates the reward centres in our brains; by sharing our goings-on with our followers – and subsequently receiving positive feedback in the form of likes and comments – we are reinforcing the activity. The reciprocity effect comes into effect here, whereby we exploit the habit of returning favours to people who have helped us in some way. In the context of Instagram, this means that when we like someone’s picture, we eagerly anticipate that person liking one of ours back.

But that is not to say that all of these cognitive mechanisms are ultimately beneficial. Relative deprivation refers to the psychological phenomenon whereby we compare our lives to other people’s. This is an occurrence which wreaks havoc on our mental health when we forget that what we see on Instagram is the cherry pickings of people’s lives. For every envy-inducing photo of a stunning travel blogger posing beneath the Eiffel Tower, there are a dozen others where people kept walking into shot, the wind was blowing her hair into her face, or a cloud wasn’t cooperating (trust me, I’ve been there). This relative deprivation is possibly the biggest influence regarding why I decided to call it quits on Instagram; I didn’t even know I was committing it until I went cold turkey and realised that suddenly my life didn’t seem so drab anymore.

Recently, Instagram have also changed their presentation algorithms from a chronological system to one that favours the big guns in the industry over the underdogs.  As Sara Melotti of Behind the Quest wrote, “What once used to be about content and originality is now reduced to some meaningless algorithm dynamics and who has the time and the cash to trick this system wins the game”. Some might argue that there is nothing wrong or unethical about this – after all, that’s just the nature of business. But does this mean we should continue to support this? Or should we protest against the implications? This raises another provocative question: whose responsibility is it to make a change? Should Instagram really bear the moral burden, or is it up to its users?

 

I am fully aware that Instagram is not just one of, but perhaps the most valuable tool by which to grow your brand. It is essentially a platform that has enjoyed a front row seat in the shift from traditional forms of advertising to something that blurs the lines between marketing and reality. If I decided to bite the bullet and create another Instagram account, I can almost guarantee that my follow count for the Ginger Passports would grow exponentially. I would probably gain more access to sponsorships and other resources that I could convert into the means to travel without breaking the bank and making other financial sacrifices. Nearly eighteen months on from when I launched this blog, I probably still wouldn’t be bending over backwards to try and secure business partnerships. Life would probably be a hell of a lot easier.

But life also isn’t lived under a filter.

As of the time of writing, my advertising is pretty humble. I rely on organic growth and the conviction that meaningful, thought-provoking content will convince readers to come back time and time again rather than closing the tab for good. I focus on creating content for my blog rather than social media so that I have the luxury and accommodation to actually communicate my thoughts and go beyond the aesthetic. I have made a conscious decision not to make myself a feature of this blog, but rather to showcase places and other people who I believe can make a bigger and better impact. At the end of the day, I am a writer.

Instagram is an incredible platform that holds the potential to introduce the world to unknown talent and artistry. However, it is also a tool that is used and abused. Sometimes I think that it’s sad how such a masterful invention is coupled with such harmful, negative side effects. Imagine the relationship we would have with Instagram if we all understood the implications and actively worked against them. But in practice, this would never happen, and so I am investing in what I personally believe to be a much better alternative: platforms that encourage discussion above all else.

Maybe abstaining from Instagram is going to be the downfall of my blog. Maybe abstaining from Instagram is the only thing holding me back. But I’ve made my bed, and – considering that it is something I wholeheartedly believe in – I guess I’d better lie in it.

There’s no filter for that.

If you’re hungry for another opinion piece, feast your eyes on Why I Hate the Word Wanderlust. It’s still one of my favourites to date.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Everything You Need to Know About Booking an Ethical Safari

For most people, going on a safari is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For a lucky few – such as the people who operate safari tours in Africa – it becomes a way of life.

For these people, every day is an opportunity to interact with nature. They are privileged to personally experience some of the most intimate aspects of the wild. From the birth of a lion cub, to the hunt and capture of prey, the natural world is simply fascinating. There are few things in this world that will inspire and fill you with wonder as much as witnessing the majesty of nature undisturbed.

However, it pays to highlight that last word: undisturbed. Is it really possible to attend a safari whilst leaving the environment untouched? How do acts of tourism affect natural wildlife? If a safari is on your bucket list, issues like these might have you questioning whether it’s really such a great idea after all.

Allow us to introduce ethical safaris

Ethical safari companies practice responsible tourism to make it possible for tourists to enjoy the safari experience whilst promoting ethical standards and practices. These standards include protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of safari wildlife. For example, an ethical safari would never promote interaction with the animals that might harm them or disturb their natural environment, such as petting, handling, or hunting. Ethical safaris operate for the purpose of fostering education and appreciation for the natural world, rather than sportsmanship or exploitation of wildlife.

By practicing responsible tourism now, ethical safaris afford us the opportunity to observe nature – undisturbed – long into the future.

Responsible tourism… what’s it all about?

Simply put, responsible tourism is tourism that benefits the environment, animals, and people. It’s about respect for the ethical, racial, and political sensitivities of different cultures. There are a lot of facets to responsible tourism – and plenty of ways to unwittingly cross the line – however for the most part, this respect can be upheld through common sense.

With nature-based tourism such as safaris, we need to be looking at the impact our actions have on the natural environment. In order to thrive, natural ecosystems work towards maintaining a consistent balance. When something upsets this balance – for example, human intrusion – the natural system is disturbed. Food sources might be eliminated, or habitats destroyed. Consistently intruding upon the environment can devastate the natural inhabitants.

Our goal is to learn more about and enjoy our world while respecting that we have an obligation to minimize the impact of our actions. Protecting the earth’s natural environments ensures that species of animals and plants don’t risk extinction. It’s a promise to future generations that we will do our part to not only leave the world the way it was found, but hopefully to also make it a better place. Without a commitment to responsible and ethical tourism, much of what we take for granted today might someday only be experienced through history books. We’ve been trusted with the earth; it’s our job to protect it.

What to look for in an ethical safari

It’s nearly impossible to attend a safari and not be in complete awe of the world around you. But to maintain the natural environments of the animals, it is crucial that we take care to impede upon them as little as possible.

Before booking a safari, it’s a good idea to do a little research. Start by looking at each company, their mission statements and commitment to the community. Call and ask questions. If you’re unsure as to how to go about this, a travel agent who has experience in helping people find ethical safaris is a valuable resource. Finally, you can also contact South Africa National Parks to learn more.

Here are 8 things to be mindful of before booking your safari…

  • Safety should always be the number one priority. Your safari provider should have a strict set of rules for behaviors in place to protect both you and the animals.
  • There should be a focus on understanding that the animals aren’t there for entertainment purposes only. Guests should walk away from an ethical safari having been educated.  
  • Expect to view natural animal behaviors. During an ethical safari, you should never observe an animal being coerced into performing tricks or other showman-like behavior.
  • Look for safari providers that are committed to the local community or involved in conservation projects. These providers are more likely to adhere to ethical practices.
  • Ethical safaris should support sustainable practices. There should be little – if any – focus on souvenirs, especially those that are sourced directly from the environment. Avoid sales of items crafted using animal parts, natural artifacts or endangered plant life.
  • Ethical safaris will not permit the handling of wildlife; don’t expect to be able to cuddle the baby animals.
  • Avoid booking nighttime safaris unless they take place in an area where there are nocturnal animals only. Headlights, flashlights and camera flashes are disruptive to the nighttime habitat and sleep patterns of most animals.
  • Ethical safaris will limit the number of vehicles and attendees per safari so as to not overstimulate or intrude upon the animals and environment.

The number one goal of an ethical safari provider is to protect and preserve the health and safety of the animals and their environment – and you! No safari should ever endanger any for the sake of tourism.

If you’re interested in booking an ethical safari, we can guide you in the right direction. We at DK Grand Safaris are committed to responsible tourism, and offer a variety of safari services to fulfil your bucket list. We want to host you on one of our amazing adventures, like a Kenyan Photographic Safari, Masai Mara Migration Safari, Gorilla Trek, or other unique experience throughout Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. Contact us today to learn more.

If you want to learn more about how you can be an ethical traveler and support animal rights, then the Reality of Elephant Riding in Thailand might be of great interest to you 🐘

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8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad

I realise that I’m probably not the archetypal exchange student. I largely went on exchange to escape a love-hate relationship with my home country, and I had no intentions of returning afterwards. Homesickness simply was not an issue for me, and the decision to study abroad in the first place was not complicated by attachment to my old social life.

Nevertheless, the fact that my exchange did not come with a sacrifice did not mean that it was all smooth sailing from the moment I stepped on that plane.

I went to the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and – at risk of sounding like a walking cliché – it was one of the best experiences of my life. Certainly, it was the peak of my undergraduate degree. Aside from all the other reasons studying abroad is fantastic, it provided me with an opportunity to reevaluate the direction I am heading, and to work out which things I really want to pursue after university. There’s nothing like being plucked out of the comfort and familiarity of home routine to question whether those same comforts and familiarities are really all that.

Yet, as I said, there still exist a number of key things I wish I had known before going on exchange. If you’re in the position I was six months ago – tickets bought, suitcase packed – then maybe you too can benefit from a little hindsight.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

You don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing

If that doesn’t make sense, allow me to rephrase.

You don’t have to make your study abroad experience a reflection of the advertised stories you hear from returned students. Before going on exchange, my impression was that studying abroad was basically one to two semesters where you made a ton of new friends, went out partying every night, and every Friday, flew to a new destination for a weekend break.

And hey – maybe this is your cup of tea. I’m not here to tell you how you should and shouldn’t spend those months. But what I am here to do is to reassure you that there is no one template to the exchange experience. Me, personally? I probably made about seven or eight close friends. I didn’t go out partying once, and my traveling was saved for before and after the semester. And you know what? I am perfectly happy with that. I don’t see my experience as any less of a success purely because I was more of a homebody and preferred to get a leisurely feel for the city as a local rather than a visitor. I wanted to walk away regarding Bristol as a home rather than a holiday destination – and I achieved just that.

You’ll mostly meet international students

This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want to get out of your exchange, but from my experience, I really struggled to meet locals.

The locals I did meet were the ones I was flatting with – and even then, I was also flatting with other internationals. I soon discovered that the sorts of social events I participated in, and the sorts of people who made use of social apps, were far more likely to be internationals than locals (or even just other people from the United Kingdom).

Don’t get me wrong; I love meeting people from all around the globe. One of the closest friends I made was a gorgeous ray of sunshine from Germany. But… it’s kind of like when you go on holiday and only end up mingling with the tourists.

Your lecturers don’t give a damn that you’re an exchange student

When classes began, I wasn’t expecting special treatment. But as I had never studied at the University of Bristol before – let alone in the tertiary system of the United Kingdom – I was arguably disadvantaged academically. There were a lot of disparities between the system there and the system back in New Zealand, and some naïve and idealistic part of me had anticipated at least a briefing from my lecturers beforehand.

It didn’t make matters easier that I was studying third-year papers. At least if you are studying with first-years, the lecturers treat you as though you’ve just come out of high school and are as oblivious to the university system as the next eighteen year old. But I was thrown in (well, opted for) the deep end, and right from the word go, I felt like I was wading against a downhill current.

The solution to this isn’t to follow my lead and sit at the back of the class scratching your head. Rather, the solution is to introduce yourself to your lecturers on day one, explain that you are an exchange student and that the system is unfamiliar to you, and tell them that you might need a little extra direction throughout the semester. Your lecturers won’t think you any less capable; instead, they will likely commend you on your initiative and go out of their way to help you the best that they can.

Do not take travel for granted

One of the perks of studying abroad is not just the opportunity to experience student life in a different culture, but also to travel. Other Kiwis can sympathise with me when I grumble about New Zealand’s isolation, and how expensive it is to fly to even the closest country. Because of this, many students are motivated to study abroad because of the relative ease in which they can see more of the world.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Bristol was to purchase £10 return tickets to Germany. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how cheap it was to roam Europe when you have second-largest international airport practically on your doorstep.

Whilst I didn’t venture out of the United Kingdom during my exchange (those Germany tickets ultimately went to waste), I did spend a whopping four months traveling before the semester began. Make the most of gaps between semesters, as it is highly likely the school year between your home university and overseas university will not align.

Going on exchange during the last semester of your degree is not the smartest idea

During the organisation process for my exchange, my university warned me on multiple occasions that I was risking completing my degree on time by studying abroad during my last semester. I, of course, turned a blind eye to their advice. But it only took a few days of studying abroad to fully realise the gamble I had made.

Unlike in New Zealand, your papers (or units, as they are called) in Bristol are not finalised until after you arrive for the semester. This generally isn’t a problem unless you are counting on specific papers to meet the requirements of your major and minor so that you can pass your degree in a couple of months’ time. Unfortunately, I happened to be in that exact situation, and all chaos broke lose when I arrived only to discover that one of those mandatory papers I had elected was cancelled. Fortunately, I was able to convince my home university to let me take another one that didn’t exactly align with the requirements of my original major, meaning that I wouldn’t have to travel all the way back to New Zealand just to take one paper to pass my degree.

This isn’t a position you want to be in. Your study abroad experience shouldn’t be inhibited by technicalities, and you can avoid this by planning your exchange for somewhere in the middle of your degree.

You actually have to make an effort to make friends

This kind of ties into the point I made earlier about how you don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing. Although returned students make it seem as though they had new friends coming out of their ears, achieving this isn’t a passive process.

It’s super easy to meet people; just turn up to a social event and say hello. But progressing from that initial introduction stage to actually seeing someone on a regular basis and developing some kind of friendship is a very different thing. As soon as I realised this, I stopped going to bigger social events and began focusing on one on one interactions where the chance of getting to know someone was better.

This is where social apps are a huge helping hand. I highly recommend you download Bumble, which has a ‘BFF’ setting which lets you match with individuals of the same gender with the intentions of making friends. Couchsurfing – which I have raved about countless times in the past – is also great for finding both locals and travellers (contrary to what most people believe, you don’t actually have to couch surf to use Couchsurfing). A recent discovery of mine is Meet Up, which lets you join different groups where you can connect and meet people who share common interests. It’s a bit like the clubs and societies part of the university experience without the university experience. At one stage, I even created a Tinder account, set my settings to girls, and wrote a straight up bio saying, “Hi, I’m here to abuse Tinder and make actual friends.” To much surprise, this produced great success.

Academia is important – but not in the way you think

I’m not an expert on the way other universities function, but as was the case with my experience – and similarly with other exchange students I have talked to worldwide – you do not receive a grade for your work. Rather, you receive either a pass or fail, rendering both excellent and standard work to the same level of recognition. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The implication of this is that many students adopt a certain “f*ck it” attitude towards their studies during exchange. After all, what’s the point in cramming for hours and pulling all-nighters when there’s no actual payoff? I don’t deny the logic behind this approach, but I do want to raise another point.

Study abroad is a brilliant chance to take papers that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise. At Bristol, I enrolled in papers that were absent from the curriculum back home; ones that ended up fostering a passion and interest that I continued studying in my own time even after the exams were done and dusted. An example is a paper I took called Gender and Migration; I have published an abridged version of my final essay about refugees on the Ginger Passports, which you can read here.

Independence doesn’t always mean control

Whilst going on exchange will give you newfound independence, you won’t have complete control over everything. This is something I personally struggled with, as I am someone who loathes the feeling of powerlessness.

I was just about to write a list of the things you likely won’t be able to control, when it occurred to me that there is only one thing you really do have control over: you. So many things could happen whilst studying abroad; your flatmates might be antisocial or disrespectful, you might strike awful weather, you might fall incredibly ill, or there might even occur a political event that tunnels its way into your everyday life. Don’t get me wrong – these things suck. But one thing your exchange will teach you is to roll with the punches and make the most out of shitty situations. That’s not something you should mindlessly shrug off.

And now for the good stuff…

After rambling on and on about the things that I wish I had known before embarking on my exchange, I’m worried I’ve put some people off the remarkable adventure that is studying abroad. So to clear the air, here are the positive outcomes that nonetheless came out of the above…

  • I made peace with the fact that I am never going to be an extrovert who socialises over ten shots of Jägermeister. It may sound trivial, but accepting that took a weight off my shoulders and made me feel a hell of a lot more comfortable and fulfilled with a more relaxed lifestyle.
  • I met people from all over the world. It may not have felt like an asset at the time when I was trying to fully immerse myself in British culture, but now that I have invitations from all around the globe… I think it’s fair to say that it is by far one of the biggest advantages of going on exchange.
  • I was academically challenged. Looking back, I should have been far more proactive in reaching out to my lecturers when I was confused, but something that did come out of that was that I learnt to be more independent with my studies.
  • I spent four insane months traveling around Spain, France and Egypt before settling in England. These weren’t just high intensity one-day-in-each-city trips either; with the exception of perhaps Egypt (where I was based in Cairo for the whole time), I left each country feeling that I had an intimate understanding of it.
  • I was pushed out of my comfort zone when making friends. Back in New Zealand, the only new friends I made were ones I was introduced to when visiting old friends, so the art of meeting people was not one I had refined. When I arrived in Bristol, the thought of meeting someone in a coffee shop or art gallery for the first time made me positively squirm. But by the time my three months were up, I found myself looking forward to such encounters.
  • I discovered a new academic passion, which – as I have already said – I have written about on the blog.

Studying abroad can offer some of the biggest highs and some of the biggest lows. It may not be for everyone, but for those who are prepared to take the risk, the payoff is immense.

So… where do you want to go?

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis

Foreword: This is an essay I wrote as part of my undergraduate degree. Note that the text has been edited and the references removed to better fit this platform (to ask for a source, please contact me here). I realise that the tone and length may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but nevertheless, I feel that it is important to share this. I fear that with so many dreadful events reported everyday in the media, we will become – if we haven’t already – desensitised to the injustices of our governments.

The global refugee crisis is believed to be the worst humanitarian disaster since the second world war. Fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, we might presume that the only factor influencing the refugee experience prior to these individuals’ resettlement is the degree of suffering they endured. However, many do not reach the point of resettlement because a large obstacle faced when seeking asylum is being legally recognised as a refugee. There are many reasons why immigration officials might reject refugee claims, but these reasons often work to veil underlying motives.

Gender is one of these leading underlying motives for rejection of refugee status. Respective gender narratives for both women and men inform immigration officials’ decisions in dissimilar yet equally devastating ways. Through research and case studies, I argue that if the gender identities of asylum-seekers are inconsistent with Melanie Griffiths’ social construct of the ‘ideal refugee’ (as will be described below), they risk being denied protection by the receiving state despite meeting the conditions listed in the Refugee Convention.

As stated in Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, a refugee is defined as a person who “… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it”.

To be considered a refugee, applicants must fit into this definition. In many cases, this is straightforward; however, under certain circumstances, gender can be used as a vehicle by which the experiences of some refugees may be discounted.

By regarding the state as a hegemonically-masculine institution, asylum-seeking might be understood as partial to men. That means that men might be more likely to be recognised as refugees than women, and thus receive access to more protection than their female counterparts. Yet, in such an environment, the patriarchal paradigm that rewards men in other institutions can bestow an adverse effect.

The experiences of refugee men navigating the asylum system are characterised by powerful gender narratives. Some even argue that the state’s failed understanding of men as three-dimensional people is more problematic than the disadvantages posed by womanhood. Men tend to be painted as active agents unfailingly responsible for their circumstances; in the words of Ruth Judge, they are “… easily subsumed into the ugly caricature of (the) threatening young male asylum seeker”. Migrant men are often homogenised by the law as immigration criminals, thus rendering their vulnerabilities invisible. By constructing ideas of radicalised and morally deviant men, the state can justify denying refugee status on the grounds that such individuals would not serve national interests. This might be framed as setting men up as ‘better off’ to cope with the situation in their home country, and therefore less deserving of refugee status.

That is not to say that women are immune to typecasting. Not unlike in most arenas of life, they are depicted as naturally passive and vulnerable. According to these constructions, the female body is repeatedly victimised — an image Rutvica Andrijasevic likens to that of a puppet on strings. This metaphor of the ‘human marionette’ conveys how the female body is lifeless, helpless, and able to be manipulated and exploited by the strings on which it is borne. This identity contrasts with the narrative that men pose a safety threat, and perhaps feeds into what many academics call a ‘feminisation’ of the refugee experience.

Photographed by Roger Arnold for the United Nations

Those who have studied sociology and criminology might be familiar with Nils Christie’s concept of the ‘ideal victim’. The ideal victim is defined as an individual who is weak, virtuous, innocent, and attacked by a stranger who is big, bad and powerful. They are also recognised as someone who cannot threaten the interests of those trying to help them. Not unlike Christie’s ideal victim, Melanie Griffiths argues that there also exists an ‘ideal refugee’, with the characteristics of this individual reflecting that of the ideal victim. According to Griffiths, the ideal refugee is “… moralised, feminised, and pacified”, and stands in paradoxical contrast to what men are criticised for, yet are still expected to be. In light of this, the argument that men are more disadvantaged than women when seeking asylum appears reasonable. Gender synonymy — the idea that only women are affected by the gender regime of asylum-seeking — thus lacks conviction.

However, despite constructions around femininity aligning with those of the ideal refugee, female asylum-seekers are affected in other ways. In the Refugee Convention, we observe that the definition of a refugee is problematic because it operates under the assumption that all refugees share the same experiences and treatment regardless of their gendered identities. Issues pertaining to this arise when we consider how individuals more likely to be recognised as refugees are those who visibly participate in political activism. These individuals tend to be men, as women are more likely to engage in supportive roles that might not meet widespread understandings of political activism, and hence fly under the radar of immigration officials. The actions of these women are consequently rendered apolitical and invisible, and this invisibility greatly reduces their chance of being recognised as political refugees.

The invisibility of the political victimisation of women has contributed to the argument that gender should be included as a category in the Refugee Convention. James C. Hathaway insists that gender clearly meets the criteria of a “… social subset defined by an innate and immutable characteristic”, however feminist perspectives are unsympathetic to this. Although they agree that the rights of women are neglected during the asylum process, they also argue that including gender as a social group would only prove disadvantageous to women because of the assumption that women are persecuted purely because of their gender. Such an assumption is dangerous because, by holding their gender accountable, the law depoliticises women’s experiences as political agents. We know that political supporting roles are already rendered insignificant by the state; expanding that invisibility to gender would only regress the second-wave.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded to these dissensions by claiming that, “States… are free to adopt the interpretation of women asylum-seekers who face harsh or inhumane treatment due to their having transgressed social mores of the society in which they live… as a ‘particular social group’ within the meaning of… (the) Refugee Convention”. The key feature of this statement is that states can freely interpret what a particular social group entails. This means that they bear no legal responsibility to treat women as belonging to such a group.

Take the system adopted by the United Kingdom: each applicant is assessed as an individual rather than as a member of a social group. Susan Akram considers this to be a perilous gateway into cultural relativism (the idea that moral right and wrongness can be judged according to cultural norms).

Photographed by Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times

To further illustrate the consequences of this free interpretation, Akram recounts the 1991 case of Nada, who applied for refugee status in Canada after being persecuted in Saudi Arabia for refusing to wear a veil and resisting sexist laws. She explained how she had been stoned, spat on, and hissed at when venturing outside without her veil, and listed repressive laws such as driving, study and travel prohibition that compromised her freedom as a human being. She also noted that, if arrested, the mutawwa’in — the religious police — would beat and jail her for breaching these laws.

Nada’s lawyer cited both her political activism and membership to the social group of women as the grounds for her persecution in Saudi Arabia. Her case was rejected by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board because her feminist demonstrations were not considered political, and – quoting from Akram – it was “… not credible that an Arab Muslim woman would disagree with the authorities of a Muslim state”. Here, we observe both the invisibility of female political activism and cultural relativism interacting to weaken Nada’s case and serve the interests of the state.

While female refugees must grapple with the likes of the above, male refugees must deal with obstacles of a different kind. In 2015, Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would no longer accept single Syrian males as part of their refugee resettlement program. That decision impacts the future of refugees such as Adham, a 29-year-old man who left Syria for fear of being conscripted by the army. “There’s a lot of young men leaving Syria because they don’t want to be in the military,” he explained in the Al Jazeera article. “It’s better than being Syrian and killing one another.” Adham’s punishment for evading service is imprisonment and potentially death, and his solution was to apply for refugee status elsewhere. However, his ability to be recognised as such is complicated by the state’s conceptions of masculinity.

The argument many politicians offer as to why young, able-bodied men should not be granted asylum in this context is that they have a duty to stay back and fight for their country. Trudeau’s decision not to accept single Syrian males as refugees has been supported by the likes of Donald Trump, who drew upon the male-migrant-terrorist rhetoric when he quoted, “You look at migration (and) it’s young, strong men. We cannot take a chance that the people coming over here are going to be ISIS-affiliated”. Conscientious objectors such as Adham protest the assumption that young men have a responsibility to sacrifice themselves in a war that they do not support. His case highlights how the state can fail to understand violence directed at men — whether that be inflicted by the home or receiving state — as justification for protection. Both the case studies of Adham and Nada demonstrate how constructions of gender contribute to the difficulty in evidencing a prerogative for refugee status.

There exist many similarities between the experiences of female and male refugees. Their identities are both constructed by gendered narratives that essentialise their trauma, however it would be inappropriate to conflate the two. As explained by Melanie Griffiths, whilst it is far easier for women to fit the passivity and vulnerability of the ‘ideal refugee’, the depoliticisation of their actions and suffering undermines their claims to asylum. For many of these individuals, their womanhood reinforces “… the existing and paradigmatically masculine normative structures of international refugee law” (see Heaven Crawley). Meanwhile, male refugees are disadvantaged by constructs of masculinity that contradict the very meaning of the asylum-seeker. As the case of Adham demonstrates, it is somewhat ironic that states abuse their responsibility to protect male refugees, whilst simultaneously denying these refugee’s rights on the grounds that they have a responsibility to protect their own country.

By analysing the asylum-seeking process through a gendered lens, we can further understand how underlying assumptions preclude the experiences of both female and male refugees from state protection in the wake of this humanitarian crisis. Through such knowledge, we can address this gender discrimination and improve the future prospects of refugees on a global scale.

In the words of Katharine Charsley and Helena Wray, “… gender constructs policy as policy constructs gender.” The ramifications of this are clearly reflected in the asylum process, and illustrates the stronghold gender norms still have over society. Successfully challenging these norms is a process antithetical to all we have learnt, but the best place to start is through the exposure of such biases. If refugees can navigate the asylum-seeking system in the face of gender expectations and ideals, then the impact on their quality of life will be immeasurable.

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5 Things You Need to Do When Sick on the Road

When I arrived in Cairo for three weeks in September, my view for the first five days was the toilet bowel. A particularly evil bout of flu had descended upon my immune system, and the very first thing I ate in the country – vegetarian pizza, if you’re interested – invoked an unpleasant case of food poisoning that manifested from both ends. For five days, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and a whole lot of snot were my introduction to Egypt. Charming, I know.

When you travel, sickness is an inevitability. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to Iceland or India; exposure to foreign viruses and bacteria that you body may not have developed resistance to are enough to bring even the healthiest to their knees. Furthermore, it is all but impossible to travel without navigating dreaded public transport systems, and those environments are an orgy for bugs.

The prospect of falling ill can be especially frightening if you are embarking on a holiday with a very time-dependent itinerary. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case in Egypt. However, I have been in that situation before (shout out to bronchitis in Cambodia), and understand that it is very stressful and calls for some quick decision-making with financial consequences. That stress is only amplified if it is your first time solo traveling without ‘adult’ authority. Trust me, we’ve all been there.

Although I like to think I am a reasonably healthy person, I fail to remember a single trip where I have not suffered from illness at some point or another. So – for all you panicking sick folk out there – here is my advice for what you should do if you fall sick on the road…

Should I say it a little louder for those in the back? Buy. Travel. Insurance.

Okay, so this tidbit is more preventative that reactive. But nevertheless – invest in a decent travel insurance plan! When I left New Zealand, I spent over NZ$800 on a one year comprehensive travel insurance plan. This covered medical expenses, baggage, personal liability – you name it. At the time, I was kicking myself. Why on earth did I pay nearly one thousand dollars for something that I wasn’t guaranteed to need?! But lo and behold, I had claimed for more than what I originally paid in those first three months.

As long as what you are suffering from is not a pre-existing condition, you will be able to be compensated. That means that you should never be in a position where you are unwilling to see a doctor or buy medication overseas because you hadn’t factored the extra expense into your budget. Furthermore, the worse case scenario is no longer fraught by such financial consequences. To conclude, travel insurance is never a bad idea.

When I was in Cambodia, I woke up one morning to find that my throat had fallen victim to acute bronchitis. It was during the last two days of a month-long tour of Southeast Asia, on the home run returning to New Zealand. I couldn’t eat for the pain, and every few minutes, I would stumble towards the bathroom and hack up snotballs. Unlike my Egyptian anecdote, I had a whole two days of full itineraries ahead of me, and the prospect of soldiering on in such misery made me want to curl up in bed and cry.

As it happens, that’s just what I did.

Well, I didn’t cry, but I curled up in bed and didn’t leave the hotel room for 48 hours. Whilst it certainly wasn’t easy having to ring up our tour guides and cancel everything last minute, my body thanked me for the sacrifice when I managed to make the flight home under slightly more bearable circumstances.

Sleep is one of your leading weapons when facing illness, as it helps rebuild your immune system and fight infections. It is really important that you listen to your body during times like these, and catch the sleep you need when you need it. Even if it means having to cancel day trips and outings like I did in Cambodia, you will enjoy the rest of your trip to a much greater degree.

Another reason you should stay in bed is that it reduces the likelihood of other people getting sick. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people who are clearly ill insist on going about their day like nothing is at stake. I get it – there are situations where you simply cannot afford to miss something. But there are also plenty of others where you are doing yourself and everyone else a favour by staying in bed. Rampart bugs relating to travel can be particularly contagious, and if one person in the group falls ill, there’s a good chance others will too.

This doesn’t really apply to countries like England or the United States, but if your travels take you to slightly less developed places (for lack of a better term), then listen up.

Drinking tap water is a big no no in less developed corners of the world as microorganisms in the water can make you very sick. It may do no harm to the locals, but that is because their systems are familiar with the bacteria, and you should not follow suit. Bottled water isn’t a huge expense, and you’ll find crates of the stuff at corner shops on every street. Bear in mind that this rule also applies to things such as brushing your teeth and rinsed foods; this blog post is a really neat resource for everything you need to know about safe and unsafe drinking water when traveling.

On the health front, drinking plenty of water when you’re feeling under the weather is a must. Symptoms – such as vomiting and diarrhoea – dehydrate the body, and make you feel much, much worse. It’s also important to drink lots of water to ward off high temperatures.

The last thing you will want to eat after an intense pukefest is some extravagant, spicy, cultural dish. To be honest, you probably won’t want to eat anything; but alas, your body needs nutrients and energy to do it’s thing.

The key here is to try and find a balance of bland, ‘easy’ foods that you can stomach, whilst still being relatively healthy. My personal go to’s are apples and dry toast, but I have also heard that papaya, yoghurt and chicken soup are also good alternatives (but hey, as a vegetarian, I’m not exactly preaching the latter).

Last but not least, do not shy away from contacting a doctor. Sometimes when you’re on the road, and away from the comfort and familiarity of home routine, paying a visit to a doctor can seem downright out of place.  But the good news is that wherever you venture, there will always be a medical professional there to help you. Sure, there might be an extra cost – but you’ve got travel insurance, right? 😉

If you are staying in a hotel, most will have a service where a doctor will pay a house call. If you are worried or in a lot of pain, don’t be afraid to use this service. Even if you’re in a foreign country, there are almost always medical services catering to English-speaking tourists; and if you’re reading this blog, the chances are, you speak English.

The major advantage to consulting a doctor abroad is that you can find out exactly what is wrong with you, and how to deal with it. You will likely receive a prescription for medicine that you cannot access over the counter, and your recovery time will be shortened. When I fell ill in Cambodia, a doctor visited my hotel room, quickly conducted a series of blood tests, and then returned an hour later with a full sheet of results and recommended treatments. It was convenient, to say the least.

Travel is challenging enough when you’re feeling fit. Becoming sick when you’re outside of your comfort zone can push you to the limit, but it doesn’t have to be such a nuisance to sort out. The main thing you need to remember is to buy travel insurance before you depart; that way, regardless of what happens, there should be no barriers to treatment and recovery. Once that’s taken care of, the rest is downhill, no matter what the world throws at you.

For more travel advice, check out the following blog posts on the Ginger Passports…

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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