Máirín-Rua Ní Aodha speaks to Larry Moore Macauly, founding member and editor of the Refugee Radio Network which is based in Hamburg, Germany.
Larry Moore Macauly is a refugee and arrived in Germany 2 years ago, having left Nigeria. He set up the refugee radio network with 2 other refugees shortly after his arrival with the aim of empowering people and connecting cultures.He explains that they set up the network because “at that time there was no media outreach for refugees. Not only was there no media outreach, but the media were constantly showing refugees in a negative light and we wanted to tell our side of the story. We wanted to bridge the communication gap between refugees and the communities we are living in.”
Bridging the gap
Germany continues to be a top destination for refugees from all over the world. In the second quarter of 2016 Germany had the highest number of first time refugee applications in Europe, at over 186,700. Larry strongly believes that with such high levels of incoming refugees, integration and tolerance is key.
“We have a diverse listenership and that is our goal. We want people, refugees and communities in our host countries to hear the human stories behind all the media hype. We strongly believe that integration goes both ways. If our different communities are going to understand each other and live together happily we have to start by listening to each other.”
Accuracy and balance in the coverage of the crisis are also problematic. When Larry first started the radio program there was basically no coverage. Since then however there has been an influx of refugees and accordingly more coverage. But how much of this is accurate? And how much of this is true to the refugees themselves?
As Larry puts it: “You’ll see plenty of mainstream media outlets now have refugee radio projects, but it’s done purely for PR. The mainstream reports can often be very negative and intoxicating. Many of these stories and reports have created fear around refugees, and a ‘refugee syndrome’. In so many reports we have been dehumanised, reduced to statistics or horror stories, the refugee crisis is a crisis not for us, the victims of it, but for people in Europe who have to ‘tolerate us’”.
The Politics of Asylum
Politicians have absolutely failed to tackle the root causes and create political and social stability. It’s easier for politicians in Europe to overlook the economic disadvantages and environmental changes which put refugee’s lives and futures in danger. People will not sit and wait to die, they will move anywhere they can to make a future for themselves or even just have some temporary safety.
“The irony is that while politicians and nations as a whole try to refuse refugees, they are at the same time manufacturing and exporting weapons to the countries that these people come from. They are part of the problem but refuse to accept the consequences. Even when refugees get to the relative safety of Europe the hypocrisy continues, we hear stories of refugees being shot on European borders as they try to enter.”
These facts, while alarming, are certainly not surprising and are simply a reflection of the broader EU attitude. In 2015 52% of first time asylum applications had positive outcomes, which meant that for the other 48%, their presence in the EU was no longer legal and they faced relocation to other countries for asylum or the grim prospect of returning home.
Larry continues and says that even when refugees have been accepted in a host country their safety is not guaranteed. “There was a recent report of a refugee shot and killed by German police in Berlin. This was during a conflict between two refugees in which one man accused the other of molesting his child. He had a knife, but the police, instead of trying to diffuse the situation non-violently, shot him point blank and killed him. Why are the police allowed to do this? They could have shot him in the leg, his death was totally unnecessary. It just shows how little we are worth to European authorities.”
Refugee quotas is another policy which Larry believes is ineffective and inherently flawed. He believes that “It’s just an excuse for discrimination. It allows Europeans to say they will only accept people with university degrees or from whatever country of origin is biggest in the media. In the meantime, those left behind die. The idea that Europe is taking too many refugees is ridiculous to me; in West Africa there are refugee camps bigger than some European cities. Kenya has taken in more than 2 million refugees and they’re still coming.”
Displacement and Identity
Refugees face arguably one of the most traumatic losses known to humankind; not only do they lose friends and family, but they also lose their sense of belonging and home. As Salman Rushdie explores in The Satanic Verses, “Mingling with the remains of the plane, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.”
Larry echos this, relating that: “At the moment it’s only a small number of refugees that adapt, and it’s mostly the older generations. They have the life experience and skills to know how to deal with these situations; for the young it’s totally overwhelming.” More than four in five (83%) of the first time asylum seekers in the EU in 2015 were less than 35 years old; those in the age range 18–34 years accounted for slightly more than half (53 %) of the total number of first time applicants, while nearly 3 in 10 (29 %) applicants were minors aged less than 18 years old.
Empowerment is a word Larry uses again and again, and it seems particularly relevant to young refugees; “We need to start working to educate and empower these young people to handle the situations and the discrimination they face. For example, if your name is Akmad or Akim, no one will want to rent you an apartment. However refugees are not helpless, we need to encourage self employment and refugee led initiatives.”
Hopes for the Future
“The government and society need to find a way of tapping into these refugees to bring out the best in them. Language is essential and is the first step all refugees should take when getting to know their host country. If you can speak to people in their native tongue you’re always going to get a more positive response.”
“Learning a trade or skills that make you employable is also a great step, it gives people a purpose and allows them to contribute to society. So better integration education and vocational courses are 2 of my priorities. I firmly believe that the host country must open itself to new cultures too, and make an effort to appreciate and recognise the identities of the new arrivals.”
Larry also has a special message for refugees stuck in direct provision or struggling to find housing in Ireland: “Don’t give up, keep fighting and keep moving. Victory is certain, it’s only a matter of time.” His message is reflected in the words of Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, ““The fish,even in the fisherman’s net, still carries the smell of the sea.”