As the director of Leeds Asylum Seeker Support Network, I get a lot of emails from people: people offering their help and support, wanting information about what we do, even the occasional opportunity to earn ££££s in my spare time. This one was offering to sell us Banner Adverts for LASSN on the Daily Mail website, for £495.
I laughed out loud – as much at the idea that we might have £500 to spare on advertising – as the notion we’d want to spend it with the Daily Mail – whose reporting of asylum issues has sometimes been less than sympathetic.
I posted a screen grab of it on Facebook – without comment – where it gained more likes and views than we’ve had for months. I was glad other people saw the funny side of it too. But since then the advert has been a stone in my mental shoe – I’ve thought about it every day since.
Why should this be such a laughable idea, for me and so many others?
If we’re serious about challenging stereotypes wherever we find them, and serious in our belief that things can be better if we celebrate what makes us different – isn’t this a golden opportunity? An invitation to share our experience, and knowledge of the things we care about with people who don’t readily agree with us?
Now of course, I haven’t signed up, and squandered money that’d be better spent on supporting the people we work with, but it’s really helped me think about who our target audience should be. “Raising awareness of issues facing Asylum Seekers and Refugees” is key part of LASSN’s mission – but that has to mean having difficult conversations with people who are not necessarily sympathetic to begin with.
I’ve written elsewhere on Facebook about the importance of bearing witness to what we see around us, and helping others understand what we know from experience.
In recent days I’ve been amazed and inspired by the level of support and coverage for Yashika in the mainstream press, which was kicked off by her friends and teachers. This wasn’t started by asylum charities or experts or pressure groups. Just the people she knows. Even the Daily Mail covered the story.
Over the next few months and years, I want LASSN and OneWorldLeeds to find new ways reaching out to the wider public through the telling of stories, and sharing our personal experiences. I want us to rise to the challenge of the Daily Mail: to talk to the people who don’t know much about the experiences of Asylum Seekers, or Refugees, and who won’t necessarily agree.
I wonder if you have a story to share?