I’ve attempted to put together a five-image picture story on Hamed – a former asylum seeker and now refugee from Darfur – for my first LCC photo essay tutorial tomorrow. I’m not satisfied by the images, which I feel are pedestrian at best, but I think that’s probably healthy as there’s nothing worse than smugness. I’m looking forward though to getting some specific advice from Homer, my tutor, on how I could have done this better. A fuller edit is available here.
Well the asylum seeker story I wrote about earlier this week unfolded in quite an unexpected way today. Hamed, you may recall, has been living in limbo in Greater Manchester for five years now, ever since he turned up in a container ship at Liverpool docks, alone and terrified and unable to speak a word of English. His family had all been wiped out when Arab militia attacked their village in Darfur. I spent Monday with him, taking some portaits of him in his flat and accompanying him into town. Remarkably, the following afternoon Hamed’s solicitor called to say he had been granted indefinite leave to stay. He has now been officially promoted from asylum seeker to refugee…wonderful news and a huge weight off his shoulders.
I had no idea about this today when I turned up at a charity destitution project where Hamed volunteers every week, but one of the organisers had kindly brought a bottle of Cava to mark the occasion. For me, the timing couldn’t really have been better…it’s really lovely to have caught such an occasion.
Although this is great news for Hamed, his journey doesn’t stop here. Once someone is granted their status, they face a host of new challenges. For a start, he now has about two weeks to vacate his current housing, which is provided by the state. He is finally going to be allowed to work, but he must get a National Insurance number and find a job. After the Easter weekend he will be sorting out his paperwork, contacting the job centre and trying to find a place to stay temporarily – a homeless hostel is a possibility if there are places. Without a job and cash for a deposit, finding permanent housing is obviously going to be tough. And then there is his college course. Hamed is partway through training to become an electrician. Whether he will be able to continue without the state support he has had since last autumn is in question.
This is certainly a story I will be following as he settles into his new life.
….who is one of two possibilities for my first course photo story assignment. Hamed is from Darfur and arrived in Liverpool in a container ship in 2005, weak and ill after a month at sea with no idea where he was going. He had escaped his country through Port Sudan after his village – including his entire family – were slaughtered by the notorious Janjaweed militia. After at first being refused asylum and ending up destitute and homeless, he is back in the system with a fresh application and is waiting to find out if he will be allowed to stay in the UK. Friends of his from his country have waited eight and nine years before being granted refugee status.
Anyway, Hamed and I have met briefly a couple of times before and he kindly let me drop around to his flat and tag along with him into town today. He has a fascinating story but reflecting it in images is going to be tough. Jotting down a rough shooting plan as we’ve been asked was a useful exercise because it made me really reflect on where there is and isn’t visual potential in this story….although I’m still not sure about the answer. Focusing on one person may well be setting myself up to fail as I think there could be a temptation to be too literal in the images but I’m going to now go away and do some research on how others have gone about telling short one-character picture stories.
I will be seeing and photographing Hamed again later in the week and hopefully tomorrow I’ll make a start on story option two. There may be a danger inherent in hedging my bets in this way but both issues are of interest to me in the broader sense. In Hamed’s case, whether or not he makes the final cut for next week’s tutorial, his story is the second installment of a loose and occasional series on the asylum system – the first being Sofia.