A Red Cross publication is being used to help new After18 volunteers understand the issues young asylum seekers face when coming to the UK. Over Under Sideways Down, by graphic novelist Karrie Fransman, tells the story of Ebrahim, a young Kurdish teenager who is forced to flee his family home in Iran.
Prior to reading Over Under Sideways Down I was aware of the arduous journey that asylum seekers undertake in order to get into the UK from the large amount of stories that appear on the television news and in the press. However, after reading the comic it became apparent that this mainstream media coverage often lacks a detailed account of the journey itself or of the savage abuse that young people frequently experience along the way.
In the graphic novel, Ebrahim tells us that the ‘agents’ (the criminals who profit from smuggling people out of Iran) made the refugees walk all night long in silence, beating those who could not keep up. He tells us that the health of the asylum seekers is put further into jeopardy when they are deprived of water and, once inside the lorries, they are forced to take tablets which prevent them from being able to urinate.
Other important issues that are explored in Over Under Sideways Down include the gruelling interview process Ebrahim faces once he has arrived in the UK, his stay at a hostel and the long bureaucratic process for asylum. Reading the comic-strip I also learnt that the task of proving an individual’s age is made extremely difficult as the agents take the refugees’ official papers.
Ebrahim’s distressing account brings home the ordeal that many asylum seekers have faced. An awareness of ill-treatment helps us understand why a young person may be quite withdrawn and find it difficult to trust people they have just encountered. This knowledge reminds us as volunteers to approach young people with sensitivity, especially when dealing with issues surrounding family, their journey to the UK and the application process. We need to be mindful that the people we are speaking to have very often been treated with suspicion and disbelieved.
Some of the volunteers from After18 gave us their opinion of Over Under Sideways Down:
“I learnt that the struggle doesn’t end when you arrive in the country that you’re seeking asylum in. It emphasises how difficult the situation is for the people who are seeking asylum.”
“Yes, it affected me emotionally. The comic emphasises heavy concepts such as violence and rape. It’s almost as though it’s more hard hitting because it is a cartoon. I was quite emotional. “It puts into perspective a journey of them wanting to feel safe… looking for survival.”
“The presentation of the story in graphical form makes it immediate and accessible to many readers and complements the text. The artwork is simple but effective and its sparing use of colour reflects the often bleak emotions and events.”
By giving a genuine first-hand account of a young person’s experience, Over Under Sideways Down gives a terrific insight, making it a great learning tool for volunteers who are new to working with young people seeking asylum.
By James Black
Link: Read Over Under Sideways Down at RedCross.org.uk