Amal Khalid

The subject of the discussion were the “asylum seekers and their hidden voices” and the session was an intense conversation between Bidisha and Aysha Raja. The one hour long chat between the two highlighted the harsh realities of our current society and the hypocrisy of the developed nations to deal with them.

The session started off with the British journalist stating the international law with regard to the protection of the rights of refugees. “It is a right of a refugee escaping active war or political torture, to seek asylum in a state”. However, there are no such laws present regarding people who are fleeing from extreme poverty.

“They have no workable future as human beings” she said while enlightening the audience regarding the torturous and inhumane circumstances these people belonging to “fragile states” go through. She further explained how “No one wants to leave their homes, and get raped by smugglers and traffickers or die at sea, but it’s the aftermath of a civil war or disturbances caused by Mafia gangs that compel these people to make such tough decisions”.

The journalist who specializes in international affairs further went on by outlining the “lack of empathy” shown by the European states and expressed her dismay on their decision to respond through military action against these asylum seekers.

“The people at the detention centres are the meanest people alive, they force women to strip down naked and use washrooms under the supervision of male guards,” she further added while talking about the torturous conditions in the detention centres.

The two women further shed light on the non-compliance of the developed nations to aid these helpless asylum seekers for they are going through their own economic backlashes and fear that these “ opportunistic people will play the system”. Moreover, they expressed their disappointment on calling these people as “hoards” by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

86% of the refugees prefer to settle near their own country and states such as Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan are playing an incredible role in comparison to the developed nations, “officials in states like France, UK, Italy have been told to say No to these refugees” as put forward by Bidisha.

They further dwelled into the current situation in these countries and talked about the “Level of oriental racism” and termed this entire process to be “dehumanizing”. At the moment, the asylum seekers are forbidden to work which further adds to their misery and offers them no choice but to work in grey markets. “The governments need to change laws and allow asylum seekers to seek work because many of them are educated”.

The conversation then shifted towards the future of the “Climate change problem” and how this will lead to even more internally displaced people and refugees. “A lot of people think that the Syrian crisis has a lot to do with the climate change- it all started with a drought” as stated by Bidisha.

The women further went on and predicted more fights over land, water and other useful resources to take place in this century, which shall “ exacerbate the humanitarian crisis as organizations such as Boko Haram, ISIS will take advantage and exploit instability”.

At the end of the session, Bidisha urged the audience to “Amplify their voices” and “Understand how the media and the politicians are playing us by negating refugees”. She expressed her views on the establishment of a welfare state in every country for the asylum seekers and the urgency of economic migrants and people escaping sexual violence to be given asylum.

Locating Pakistani fiction in the global narrative

The third session of the day began with keynote speakers who are well-known and respected in the community. Musharaf Ali Farooqi who was amongst the five writers shortlisted for Asia's most prestigious literary prize in 2012 and the renowned author of ‘Home boy’ H.M Naqvi graced the audience with their presence. Aamer Hussain who is also a very celebrated writer and critic had some very attention-grabbing points to add to the ongoing conversation.

The session started off with the writers talking about the beauty of the Urdu literature and the importance of writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Qurratulain Hyder and Sarah Sulehri who have set the standard of writing to be extremely high deeming it impossible for today’s writers to match.

The authors further told the audience regarding their inspirations from different languages such as Arabic, Italian, Spanish etc. and interesting statements such as “ I sort of draw on the rhythm of Urdu on to my work in English” were made by H.M. Naqvi.

Themes about the global narrative such as terrorism, globalization, radical Islam were discussed and problems pertaining to the politics of text and limited publishing in countries were brought forward that are immensely problematic for our national language.

Moreover, the writers shared their personal experiences related to the love they have for their language, with the audience, allowing them to relate and understand in a productive way.