Oxford researchers team up with London school for a performance about migrants' experiences

19 March 2015

Researchers from Oxford University are taking the real-life stories of undocumented migrants they have interviewed to pupils at a secondary school in Brent in London. Their research suggests there could be around 120,000 undocumented migrant children living in the UK. ‘Undocumented’ describes migrants who have been refused asylum, overstayed visas, are experiencing problems with their immigration applications or, to a lesser extent, have gained unauthorised entry. The family’s irregular immigration status means that little is known about their lives or the families’ livelihoods in the UK and such children often endure poverty and deprivation without the same level of support given to other migrant children.

The pupils at Capital City Academy in Brent, northwest London, have spent the last few weeks discussing and interpreting five scripted monologues, based on interviews with migrants, at drama classes after school. They have worked on a number of themes through interpretation and improvisation, which will result in the staging of a public performance at the school on 19 March.

The performance will highlight the plight of migrant children and their families, exploring issues such as getting into a school or finding a doctor. The research suggests that in the UK, there are tensions between child protection and immigration policies, with migrant children being treated first and foremost as migrants rather than children.

Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship at Oxford University, said: ‘This project is not about who to blame for undocumented migration. It encourages young people to think about what it might be like living in the UK without papers, and to use the knowledge they develop from this process to engage with one of the most critical of contemporary debates.

‘Using theatre creates an alternative space to explore the sensitive, politicised issue of migration. Students and the audience have an opportunity to think about the experiences of real people rather than abstract academic arguments.’

The Principal of the school, Alex Thomas, said: Capital City Academy is a very diverse school with many students from a refugee and asylum seeker background. When COMPAS first approached us to participate in the project, we were excited by the opportunity to explore these issues with students. This has been a very rewarding opportunity for all involved and students have enjoyed developing the monologues and devising their own work.’

The school performance will be followed by a panel discussion involving the audience and information sheets about some of the issues raised will be distributed. The researchers have already completed a similar course of workshops in Thame, Oxfordshire, and will take the project to another secondary school in Birmingham later this year.

The undocumented migrants were interviewed by researchers from COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society) for the report, ‘No Way In, No Way Out’, which was published in May 2012. The drama project with schools was funded by the Economic Social Research Council.

For more information, please contact the University of Oxford News Office on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email: [email protected]

Contact Emma Throp at Capital City Academy, Brent, at [email protected] Or, on 020 8838 8687.

Notes to Editors:

  • COMPAS (the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society) at Oxford University conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/
  • In December 2014, Year 10 students from Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire, performed “Undocumented Migrant Children’s Lives and Stories” at the Old Fire Station theatre in Oxford. They also staged other performances at their school. Since then, the students have taken the performance to primary schools in their area.
  • More about the COMPAS report, ‘No Way In, No Way Out’. Researchers conducted interviews with migrant children, migrant families, policymakers and support agencies from across the UK. They discovered that a high proportion of ‘irregular migrant’ children, whose parents are living as illegal migrants in the UK, were either born or have spent most of their childhood here.  Yet they found this group is trapped between conflicting laws that on the one hand protect children, but on the other enforce migration control. The report suggests one solution might be to give this group of children an opportunity to gain legal status as UK residents, an approach that currently applies to some migrant populations in the US. See the full report: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/files/Publications/Reports/NO_WAY_OUT_NO_WAY_IN_FINAL.pdf