Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Looking for sanctuary…

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Two families from the Karen ethnic group who fled from Burma’s repressive military rule and had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand for several years found a new home in the northern city of Sheffield. A recent documentary entitled ‘Moving to Mars’ (by director Mat Whitecross and producer Karen Katz) follows the experiences of these two families as they embark on a life changing journey. The story portrays the day-to-day struggles of its protagonists and provides an insight into the reality of being a refugee in the UK, while also examining Burma’s political unrest. This documentary will be shown on More4 in the forthcoming weeks.

However, the film also introduces another character into the story and that is the city of Sheffield. In a recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Jonathan Darling (2009) explores a social movement called City of Sanctuary which has re-imagined this northern city as a welcoming place towards refugees and asylum seekers (an initiative that has now expanded to other towns and cities in the country). The author “attempt[s] to examine both how we might think the city in a relational manner and how in doing so there is an imperative to move beyond an account of responsibility as accountability, towards a recognition of the negotiations that being responsive to others, both near and distant, demands” (2009:126 – emphasis in the original). His contribution illustrates the potential of an extroverted sense of place, one characterized by flows of relation that may foster greater spaces of sanctuary.

Visit ‘Moving to Mars’ website

Read the BBC News report “Burma’s Karen refugees struggle in UK” by Vincent Dowd

Read Jonathan Darling (2009) “A city of sanctuary: the relational re-imagining of Sheffield’s asylum politics.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35(1): 125-140

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