Theatre against ignorance and stigmatisation

NEAS: Deportees in Sierra Leone

Refugees deported from Germany are fighting in Sierra Leone through the Network of Ex Asylum Seekers - NEAS - against stigmatisation and the European Union's deportation practices. The activists of NEAS work through their experiences in a play.

'I was in Germany for ten years, and suddenly I'm standing on my family's doorstep with empty hands. It's difficult to be accepted again as part of the community,' Mustapha explains to a medico staff member. After the traumatic experience of being deported from Germany, he faced rejection by his family and neighbours in Sierra Leone. Not knowing European laws on asylum, people assume the young men and women were deported because of offences committed in Germany. Even local human rights organisations rarely understand the restrictive European asylum laws, and do not know that people can be deported without committing any crime.

Fear of stigmatisation and discrimination leads deportees to try and stay out of sight, and keep silent about their experience. For several, the stress during and after deportation was so great that they became mentally ill. Overcoming this isolation is one of the goals of NEAS. The self-help group offers an opportunity to share experience with other sufferers and provide mutual support. In a protected setting, deportees can tell their stories and organise to improve their situation.

In 2013 NEAS developed a drama on the subject of deportation, in cooperation with the Tabule Theatre from Freetown. The sufferers acted out their own story, experiencing the process of deportation again. By performing the piece to an audience of close friends and the theatre members, they also broke the silence about the subject. The experience was so encouraging that the group decided to film a performance of the play and make it accessible to a wider audience.

NEAS's critical voice can no longer be overlooked. Government representatives from Sierra Leone invited the deportee network to participate in a committee on migration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and promised a detailed review of NEAS's concerns. Tejan Lamboi, international coordinator and founder member of NEAS, talked about this development: 'Today, NEAS activists no longer tell their stories as just victims. We're actively involved in dialogue with organisations in criticising and changing current conditions.'

medico international has been working with NEAS since the network's formation, and provided a total of €26,790 to support its work in 2013.


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