The Asylum Monologues

BRONTE PHILIPS has her eyes opened by this performative exploration of immigration.


According to UK polls, the general public estimate that 80-90% of the immigrant population are asylum seekers; the actual figure is 2%. Amongst a public brainwashed by the general ignorance of a certain daily tabloid (commonly known as the Beacon of Bigotry), Ice&Fire have a hefty task before them of generating awareness around the plight of asylum seekers. Particularly considering that most Cambridge students spent the evening of 5th November on Midsummer Common rather than in Clare College’s Riley auditorium…

Despite the less-than ideal audience numbers,  the production was well worth forsaking sparklers, hot dogs and Catherine wheels for. Ice&Fire, a human rights performance organisation of more than 600 British actors, had three actors tell the stories of three asylum seekers: their background, experience of applying for refugee status, as well as their feelings and hopes for the future, all based on condensed interviews lasting 4-5 hours. The stories required little in the way of telling.

Ice&Fire performing 'The Asylum Monologues' at the Old Vic in 2007

Ice&Fire performing ‘The Asylum Monologues’ at the Old Vic in 2007

The performance itself was shocking as it was informative, following the experiences of an political detention escapee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a political refugee from Cameroon and a torture survivor from Uganda up until their settlement (or lack thereof) in the UK. We hear of mothers forced apart from children, disconnected families, beatings, torture, of destitution and of chain rape; stories emotionally distressing enough to make Nigel Farage feel guilty, and those indicative of victims deserving our protection.

Yet the performance’s shock-factor lay not in the variety of experiences, but the shared experience of the British immigration system: a torture victim refused asylum, a pregnant mother thrown to the floor during an attempted forced deportation, indefinite detention in 15-lock rooms and an allowance of £38 per week whilst waiting for bureaucracy to decide whether their case is worthy of being granted refugee status. The thread uniting the three together is this “diplomatic torture”, from which they say the psychological scars are far worse than the cigarette burns.  These victims have left everything they know and love to seek refuge in the United Kingdom, only to be left in limbo for years at a time, waiting for the robotic  (and institutionally racist) army of Home Office personnel to decide whether or not they deserve our protection. And who cares about Article 3 of the Human Rights Act if they’re all benefit scroungers, anyway?

Excuse my preaching, but this is not just self-gratifying brow-beating drama; these are stories which want and need to be told, stories destined to shock exactly for the purpose of raising awareness and rallying support. Whilst avoiding sentimentality, in this age of anti-immigration sentiment we need to be reminded of the human implications of denied asylum, the inhumanity of our own legal system inflicting its own civilised form of torture. In this respect, it was well worth missing the fireworks.

The Asylum Monolgues was organised as part of the Cambridge Ethical Festival, hosted by Cambridge Hub and co-hosted by the Cambridge Amnesty group with representation from STAR (Student Action for Refugees).