Interviewer: ‘What do you think it means to be British?’
Miriam: ‘It is a passport. To be British now, I’m sorry to say this, but it is a passport. That is it. That is what being British means to me… I have lost faith in the country which I used to call home. I have lost faith, I have lost trust. Every single bit of pride that I had to be calling myself a British citizen has almost gone out of the window. They have basically sucked every single bit of love for the UK out of me.’
Miriam’s husband had been in the UK from his teens but was recently forcibly removed from the country, after a traumatic period incarcerated in immigration detention. The authorities have advised Miriam that she should choose between staying in the UK alone or leave to be with him. She’s choosing the latter:
‘I just said stuff it, if England don’t want me to live here, I will live in any country in the world with him, and that is it.’
I interviewed Miriam in her almost empty flat, days before she left the UK. We talked amongst boxes as she packed her few remaining possessions. Miriam, a white British-born citizen, described the UK as ‘the country that I did love so much’. But her identity, national pride, civic relationship and understandings of citizenship had been dramatically reconfigured as a result of the authorities’ treatment of her foreign husband and the indifference shown to her relationship choices and citizenship rights.
Mixed-immigration status families
The recently published Identities article, ‘My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications', examines the impact of immigration enforcement on mixed-immigration status families in the UK. It draws on interviews conducted in 2015–2016 with the British female partners of ‘deportable’ migrant men.
The interviews show that the families of precarious migrants are also harmed by immigration policies, even if they are not themselves subject to immigration controls. They lose money and jobs, develop mental and physical health problems, and feel powerless and unable to envisage a future. Children experience damage to their wellbeing, behaviour and school attainment. Citizens describe this harm as extreme and state-sponsored, experiencing it as betrayal and rejection.
‘It is like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and thrown on the ﬂoor and stamped on by the British Government’.
Citizenship and belonging
Their partners’ (often lengthy, expensive and antagonistic) immigration battles also undermine citizens’ own sense of security and belonging in the UK. They feel unimportant to, and overlooked by, their government. Most of the women spoke of high levels of state intrusion, as well as being routinely disbelieved, judged and sometimes humiliated by immigration officials. People’s feelings of rights and security are especially shaken by being advised to leave the country.
The effect is an undermining of people’s trust in the state and feelings of estrangement from their citizenship. Interviewees spoke of being unable to ‘practice my citizenship’ and no longer ‘proud’ of being British.
‘I’ve lost all faith in my government, how they treat us. How can my government do this to me?’
Hierarchies of citizenship
These women’s experiences illustrate how immigration controls not only discipline migrants, but also the citizens close to them. And, as the Identities article argues, it does so in ways that expose the internal hierarchies and conditionalities of citizenship.
Equality may be central to the theory of citizenship, but in practice belonging and membership are contested and ambiguous. It remains the case that Britons’ ability to exercise their citizenship rights, such as marry and live with the person of their choice, is gendered, classed and racialised. As Miriam asks, ‘Why is my government doing this to me? Because I’m poor?’
Blog post by Melanie Griffiths, University of Birmingham, UK
Read the full article: Griffiths, Melanie. My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1625568
‘We know that they have sentiment [against] Chinese. The May 1998 fall is just ... an event that compounded whatever my mom ... whatever my parents say is really true.’ (Winarnita et al., 2018).
A recent interest in the growing Chinese-Indonesian diaspora has drawn attention to the powerful experiences of many women who were forced to leave Indonesia during the May 1998 riots. To avoid being raped, many Chinese-Indonesian families sent their daughters out of country to try and ensure their safety. Thousands of these women remain abroad, living as exiles in other countries.
Our research on Chinese-Indonesian women in Singapore and Australia, as discussed in the Identities article, 'Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women', uncovered many stories of exile and suffering.
This was the case for Melbourne-based Teresia, now in her early thirties, whose experience of exile also made her delay marriage and childrearing. Teresia’s middle-class family had helped her flee Indonesia in early 1999 to be an international high school student in Australia, and she remained indebted to them, particularly as her parents’ business closed down.
After graduation, she enrolled in medical school, again with financial help from more affluent relatives and family friends. She framed her departure as partially due to education but mostly due to ‘fear for [her] safety’. 1998 was a ‘very tumultuous time’, which made her move necessary and ‘right’. Her family in Jakarta lived in fear and close proximity to the violence, as Teresia described: ‘It was all in front of us … the riot just went through in front of our real estate area’.
Two decades on, the conditions of her departure continued to impact her attitude towards marriage. Her medical career allowed her to sponsor the migration of her Indonesia-based family. Moving her family away permanently from racial tensions in Indonesia was more important than marriage and children, said Teresia.
For Singapore-based Michelle, the 1998 riots also ruptured her life history narrative; her family relocated from Jakarta to her father’s home on a rural island off of Java to protect Michelle from possible rape and assault. Her forced confinement as a teenager in her low-income family’s natal home led her to want to be an adventurous adult. She studied diligently and sought out opportunities for education and training, which led her to Jakarta and Taiwan before she got a serendipitous job offer in Singapore.
Nevertheless, the high mobility and instability in Michelle’s life that were set in motion in 1998 continued. Michelle and her Indonesian husband remain unsure if they will ever get permanent residency in Singapore. It also meant what Michelle calls a significant ‘sacrifice’ to delay childbirth well past the time she and her husband wanted to be having children together; this was due to their uncertain status with short-term work visas and delays in processing residency applications, along with lack of options around returning to Indonesia.
In-depth interviews conducted in 2016 with Chinese-Indonesian women currently living in Singapore and Australia uncovered the long-term effects on families of female members’ experiences of exile. In contrast to stereotypes of overseas Chinese-Indonesians as members of an affluent community, Chinese-Indonesian women’s experiences, as illustrated in Teresia’s and Michelle’s stories, are also that of exiles. Respondents describe how the events of 1998 restricted their choice of residence and possible return.
Moreover, the long-term effects of political violence include strained family ties, as well as difficulties in women’s marital, reproductive and childrearing practices. Interviewees described how they come to understand who they are and how to maintain family relations in their effort to overcome long-term difficulties in their lives.
Therefore, more discussion is needed towards understanding women’s specific political experiences of exile, and the long-term impacts of political violence on their family relations such as those of Chinese-Indonesian women and other women in exile.
Winarnita, M., C. Chan & L. Butt. (2018). Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1537639.
Blog post by Monika Winarnita, University of Victoria, Canada; Carol Chan; University of Victoria, Canada; and Leslie Butt, University of Victoria, Canada
Read the full article: Winarnita, Monika; Chan, Carol & Butt, Leslie. Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1537639