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Refugee Radio

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“When we started, there was a lot of negative narratives in mainstream media about people like myself. We are dangerous, we are terrorists, we are rapists...in order to deconstruct that we had to engage. And, how do we engage? By having our own alternative voice.”

– Larry Macaulay, founder of Refugee Radio Network

Refugee Radio Network rises in Europe despite xenophobia

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Refugee Radio Network founder Larry Macaulay.

Sounds of refugee voices can be heard on FM stations across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. If you listen closely to the popular jingle at the beginning of Refugee Radio Network’s 60 minute show,  you will hear “in your face, all over the place, we are on air, we are online.” 
 

In an interview with ivoh, founder Larry Macaulay said Refugee Radio Network is an alternative voice to mainstream media.  

“When we started there was a lot of negative narratives in mainstream media about people like myself,” Macaulay said. “We are dangerous, we are terrorists, we are rapists … in order to deconstruct that we had to engage. And, how do we engage? By having our own alternative voice.”

Since launching in 2014,  Refugee Radio Network has garnered over 90,000 listeners per week on radio and over 1.2 million listeners online through SoundCloud. They began with one program but today have expanded to 30 programs reaching communities across Germany in languages including English, Arabic, German and Somali.  

It has been a long journey for Macaulay, who arrived in Europe in 2011 following the crisis in Libya. The former engineer left Nigeria in 2008 after his home state of Jos became the epicenter of religious and ethnic conflict. He found work in Libya as an engineer but once again had to flee due to the Arab uprising. 

Macaulay made the same decision countless refugees have made; to set sail for Europe. The UNHCR reported that 3,740 refugees and migrants died crossing the Mediterranean this year alone. 

“It’s between life and death … you have to decide very well before you embark on that journey. It’s not smooth, it’s very perilous, people die, but I was lucky, I left on May 27, 2011 with 270 passengers — males, females, and different nationalities — on a wooden fishing boat,” Macaulay said. “We arrived at the Italian shores … and I was responsible for placing the call to the Italian coastguards to come and rescue us.”

Once rescued, they were taken to an identification centre in Lampedusa and then transferred to different towns across Italy. Along with 140 other refugees, Macaulay was transferred to Amantea, a coastal town in southern Italy. He says human rights violations, such as poor living conditions, began to take place upon their arrival. Macaulay quickly became a vocal advocate for refugees.

After receiving his documents in 2013, Macaulay travelled to Naples and continued speaking out against the violations and abuses refugees faced in his community. One year later, he received a call from a social rights group in Hamburg called “Lampedusa in Hamburg.” Most of the participants in the group also fled the 2011 Libyan Civil War. 

 

 

 

“I came to Hamburg in 2014 and I started helping them to raise campaign awareness for the just cause and in between that I decided to start this media platform called Refugee Radio Network,” Macaulay said. 

Macaulay is no stranger to radio;  in high school and college he was a disc jockey in Nigeria.  He also became an activist in the 90s during the Abacha military junta for pro democracy. There was a independent radio station created by exiles called Radio Democracy and Macaulay joined to help spread the message across the Western part of Nigeria. 

Since then, Macaulay has understood the power of radio as a tool to educate and raise awareness about the challenges refugees face, which is why he created RRN.

“The community was not aware of why we were in their community, they didn’t know what drove us away from Libya, they didn’t know what drove us away from Italy, they were fed with wrong news in their daily newspapers, and their televisions about refugees,” Macaulay said. “Some networks weren’t even publishing anything about refugee issues as of 2014 … I just saw it as an opportunity … we will now start teaching each other.”

RRN is often run by up to 20 individuals at a time. This includes volunteer independent producers that Macaulay and his team train. Some of these newcomers have never used a computer or had media training before. He says they are seeing more professionals coming in, refugees who were journalists back home. 

One of these journalists is Ahmed Nuur Ibrahim, who is the host of RRN’s new show called Somali Voices. The program, produced by Somali refugees and for Somali refugees, explores integration and cultural understanding in Germany. Macaulay says they have also received a lot of interest from women who would like to host their own radio programs. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lama [a young Syrian woman] that started [Salam Show] in Luxembourg for instance … I met them and I saw the passion in young people coming out and wanting to represent themselves in a positive way to deconstruct the enmity in the community,  that really emboldens me … we are doing the right thing,” Macaulay said.

RRN’s notable programs include radio shows like Letters from the Voiceless, where the hosts read letters on air from refugees, and Refugee Poetry Live, where refugees perform live in studio. 

Through these programs, RRN delves into a range of issues faced by refugee communities, from topics such as discrimination to inequality within refugee groups. 

INSIDE REFUGEE RADIO 360 VIDEO 

To date, Macaulay has traveled to countless cities across Europe to spread the message of Refugee Radio Network and facilitate workshops on media diversity and inclusion. RRN receives many emails worldwide from Australia to Thailand. Macaulay and his team will be launching RRN2 in Southern Europe next year with a plan for community radio stations in Rome and Naples. He says their work is more than just media and that it is about having a community-oriented approach.

“Media is just one tool to expand what we are doing on the ground. Next year we hope to host a festival here in Hamburg … [we’ll] bring artists, creative refugees activists from all across the board, refugee media activists in one space for three days.”

Macaulay says Refugee Radio Network’s message is simple.

“We are here to connect cultures, share knowledge, share cultures, share history and [create] a peaceful cohesive society. That’s our vision. [We hold] dialogue so that we can deconstruct this migrant fear in Europe, which is very high at the moment. That’s why we do what we do with radio.”

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Refugee Radio Network founder Larry Macaulay.

Since launching in 2014, Refugee Radio Network has garnered over 90,000 listeners per week on radio and over 1.2 million listeners online through SoundCloud.

Somali Voices - Ahmed's Story 

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Ahmed, host of Somali Voices on Refugee Radio Network

Ahmed strides quickly through Hauptbahnhof, the central train station in Hamburg. He passes crowds of locals, students and tourists in the city’s main bustling district.

He is on his way to interview recently arrived Somali refugees. With his RRN labeled microphone in hand, oversized black headphones and a small silver audio recorder, Ahmed sets off to record the latest episode for his Somali Voice Radio Show out of a Turkish café in central Hamburg.

 

Eight Somali men crowd around a small table with Turkish tea and Baklava to share their stories. They range in age from 22 to 47 years old. What these men have in common is that they are all Dubliners, a group of refugees who entered Europe under the Dublin III regulation, an EU-wide law that states the first country of entry is responsible for the asylum application. All of these men are in limbo.

They want to make Germany their home but their fingerprints tie them to other countries such as Norway and Italy.





 

Ahmed, a radio host from Refugee Radio Network (RRN) interviews recently arrived Somali refugees in a Turkish café.

In their interview, the men share with Ahmed their regrets about coming to Europe. The 30-year-old former journalist from Mogadishu knows these stories all too well. His own journey is painful to recall.

“I am afraid of the water. Only someone who has gone through this can understand.”

On his journey from Libya to Italy, Ahmed was kidnapped by smugglers and forced into hard labor. He escaped with five other men and got on a boat. A Maltese coast guard saved the group and brought them to a detention centre on the island of Malta.

He still has nightmares.

Ahmed visits the Port of Hamburg regularly despite his fear of the water.

The sound of his phone brings back to reality. People in the community call Ahmed regularly to deal with different issues. Hamburg does not have an official Somali community association, but if it did, he would be president. He thanks the group of men and heads out of the café, towards the studio so he can begin editing.

 

This has become a routine for him. Other than his show, Ahmed’s daily life is spent caring for his young family, taking German classes and his part-time job at a factory. He now calls Hamburg home after living in the city for two years. However, despite this, he still waiting for his refugee status to be recognized.

Somali Voice Radio Show is the only show members of the Somali community tune into religiously. On the show, Ahmed shares tips, resources, successes of the community and even covers sensitive issues such as the sexual harassment Somali women experienced in Libya and now Germany. Although his own legal situation is unclear, Ahmed continues to raise awareness about the plight of refugees in Germany.

Short Film (Ahmed)

Afghan Voices - Tahir's Story

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Tahir, the producer of Afghan Voices for Refugee Radio Network

Tahir is a tall and slender man with red hair. His light brown eyes disappear under the frameless glasses. Wearing a dark sweater with a light blue dress shirt, Tahir reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone to call an old friend. He begins speaking Farsi to let his friend know that he is standing outside of the reception centre where he first stayed at upon arrival to Germany.

 

This was four years ago and he now has his protection status. In 2015, this camp became a symbol of the global migration crisis. Each day, hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea were arriving by the droves.

 

As he walks through the bare field, he is overwhelmed with old memories. He remembers the large white tents that lined the field, making it appear as though the field was larger than it was. The tents were set up after the 200 containers became over capacity and space was needed for the new arrivals.

 

He spent the first few months in a tent with nine other refugees. In his words, “I spent the first night in the tent, I was so cold, I neverforgot... the whole night I just stood”.

He remembers being amazed at how far out the reception facility was from the city centre. He felt like he was at the end of the world. Like many centres, this is where the initial processing occurred. The centre is now empty and has not been used for two years.

In 2015, hundreds of refugees arrived daily to this reception centre on the outskirts of Hamburg.

He approaches the gates leading up to containers and the security guard gives him a wave. He walks up and greets his former buddy. The guard allows Tahir to enter the camp once more.

Like a little child, Tahir excitedly runs up and finds the container he once shared with another refugee. He recalls how excited he was when he found out his name was next on this list for a bed in one of these structures.

 

He sits on his old bed frame and finds a soccer ball under it. For Tahir, there were more good memories than bad in this container. It was in this camp where the activist in him was born. He became very involved and started advocating for refugee rights.

 

One of the initiatives he was most proud of is the bus stop they lobbied for just outside of the camp that would connect to the centre of Hamburg. Prior to this, refugees had to walk for 25 minutes to the nearest train station. He also served as a translator for newly arrived Afghan refugees.

With the success of his activist efforts, the Afghan community started to trust Tahir and go to him with their problems. After hearing about RRN through the centre, Tahir reached out to Larry. He shared his goals of wanting to reach Afghan refugees staying at other camps. His show, Afghan Voices, chronicles the daily lives of Afghans in the city and inside the detention centres.

Tahir sits inside his old room at a former reception facility.

Through this show, Tahir wanted to shed light on the unique issues that affect Afghans such as the large-scale deportations happening across the country. Many of his friends who he arrived with have either been deported or rejected and are awaiting deportation. Tahir also heard about a man who was deported to Kabul and ended up committing suicide in a hotel room. He feels that his advocacy work puts him in a compromised position with the local government, but he feels it is necessary work.

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Lampedusa in Hamburg is a refugee activist group that organizes protests on refugee rights.

As the number of displaced people around the world increases, countries that previously welcomed refugees are now beginning to move towards protectionist social and economic policies. In order to understand the climate that RNN exists within, we need to look at asylum policies in Germany and Europe in general.

 

There have been discussions around the global migration crisis and in particular, the reception and integration of refugees and migrants. In 2015-2016, Germany took in close to one million refugees, the largest of any European country. This was also the height of the ‘Refugees Welcome’ movements across Europe. Today, Germany sees fewer refugees as neighboring countries have started to shut their own borders.

For newly arrived asylum seekers, there are a number of steps they need to take in order to be considered for refugee status. The authority that decides on applications in Germany is called the BAMF. They are first allocated to specific cities and are informed they must remain in that district until the process is complete.

 

This ensures that no one city is overwhelmed with refugees. Unlike other European countries, German law does not set a maximum time limit for the BAMF to decide whether an application has been approved. According to the Asylum Information Database, in 2017, the average time of asylum procedures was 7.8 months.

 

The wait time will also vary depending on the country of origin. In 2016, Syrians had to wait 3.8 months while the wait time for Afghanis was an average of 8.7 months.

There have been concerns brought up service providers who say that because the BAMF is understaffed or has a high number of new staff with limited training, this can cause a backlog in the system.

The initial arrival centres are called Ankunftszenten and were established in 2015. These centres are the first point of contact for many asylum seekers.

 

This is where they go for the intake, recording of their personal data, medical examinations and personal interviews. Asylum seekers generally stay in the initial reception centre for the first six months. After their process has been completed, they move into secondary independent housing structures which is usually a shared apartment between four people.

However, in 2015, when the number of asylum seekers exceeded the allocated housing, the city had to set up emergency shelters such as warehouses, office buildings, gyms and outdoor tents. The city was then approved to build structures known as containers where makeshift apartments were built (see picture below).

The local municipality gained approval to construct these containers that serve as temporary apartments for refugee families.

Hamburg is one of three cities that received more asylum seekers than other states According to this report, this is problematic because this city state also has one of the lowest availability of developed land. Asylum seekers need to live in Germany for five

years. After receiving their refugee status, many refugees cannot afford to move out of the reception centre. If there is room in the containers, they are moved there.

 

Why Hamburg?

Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany with a population of over 1.8 million. Almost 34 percent of the population has an immigrant background, with the largest ethnic population being from Afghanistan and Turkey.

This northern city is home to Germany's largest and busiest port. The city has taken numerous steps to deal with the refugee integration challenges. In 2016, Hamburg committed to accepting 40,000 refugees. One of the areas of focus for the municipal government has been housing.

The city is politically left-leaning with many activists, so it is not unusual to see daily protests. On September 29th, 2018, an organization called We’ll Come United organized a “United against Racism" parade in collaboration with over 450 civil society organizations and local businesses. The demonstration which brought together over 35,000 people called for the protection of asylum-seekers, safer migration routes, an end to deportations and more to be done to stop right-wing extremism.

Mayan and Bettina, social workers from Diakone Hamburg, pose next to the United Against Racism Parade poster.

Hamburg is one of three cities that received more asylum seekers than other states According to this report, this is problematic because this city state also has one of the lowest availability of developed land. Asylum seekers need to live in Germany for five

years. After receiving their refugee status, many refugees cannot afford to move out of the reception centre. If there is room in the containers, they are moved there.

Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany with a population of over 1.8 million. Almost 34 percent of the population has an immigrant background, with the largest ethnic population being from Afghanistan and Turkey.

This northern city is home to Germany's largest and busiest port. The city has taken numerous steps to deal with the refugee integration challenges. In 2016, Hamburg committed to accepting 40,000 refugees. One of the areas of focus for the municipal government has been housing.

The city is politically left-leaning with many activists, so it is not unusual to see daily protests. On September 29th, 2018, an organization called We’ll Come United organized a “United against Racism" parade in collaboration with over 450 civil society organizations and local businesses. The demonstration which brought together over 35,000 people called for the protection of asylum-seekers, safer migration routes, an end to deportations and more to be done to stop right-wing extremism.

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