Refugees and migrants are often talked about in Germany - rather than being able to talk about their experiences themselves. InfoMigrants highlights a new platform in multiple languages for migrants and refugees to express their views through comics.
The issue of migration and refugees is often discussed in Germany's political and social circles. "But migrants often do not have a voice in the public sphere. This project is about giving migrants the chance to talk about themselves," Lillian Pithan, a journalist for the German Comics Club told Infomigrants. Working together with the director of the German Comics Club, Axel Haling, she has organized a new platform for migrants and refugees to express themselves - through comics.
Lillian Pithan has put a lot of thought into promoting graphic journalism in Germany, producing so-called comic reports, which are French-inspired illustrated reports with short comments. With the support of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, as well as the German Comics Club, a workshop was launched in Hamburg, called "The Alphabet of Arrival." Participants included migrants, refugees and Germans with immigrant backgrounds.
Journalists and Illustrators from different immigrant and linguistic backgrounds
During the workshop, Pithan trained 24 people in how to produce comic reports. "We usually try to reach out to journalists and illustrators from different immigrant and linguistic backgrounds. We aim for a ratio of half of the participants being female and half male," she said.
Some people are new arrivals from Syria, while some have lived in Germany for years as journalism students or journalists. They include participants from Europe (France and Italy), Arab and Kurdish regions (Syria and Tunisia), Africa (Eritrea), as well as German immigrants (Turkish or Polish). "We try to achieve a balance between languages, gender, femininity, immigrants and Germans," Pithan said.
During a week-long workshop in March 2017, participants formed 12 teams. Each of them included one journalist and one illustrator. Each team produced a graphic report on the experiences of newcomers and immigrants in dealing with life in Germany.
Challenges faced by the newcomers
Syrian illustrator and artist, Mukhtar, who was forced to flee the war, was one such participant. Together with his colleague, Syrian journalist Fady Jomer, he presented a graphic report on the challenges faced by newcomers in finding work in their fields of specialization. The text was in Arabic and used handwriting, rather than a computer font.
Syrian musician tries to break into German music scene
Another report told the story of how a Syrian musician from Aleppo had been trying to break into the musical scene in the German city of Hamburg. He plays the Qanun, which is a type of large zither. In order to bring his music to a German audiences, he came up with the idea of collaborating with a German musician, mixing traditional European musical styles with Arabic musical genres.
Eritrean refugee navigates the German transportation system
A report written in English described an Eritrean refugee's experiences and observations on German streets and transportation, especially on the subway. It discussed how it is uncommon for passengers on German trains to look at each other or strike up conversation.
The report also shows what the newcomers have found strange in Germany and highlights how to behave in such cases. "Perhaps this is a manifestation of social involvement by knowing how to best behave in the public space, knowing what is normal," said Pithan.
Active youth participants in Arabic and Kurdish media
Another participant was Tunisian journalist, Asma Al Abidi, who is currently studying for her masters in media and journalism at the University of Bonn. She previously studied biological engineering in Tunisia, but began writing articles and being active on social media after the first signs of the popular uprising in 2010/2011. She has written about social and youth aspects related to democratic transformations, social freedoms and women’s issues in Tunisia, as well as issues of migration, irregular migration and the situation of refugees in European prisons.
She described the challenge of producing collaborative work during the workshop: "Sometimes the views are conflicting. A journalist might insist on highlighting the philosophical nature of the story, while the illustrator wants to focus on drawing interesting passages from the story. This aspect was harder than I thought it would be before the start of the workshop," she said.
Syrian journalist and editor, Elend Sheikhi told InfoMigrants about his experience of producing graphic journalism. "The workshop was interesting in terms of the geographical context of the city of Hamburg, and specifically the St.Pauli area, which is the heart of the vibrant city and a crossroads of cultures. But it was also a challenge. The main challenge was to produce comics that interest refugees and migrants."
"It was the first time I participated in a workshop like this. We were not trained in this type of journalism, rather, there was nothing like this in the Syrian and Kurdish press in general," said Sheikhi.
Sheikhi's family is still living in Syria and he cannot bring them to Germany, he told InfoMigrants. The content of the report, produced with graphics by Burcu Turker, is about the contradiction in the asylum laws in Germany and the decisions made against refugees who have been denied reunification with their families and prevented to from moving to major cities in Germany to seek employment.
All twelve reports deal with the daily issues confronting immigrants and refugees in Germany. The full reports can be viewed on the project website.