For twenty years New Times has been giving refugees their own voice to put focus on challenges, injustice and hope as an asylum seeker in Denmark.
By: Michael Bang
In 1995 an asylum seeker in Sandholm began to write articles about the asylum area. Red Cross decided to support the idea, which developed into the magazine you hold in your hands today. Today the magazine is written by around ten asylum seekers, while they are waiting for their asylum cases to be decided.
Robin Ahrenkiel El-Tanany has been the editor and project leader of New Times the past three years and he describes New Times like this:
“It is an amateur project supported with professional resources. I’m a trained journalist, so I’m helping in any way I can and we often have trained journalists from conflict zones in our team. But it’s the voice of the asylum seekers with a professional touch.”
New Times share important information about the asylum area and point at the challenges asylum seekers are facing.
Show what an asylum seeker is
The magazine is both addressed to asylum seekers and Danes, because many Danish people don’t really understand what the words ‘asylum seeker’ actually means, according to Robin:
“They don’t understand that these people would be so happy to stay at home and not come to Denmark. And that these people are just really in need of a friendly gesture or being invited for a cup of coffee – and they really, really want to integrate and obey the law.”
Many of the stories about asylum seekers in the mass media tend to have a quite negative focus. Crimes or stories about bad integration dominate the media picture, but Robin hopes that New Times can give a more balanced impression and contribute with a different angle:
“The vast majority of the asylum seekers are honest hardworking people, who have been forced to leave their home for one reason or the other. And I hope New Times can help people to understand it,” says Robin El-Tanany.
Authentic and honest
New Times has developed from a home-printed black and white paper, to a colourful professional layouted magazine, but the style of the articles still represents the way the refugees write:
“I’m not so concerned whether the language or grammar is 100% correct British English. I think it is more important that it is authentic and that people can hear the voices of the asylum seekers as much as possible,” explains the editor Robin.
But isn’t there a risk, that the reader will get disappointed, when the article isn’t written as professional as the magazine looks like?
“I think it is an advantage, because if I read something that gives me the feeling that I’m getting very close to the asylum seeker who wrote it, I think that is more valuable than being professionalized.“
The project is not only about writing articles. New Times is a fellow-feeling between people at different ages and from very different backgrounds, who only have in common that they were forced to leave their home and have an interest in journalism. But one of things the editor Robin is most proud of is the teamwork:
“If we’re having an editorial meeting and decide to dig into an issue and starts researching, people use their network in the asylum centers and make interviews. And doing that process strong case stories show up and support our initial idea. That is a good experience as an editor, when New Times is working as a professional team and help each other.”
When the teamwork has been at its best, New Times is able to scrutinize and put focus on problematic areas like bad interpretaters or stressful movings, which give an unique insight in the everyday life of the asylum seekers. Robin hopes that more stories will continue into the mass media in future.
Articles in Arabic or Tigrinya
Robin is very satisfied with the magazine as it is today, but hopes to supplement with more video and radio productions – and maybe work with more languages to be able to reach more asylum seekers:
“I would like us to write articles in for example Arabic or Tigrinya, because we have so many refugees coming from Syria and Eritrea right now and many of them don’t know English,” Robin explains.[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The New Times magazine come out four times a year in around 2.500 copies. It is distributed to the asylum centers, politicians, media, organizations and universities. New Times is also active on Facebook and Twitter (@NewTimesDK).[/quote]