2020, for most of us, has led to a slowing down of work, projects and life. But for Isaac Snow, a musician from South London, his 2020 has been the complete inverse of that. Alongside his full-time job as a caseworker at a refugee organisation, he released three singles in the last six months, and continues to write music that raise awareness of issues close to him.


Why?

Snow’s first two songs, ‘And The Rain Comes’ and ‘Run Away’, are about his internal struggles with anxiety, depression and loneliness. His third single entitled ‘Why’, released this autumn, touches upon an external issue he feels is in need of far greater recognition and attention than it is currently receiving: refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, and the rising xenophobic attitude displayed towards them.

There is a distinction between the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’: a refugee is someone who is fleeing from war or persecution. An asylum seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose status in their new country has yet to be evaluated. All refugees were, initially, asylum seekers but not all asylum seekers are refugees.

Hostile environment

Snow has worked with refugees and asylum seekers since his early 20s when he assisted Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Israel. Now, aged 27, his casework gives him unique insight into the lives and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Having worked with such groups for the past seven years or so, I ask Snow what prompted him to shine a light on this topic now?

‘I wanted to draw attention to an issue which I don’t believe is spoken about enough … and to draw attention to the hostile environment created by politicians and the press, as well’. Snow doesn’t hold back in blaming those parties for the ‘everyday violence and intolerance that exists against refugees and asylum seekers’.

Snow pinpoints 2016 — the height of the refugee crisis when over one million refugees arrived into Europe, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan — as being the moment when the right-wing in the UK felt ’emboldened’ by the rhetoric from figures such as Nigel Farage. In June 2016, Farage revealed his ‘Breaking Point’ advertisement which pictured a queue of non-white migrants right up to the end of the bottom of the poster, as if the natural continuation was that they would walk right off it, straight into the UK. The move was calculated in its timing. The poster went up days before the Brexit vote.

Snow points to the latest hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers by the government and some right-wing media as a ‘classic trick’, aimed at diverting the public’s attention away from government failings around the coronavirus.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, has been a controversial figure since her appointment. Patel has been very vocal, and active, in seeking to block the arrival of asylum seekers from across the Channel. And, for those who do arrive, her plans for them have bordered on the sinister.

In September, The Guardian reported that Ms Patel asked her Home Office officials to look into the idea of moving some asylum seekers to UK territories in the South Atlantic. There were also reports of asylum seekers being put into former army barracks and living under poor sanitary conditions. While such policies may not be as obvious as Farage’s stunt, they offer good indication of how we’re expected to view and treat those asking for help: as unwanted problems that ought to be dealt with dismissively. Snow believes that such attitudes have directly influenced hostilities towards refugees and asylum seekers.

While it is hard to obtain accurate figures of harassment and violence against them, asylum seekers were met with hostility and intimidation from far-right groups such as Britain First when they were placed in hotels and B&Bs over the summer.

This atmosphere of almost claustrophobic hostility is perfectly depicted in Snow’s latest music video ‘Why’. It is highly uncomfortable and, at times, distressing to watch. But these are precisely the kind of emotions that Snow wants to engender. He tells me that he wants his music’s message ‘to matter to [my audience]’, and for them to be educated on these misrepresented issues and connect with them.

However, Snow doesn’t want to solely focus on the negative reaction to Europe’s recent migrant crisis. He cites the increase in volunteering for refugee organisations and the emergence of Choose Love. What started out as a simple hashtag, has now become a refugee organisation with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alexa Chung and Oprah.

What about charity beginning at home?

I wanted to probe the familiar sentiment that some of us hold. There are so many pressing issues at home and the country arguably needs its resources to help its own people before taking on others. Snow, with empathetic understanding, acknowledges how that sentiment can exist, but says that asylum seekers do not cost the taxpayer huge sums.

Unlike refugees who can work, asylum seekers are unable to work. Instead, they can claim £37.75 a week which, Snow points out, ‘is a tiny burden on the state and it is taking very little away from the British people’. For a family of four, for example, they could receive just over £150 a week. This amounts to a mere £7,800 a year. Even with the 32,423 asylum applicants received from June 2019 to June 2020, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the total burden is far less than what many likely expect — or have been made to believe.

When Snow started talking about such figures, I discovered that at the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, the UK had 81,751 refugee cases — the seventh highest number for an EU country. Germany had the most by a long stretch at just over 1.3 million, with Italy next at almost 200,000. But since 2016 there’s been a drop, which hardly supports the infamous media narrative of the UK being flooded by hoards of asylum seekers.

Effective argument, effect change

In raising these weighty issues, Snow speaks with authority and credibility owing to his personal experience of working with refugees. He states humbly that he is realistic in his music’s reach. In his own words, he is ‘not trying to reach thousands and thousands of people’ but instead, hopes to ‘shine a light’ on issues close to him.

Ultimately, Snow seeks to illuminate the issue of rising intolerance and injustice towards those seeking safety in the UK through the medium of music, hoping: ‘to connect with people, in a way which dialogue maybe doesn’t’.