Questioning Representation: Testimonials, Witness Accounts and Literary Migrant Narratives

  • Alisha Mathers


This article rethinks contemporary approaches to asylum by examining literary accounts of human displacement to problematise representations and authenticity. A believable testimonial of asylum seekers’ experience is key in the asylum application process and the pursuit of such truth by Europe’s border forces usually entails a celebration of authenticity. Yet, the emphasis on migrant testimonials as the definitive source in understanding the migration ‘crisis’ is deeply problematic. This essay argues that literary representations of displacement are equally valuable in helping us understand contemporary migration. This paper engages with the poetry of two exiled poets, Warsan Shire and Yousif Qasmiyeh, to illustrate the importance of literary accounts of migration, and to demonstrate that the intimate and traumatic stories of the borderline condition should be shared on migrants’ own terms, not by the demands of the European border forces. By drawing on John Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus (2013) and its representation of the current approach to human displacement, this paper also explores the role of fiction to 'narrativize' the nuances of migratory experiences.

Keywords: Migrant testimonials, Asylum seekers, Political refugees, Authenticity (Philosophy) in literature, Social acceptance

How to Cite:

Mathers, A., (2019) “Questioning Representation: Testimonials, Witness Accounts and Literary Migrant Narratives”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 4(2), 70-78. doi:

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Published on
04 Feb 2019
Peer Reviewed