One of the reasons I am so interested in this new public awareness of time is that I have spent the last few years working on exactly this theme with a group of people who are experts-by-experience in the philosophies of time, but whose voices are rarely heard in public debate. These voices belong to refugees stranded in the most dysfunctional end of the UK asylum process. They know acutely what it is like to lose your everyday markers of time and have to reinvent them.
In a day centre in the East End of London the Jesuit Refugee Service works with, and is partly staffed by, a group of refugees who are living in destitution without the right to work, without public welfare support and with a constant risk of being detained in immigration detention facilities. During fieldwork I conducted over two years with the JRS community, time and its distortion became one of the main experiences that refugees reflected on.
Refugees talked about their sense that enforced idleness, the time it takes for appeals to be processed and the wasting of their skills and talents as they endure a lengthy waiting over years rather than months, creates a sense of ‘degrading in time’, creates a sense that you lack value and slowly erodes those very skills as they lie unused. We live, one interviewee told me, in a society that demands you contribute, but when you are not able to contribute that reduces a sense of self-worth and social value. It unsettles and uproots people in deep and lasting psychological ways.