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Summary of “Language, Asylum and the National Order” by Jan Blommaert

In the reading, Language, Asylum and the National Order, Jan Blommaert discusses the modernist views on postmodern realities, “the globalized phenomenon of international refugees from crisis regions to the West” (424), in the case of Joseph Mutingira, a refugee from Rwanda. He uses documents from Joseph’s interviews with Home Office immigration when he was seeking asylum and his written testimony to show how Joseph’s language repertoire didn’t match up with his experience. 

In the documents Blommaert used, it talks about Joseph’s childhood. He lived a rough life starting from his childhood. He grew up speaking English to his parents and siblings. His father made him and his siblings live a restricted life. His mother died of an unknown reason when he was young. During a home invasion, his father and his siblings died while he survived by escaping from a window. He then moved in with his uncle who transported weapons and he got caught. He was sent to prison where he was beaten and raped because he wasn’t able to answer their questions. He finally escaped prison and went to the United Kingdom to seek asylum. He was denied several times because he was at various levels of proficiency in English, Runyankole, and Kinyarwanda. This rose a lot of suspicions and caused many problems for him in the Home Office immigration. 

Joseph’s language repertoire rose a lot of problems for him because he wasn’t fluent in any of them. He learned Runyankole and Kinyarwanda from being around different people, be able to pick it while being around them, and reading books that his uncle provided to him. He only went to school for a short amount of time and was able to learn English. After his family was killed in the invasion, he didn’t go to school anymore so it caused him to be able to understand English to a certain extent. This caused his asylum in the United Kingdom to be denied because they were “assessing the truth of their claims of origin”(427). 

Blommaert helps us understand that language is very important because it makes it more difficult for people who are migrating from a different country. Joseph wasn’t able to answer the questions that the Home Office immigration asked because he didn’t speak any of the languages fluently, which lead to his denial of asylum. The language repertoire “reflects a life, not just birth, a life that is lived in a real sociocultural, historical, and political space” (424). Joseph not being to speak any of the languages fluently showed that he wasn’t living a normal in Rwanda and needed to flee from the violence that was occurring. Many people have been trying to seek asylum from all over the world. For example, when the Syrian civil war happened, many were seeking asylum in neighboring countries and even the United States but because they’re from the Middle East, many people would assume that they’re terrorists and deny them access to the country. 

In conclusion, Blommaert uses Joseph Mutingira’s case to discuss modernist views on postmodern realities. He helps us understand how language is very important because it helps tell your life story and be able to show others that they’ve lived in a sociocultural life. Language reflects on their lives as it did for Joseph Mutingira.