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“I Belong”


Matt Jackson

Artist-in-Residence at AZC Grave, The Netherlands, 2023


I lived in the UK for many years. It was my home, my work, my life.

And then one day it wasn't.

From one day to the next I was not allowed to return... with no warning. 


The 10-year anniversary of my having to leave the UK coincided with my time as an Artist-in-Residence at an asylum seeker's center in Grave, The Netherlands. Jan - May 2023.


I can not honestly compare my personal experiences to those of refugees. I have met people who have fled wars, persecution, systematic discrimination and famine.  My journey was admittedly less life-threatening and almost selfish in comparison. But I wanted to find a way to better understand people's situations as they are waiting in limbo at refugee centers hoping for asylum. And to do that I had to look into my own stories.


Because even though we come from very different situations, I am also a foreigner here.

Yes, in fact, I do not really belong here. And I must continuously prove that I do. That I do belong here…


And fortunately, because I have a status that is “privileged’ in comparison, I come from The United States and my fight to be here is much easier.  With my magic blue passport and its’ golden letters I can stay here as long as I prove myself worthy.  I have learned to do this the hard way.   


I was prevented from returning to the UK not because I was a criminal. I was a student, a teacher, a resident, a person. I was also a foreigner and I was punished merely for what “might happen”. I sat in many glass boxes and cold empty rooms at three different points along the border and told “NO. No you can not come here. No. No I do not believe you.   NO”.


I stopped trying. I went back to the US. And a new path emerged that lead me slowly here to The Netherlands. And with the gracious support of family, friends and work I found a way to live here. The way is not yet permanent, but it is a way.  And so far it works.


In my short time in Grave I have made several friends who came to speak with their huge open hearts. They came with their smiles, their curiosity and their positivity, despite where they had come from. They spoke of their dreams, they spoke of their hope. I wish to thank them.  And I wish to say to them “Keep fighting. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Because you do belong here”.   


We belong here.

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