Refugee Week celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. Twenty years of reminding us all that refugees are people – people like us in circumstances that some of us can barely imagine. Twenty years of celebrating the contribution that those refugees have made to the communities in which they have found sanctuary. Twenty years of drawing our attention to the needs of desperate people who have been forced from their homes by war, famine, persecution.
I’ve been blogging for Refugee Week only for six years. When I look back at what I’ve published previously, it can be discouraging. Has anything really changed (for the better)? Can we hope that things will, in the next six, or the next twenty years, change for the better, given the shift to the right, to nationalism and nativism and xenophobia, across Europe and across the Atlantic?
In a sense it doesn’t matter whether we think there are glimmers of hope. We have to carry on saying what needs to be said, whether or not. We have to carry on arguing, campaigning, telling the stories that need to be told, whether or not.
So this year for Refugee Week I will as usual be posting something every day. I’ll be revisiting some topics I’ve written about before – the particular hazards, indignities and injustices faced by LGBT refugees, the story of the Kindertransport and its messages for our times, the life of the refugee camp (Goma, or Zaatari). It also happens to be the year of the World Cup, and (as I did in 2014) I’ll be looking at the countries who are competing this year, at the people to whom they give refuge and at the people who seek refuge from them.
This Refugee Week, if you are in the vicinity of Sheffield, don’t miss the wonderful Migration Matters Festival. Kicking off on 19 June, it’s a five day celebration of migration, belonging, sanctuary and community, featuring performance, film, workshops, music, food and much more. Check out the website for the full programme and book your tickets in advance.