Archive for June, 2020
What better way to draw this series of Refugee Week blogs to a close than with music? Refugees have always carried the music of their home with them, wherever they have travelled, and treasured it, wherever they have settled. The richest and most beautiful music we can hear, from whatever tradition, has been nourished by the music brought in by those travellers, the songs that have sustained them through hardship, the melodies that remind them of home.
None of us knows what the next year will bring. The virus has both ignored borders, and reinforced them. It poses a threat to us all, but most seriously to those already vulnerable due to age, health and living conditions. Refugees and asylum seekers are and will continue to be amongst the most vulnerable. And whatever happens during the course of the year, for good or ill, there will still be refugees. There will still be wars and persecution and famine and terrorism, forcing people to leave home. There will still be camps full of people in transit, waiting for the chance to leave for a more stable life somewhere else. And there will still be fragile crafts launched on to the oceans, full of people hoping for landfall somewhere that they will find safety.
Last year, Opera North put on a production of Bohuslav Martinů‘s powerful and pertinent opera, The Greek Passion. Martinu was a Czech composer, who was working in Paris when the Nazis invaded his homeland, and then had to flee France for Spain and then Portugal, before settling in the US. The opera, written in the 1950s, tells of a village whose inhabitants are putting on their annual Passion Play, when the arrival of a group of refugees challenges their community, their values and their courage.
It is an opera about migration, about society’s rejection of the destitute and the desperate when they arrive at our gates for help, about the dangers of failing to challenge populist rhetoric, about the manipulation of society by those in authority. It’s also about compassion, humility and, ultimately, tragedy.
As the manager of a small inner city community project based in Leeds called Meeting Point, I work with refugees and asylum seekers every day and I find it quite extraordinary that an opera written all those years ago can be directly relevant to the day to day work that I do now, as well as the lived experience of thousands of individuals across the UK today.
Emma Crossley, Meeting Pointhttps://www.operanorth.co.uk/news/a-face-to-the-stranger-refugees-and-the-greek-passion/
Part of Opera North’s Lullaby Project, People’s Lullabies are performed by participants in the company’s Community Partnerships scheme, which works with local organisations to provide access to live opera and music for people who might otherwise encounter barriers to those experiences. The Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ Conversation Club at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, provides tea, coffee, healthy food, nappies, sanitary protection and toiletries to vulnerable families who have had to leave the countries they love because of war and persecution.
Soundroutes is an initiative that networks musicians of very different international backgrounds in new homelands. The Soundroutes project created the Soundroutes Band, with members from scattered new domiciles in Berlin, Brussels, and Rome. Shalan Alhamwy on violin, Alaa Zaitounah on oud, and drummer Tarek Al Faham are all from Syria, Papis “Peace” Diouf of Senegal is on guitar. The group mixes tracks of Arab tradition and African rhythms, but leaps out to free jazz. In a related combo, Peace Diouf rearranges and composes powerful traditional Senegalese grooves as jazz with Roberto Durante on piano and Hammond organ, Giancarlo Bianchetti on guitar, and drummer Moulaye Niang,https://www.allaboutjazz.com/refugee-music-in-europe-migration-asylum-soundroutes-and-arab-jams
Music from Za’atari refugee camp:
With his brow furrowed in concentration, Abu Abdullah rhythmically strums his oud, exploring the core of a melancholic melody. Mohamad Isa Almaziodi’s robust and melismatic voice soars above, full of emotional ornamentation – sighing and repeating, rising and falling – until he runs out of breath and the phrase is forced to finish. In his song, Mohamad is singing about how strange life is, how harsh the nights are: ‘Oh this life is so strange… our home became very far. Very far.’ But before he can finish, he is overcome by homesickness and with his head in his hands, he cries. He is crying for his beloved country and for the father he left behind.https://www.songlines.co.uk/explore/features/songs-of-the-syrian-refugees
The band Musicians in Exile is based in Glasgow, and is made up of refugees and asylum seekers.
Afshin Karimi is sitting in a circle of musicians, his eyes tightly closed as he taps his foot in time with the beat. He waits patiently for his moment, then opens his mouth and sings. Music is part of the reason that the 44-year-old Iranian singer and keyboardist found himself here, in a makeshift rehearsal room overlooking a busy Glasgow street, thousands of miles from home. He fled his country three years ago, not only because he feared persecution after changing his religion, but because the kind of music he was making was banned by authorities.https://inews.co.uk/news/scotland/musicians-in-exile-meet-britains-most-unorthodox-band-made-up-of-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-299705
Some facts and figures…
Every day 44,000 people are forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution
68.5 million people around the world (more than the population of the UK) are displaced
Each day in 2018, six people died trying to cross the Mediterranean
57% of refugees worldwide are from just three countries — South Sudan (at least 2 million displaced as a result of the Civil War which began in 2013), Afghanistan (2.6 million refugees, 95% of whom are hosted in Iran and Pakistan) and Syria (6.3 million have fled the conflict. Around 3.5 million are hosted in Turkey).
At least 700 thousand Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since 2017
2020 World Refugee Day Statement by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi:
We are marking this year’s World Refugee Day against a backdrop of a dramatic global crisis. Not only are record numbers of people forced to flee their homes, but the world is grappling with COVID-19, a disease that is still very much affecting us all. What started as a health crisis has expanded, and today many of the most vulnerable – refugees and the displaced amongst them – face a pandemic of poverty.
Yet, throughout this challenging time, we have also seen a connectedness that transcends borders. Ordinary people have stepped up to help. Host communities – especially those in low- and middle-income countries where nearly 90 percent of the world’s refugees live – have continued to demonstrate a remarkable welcome.
And refugees themselves are also contributing in significant ways, despite often living in extremely vulnerable conditions. They are, for example, volunteering as front line health workers in Colombia and the United Kingdom; making soap for distribution in Lebanon and Niger; sewing masks and protective gear in Iran; helping construct isolation centres in Bangladesh; and elsewhere around the world, they are contributing time to help the needy in their host communities.
As we battle COVID-19, I draw inspiration from the resilience refugees have shown in overcoming their own crisis of displacement and dispossession; their separation from home and family; and their determination to improve their own and others’ lives, despite these and other hardships.
On World Refugee Day, I salute and celebrate the fortitude of refugees and displaced people around the world. I also pay tribute to the communities that shelter them and that have demonstrated the universally shared values and principles of compassion and humanity. They have sometimes hosted and protected refugees for years or even generations, and continuing to uphold these values in a time of pandemic is a powerful message of hope and solidarity.
UNHCR is no stranger to challenges. For over 70 years we have been on the frontlines of countless emergencies. Yet this global pandemic is of an entirely new magnitude. Our priority has been and will be, to stay and deliver for the refugees, internally displaced and stateless people we are mandated to protect. But we can’t do it alone.
Mobilizing help and support to prepare and respond to the pandemic has been vital in the past months. And we have seen how countries and communities around the world have included refugees in their own national health responses. It is now equally critical to secure refugees’ and displaced persons’ inclusion in the much-needed socio-economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Global Compact on Refugees has laid a strong foundation for this response. We have already seen it in action as bilateral donors, international financial institutions, and the private sector have responded to this crisis with unprecedented levels to support refugees through host governments. Such support must continue and be redoubled so that they have the resources necessary to include refugees and displaced people and ensure that economic and social disparities do not lead to rifts within and between communities. More must also be invested in countries of origin to make the return of refugees a viable option.
On this World Refugee Day, I call for greater global solidarity and action to include and support refugees, internally displaced and stateless people as well as their hosts.
Whoever you are. No matter where you come from. Every one of us can make a difference.
Every action truly counts.https://reliefweb.int/report/world/2020-world-refugee-day-statement-un-high-commissioner-refugees-filippo-grandi
Every refugee represents a human tragedy. Each one has a story – of fear, of trauma, of desperation, of determination. This poem by Warsan Shire reminds us of that truth.
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your earWarsan Shire, “Home,” Seekershub.org, September 2, 2015
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
My earlier post looked at the immense challenges faced by asylum seekers during the pandemic. It would be wrong to leave it there. In communities across the UK, refugees are stepping forward to help, to offer their expertise and energy.
Four years ago I wrote a piece for Refugee Week, talking about what it is that refugees hope for when they arrive here.
We’d want to have a place where we can shut our door and hang up our hats, and sleep without fear, and be with the people we love. We’d want the chance to work, to use our skills to earn enough to provide for ourselves and the people we love, to prepare healthy meals, to buy new shoes for the children as they grow, to be warm enough in winter. We’d want the chance to learn, new languages and new skills, and we’d want our children to go to school and learn all that they need to make their way in the world, and to make friends and play.
We’d want to become part of a community. Paying our way, making a contribution, chatting to our neighbours, free of the threat that there will be a knock on the door early one morning and we’ll be sent away, back where we came from, or just away, to anywhere that’s not here.
The Metro highlighted other examples. Majeda Khoury, a refugee from Syria, has used her catering company, The Syrian Sunflower, to provide at least 400 meals for struggling families during lockdown.
After the pandemic broke out, Majeda, 47, started cooking and dropping off meals to the residents of Ealing on her bike. The cook was forced to take two months off after falling ill with coronavirus but as soon as she was well again, she was back in the kitchen preparing 200 meals for families in need during Ramadan. She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I believe that volunteer work is very important. Especially in times like this, I feel a responsibility to my community.’https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/16/how-refugees-are-leading-way-helping-uk-communities-pandemic-12855071/?ito=cbshare&fbclid=IwAR2XzN7S7OJJJO1dwkMLX3w2_44ne-LAcVqftJEFjGtu_Uaj86HklwvuhUw
Mazen Salmou, also from Syria,
Maz may have only been living in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, for less than two years, but in that short space of time he has already become a cherished member of the community. When the pandemic broke out, the 40-year-old, originally from Damascus, Syria, couldn’t sit back and watch people struggle. So, he decided to sign up as a volunteer with Bromsgrove Community Support Group, which provides essential help to the elderly and those shielding. Every day of the week, the broadcast journalist has been on his bike delivering pharmacy prescriptions and shopping to the doorsteps of vulnerable locals. Maz estimates he has dropped off essentials to around 300 households so far. He has also been volunteering with a local support helpline listening to residents who are struggling with their mental health during lockdown.
Owner of Nigerian catering company Nana Nokki, Chineze has provided at least 200 healthy meals for struggling families during lockdown, and Maria Igwebuike, owner of lingerie brand Maria Callisto has put her seamstress skills to use, making face masks with a vintage twist. She sells her masks online, with a portion of funds going to charity.
Refugees are also on the frontline. Like Mohamad Kajouj, from Syria.
His expertise has been vital treating Covid-19 patients at York Hospital’s A&E ward – often working two weeks in a row when colleagues have fallen ill. But the exhausting, traumatic and challenging work has not fazed the doctor, who was forced to flee his war-torn home country and seek asylum in the UK.https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/15/doctors-journey-warzone-nhs-prepared-trauma-coronavirus-wards-12853144/
Having worked in a warzone, Mohamad was prepared for the traumas of the Covid-19 ward. But when he arrived here, after time in a refugee camp and a perilous journey, he wasn’t initially able to put his medical training and experience to use. He focused on learning English to the necessary standard, so that he could pass his British medical training, and once he had requalified he began work at Salford Royal Hospital before moving to Yorkwhere he
But determined to get back to his work, Mohamad made learning English his ‘full-time job’ so he could pass his British medical training and join the NHS as soon as he could. And the hard work paid off. In just seven months Mohamad passed his advanced English test – a process so difficult it often takes at least two years – and inspired other refugees at Reache with his determination. He regained his confidence, made friends, re-qualified and went on to work at Salford Royal Hospital for the next two years, before moving to York.
Worldwide, many other medics are desperate to help, but unable to requalify to work in their new homes.
Refugees and immigrants trained in medicine represent a large untapped pool of talent in many countries with time-consuming or expensive re-certification procedures and regulations. Many arriving in a new country must find work right away to survive and cannot afford to repeat education and training. Some try but cannot land residencies – which are required by all states in the US – or clinical experience.
The result is that hundreds of thousands of skilled medical professionals around the world are working in jobs that have nothing to do with their training – often low level jobs that require barely more than a high school degree. In the United States alone, as many as 263,000 immigrants and refugees with health-related degrees are unemployed or under-employed, according to the Migration Policy Institute think-tank.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/stories/2020/5/5ebd461d4/coronavirus-spreads-refugee-doctors-want-join-fight.html
Perhaps we can hope that the urgent need for medically trained staff will lead more governments to ease the path to requalification. And even that
now that refugees and immigrants who trained overseas are risking their lives, the countries they are supporting will support them – even after the emergency ends.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/stories/2020/5/5ebd461d4/coronavirus-spreads-refugee-doctors-want-join-fight.html
If you’ve not managed to catch up with any of the eclectic and exciting range of online events in the Migration Matters Festival yet, there’s more to come.
And there are installations/virtual exhibitions that are available online till 21 June.
Installation • All agesVIEW EVENT →
I’ve written about Za’atari before, during Refugee Week. In 2017 and in 2018 I celebrated the creative collaboration between refugees living in the camp and researchers from the University of Sheffield, to solve the practical problems they were facing. This was not about parachuting in experts to tell people what they should do. The people in the camp were the real experts, in terms of understanding what was needed, the resources they had at their disposal, and the constraints (the ban on creating any permanent structures, for example) on the solutions they implement.
This isn’t a one-way process. Because to solve the everyday problems in the camp they are working with, and not just for, the people in the camp.
Obviously not everyone living there has the kind of skills that can be pressed into service to help build the resources that the communities need, and not everyone is well and strong enough after the physical and mental traumas of flight to contribute in this way. But as a transit camp becomes a city the people living there can become again the people they were at home, can be part of the process of building and healing and problem-solving.
Innovative solutions to everyday problems are being developed, in collaboration with the people of Za’atari. Tony Ryan, the Director of the Centre, has been working with Helen Storey from the London College of Fashion, on resource use and repurposing in conflict zones, and on specific questions from the UNHCR about the design and manufacture of all kinds of things that we take for granted, like sanitary wear, make-up and bicycles. Resources are scarce in the camp, where 80,000 people share 6 sq km of space, and nothing is left to waste.
Home to 80,000 people. Intended as a temporary, transitory place, but evolving in to a long-term home for so many displaced by war. It’s Jordan’s fourth biggest city. Seen from above, as it is often is, to emphasise its sprawling scale, it’s easy to forget that in that city, as in any city, people are living their lives.
So how is life in this refugee city in the time of Covid-19?
Refugees are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic, because they often reside in overcrowded camps, settlements and urban areas in cramped conditions with inadequate access to fresh water and hygiene supplies.
Syrian refugees in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan are struggling to meet basic needs as they can no longer leave the camp to work. Their poor nutrition will inadvertently increase their vulnerability to disease. It doesn’t help that livestock are often not allowed in formal relief camps, since they could contribute to people’s livelihoods and food, improving nutrition.https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-lockdowns-force-the-worlds-poorest-into-deadly-trade-offs-between-their-health-and-livelihoods-136820
But that spirit of innovation lives on.
A group of five Syrian refugee students built a sanitation robot out of LEGO bricks to help their community prevent a coronavirus outbreak. The idea came from Marwan al-Zoubi, who sought refuge in Jordan in 2013 after fleeing the Syrian city of Daraa. He began studying robotics in 2019 with the support of the Blumont organization and now teaches children robotics at the UNHCR’s Zaatari Innovation Lab.
“One of the causes of infection with COVID-19 is contact with surfaces, so I had the idea of designing a robot to sanitize one’s hands without the need to touch the sanitizer bottle,” Zoubi told Al-Monitor. UNHCR’s Innovation Lab provided the necessary raw materials and funds for the simple LEGO prototype that uses a sensor to automatically dispense sanitizer.Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/05/jordan-zaatari-syrian-refugee-camp-robot-coronavirus.html#ixzz6Pcch9GSQ
And the partnership between Za’atari residents and Sheffield researchers continues to flower, even though the latter cannot be there in person.
Amidst Jordan’s arid landscape, there’s a tennis-court sized desert garden alive with plants being grown by refugees using foam, not soil.
The families involved in the project speak of benefits beyond having fresh food for the first time in years: Improving mental health and wellbeing, gaining new skills, maintaining important cultural and social traditions, finding a new sense of purpose and a feeling of empowerment. With many discarded mattresses being saved from landfill, there’s an important environmental impact too.https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sustainable-food/news/desert-garden-appeal
Scientists at the University of Sheffield are world-leading experts in hydroponics. Using highly advanced materials for commercial enterprise, they have been developing the technique at their lab in the city for many years. Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology and Tony Ryan OBE, Professor of Physical Chemistry, joined the dots between this high-tech work with polyurethane foam in Sheffield and a pile of old mattresses in the Zaatari camp. They set out to see if this most low-tech of materials could mimic the high-tech foams they were using in the lab. Turns out they could.
Soon after, the innovative Desert Garden project began, with both humanitarian and sustainable aims at its core: Use waste materials to grow fresh food in the desert for people displaced by war. The project is being managed by Dr Moaed Al Meselmani, a Syrian refugee himself, and a soil scientist currently working at the University of Sheffield.
You can donate to help keep the project going here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sustainable-food/news/desert-garden-appeal
UNHCR has implemented a preventive plan to counter the spread of COVID-19 in Syrian refugee camps. Movement in and out of the camps is under strict medical scrutiny and all vehicles entering the premises are being sterilized,” UNHCR spokesman Mohammad al-Hawari explained.
“UNHCR also suspended all visits,” Hawari added. “We have medical centers and quarantine areas that are ready in the event the Jordanian government hospitals no longer have room for patients. We also have teams with extensive experience in fighting the spread of epidemics such as the bird and swine flu and Ebola in different areas of the world.”
He went on, “By early May, UNHCR had contributed $1.2 million to the Jordanian Ministry of Health to help purchase medical and laboratory materials and PPE.”
At the end of March, UNHCR made an appeal for $27 million to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Jordan, part of a global appeal for $255 million to support urgent preparedness and response measures for refugees and forcibly displaced people.https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/05/jordan-zaatari-syrian-refugee-camp-robot-coronavirus.html
If we think we know what it is to be locked down, just imagine, if you can, being locked down in a refugee camp. Unable to go home, even if it was safe to do so. Unable to move on to start to build a new life somewhere else. We may be all in the same storm…
The threat from Covid-19 is not just the threat of serious illness and death. It is the threat of loss of livelihood, of loss of freedom of movement, of loss of educational opportunities. It may be the threat of being locked down with someone who abuses or exploits you or your children. It may be that you can’t get the food you need, or medical treatment, or advice and support.
Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK face all of these threats, and more. The Refugee Council’s open letter calls upon the government to address three key issues:
Increase asylum support by £20 per week to bring it in line with Universal Credit. This increase is vital for people seeking asylum trying to look after themselves and their families during the coronavirus pandemic.
Make it possible for people to claim asylum without having to travel. Currently people seeking asylum are still being required to travel in order to make a claim, in direct contradiction to the Government’s own travel restrictions and rules on social distancing.
Give all people seeking asylum accommodation suitable for social distancing and self-isolation. No-one should be made to share a room, but sadly this is the reality for some people in the asylum system and this is not acceptable.https://act.refugeecouncil.org.uk/campaign/call-home-secretary-priti-patel-protect-people-seeking-asylum-during-pandemic
People on asylum support are provided with just over £5 per day to cover their essential living needs. Those who were already struggling are now finding it harder still – they are issued with prepaid cards that are only uploaded with credit weekly, and can only be used in certain shops. In addition, the need for mobile phone credit/data is much greater when face to face appointments are not available. Those who are in receipt of Universal Credit have seen their allowance increased by £20 a week for the next year. Those seeking asylum were getting far less than UC claimants anyway, and have now been told that their support rates will increase by 26p per day, less than 1/10th of the UC uplift. No one is suggesting that the UC claimant is being showered with largesse, far from it. But asylum seekers are, in this as in so many other respects, the worst off amongst the worst off.
Currently, to make a claim for asylum once you are in the UK, you must attend an Asylum Intake Unit. There are currently seven of these around the country (previously there was just one, in Croydon). But even with these new regional units, most people will have to use public transport to get there, exposing them to infection on what may be long and complex journeys. And many asylum seekers have health problems, arising from the situations that caused them to flee in the first place, the conditions in refugee camps or the exigencies of the journey here, and then poverty and poor quality accommodation on top of that.
The quality of accommodation for asylum seekers already raises serious public health concerns. Arrangements such as bedroom sharing between unrelated adults, communal eating facilities and crowded social spaces make social distancing difficult, and self-isolation almost impossible. Concerns have also been raised about the provision of sufficient hygiene and sanitation products in both Initial Accommodation centers and hotel provision.
In addition to the above, many of the drop-in facilities, the conversation classes, the informal support provision, have had to close. Support organisations are struggling to maintain effective contact with their clients – this is not just about the digital and technological aspects of communication, there are also frequently language barriers.
The closure of drop-in centres means isolated people become even more lonely, while others are at risk because they no longer have access to the services they rely on such as showers or washing facilities.
A third of the organisations we spoke to were still offering some kind of face-to-face support, delivering food parcels, making cash payments and continuing with casework for more vulnerable people.https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/the-5-biggest-challenges-covid-19-poses-to-supporting-refugees-and-people-seeking-asylum/
The threat of disease will not stop refugees from leaving home, not when those homes are still being bombed or attacked by terrorists, not when they face persecution because of their faith or their political convictions, or their sexual orientation, not when the alternative is starvation. That they survive the terrors of the journey only to face destitution here is bitter enough. But they find themselves facing a new threat, one to which their poverty and lack of choice leaves them especially exposed.
We are all in the same storm, facing the same perils. But whilst many of us are in robust crafts, some are in leaking dinghies. Some are drowning.
… goes virtual!
Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and it is a city that is made vibrant by its diversity and interconnecting cultures. This year’s 5 day festival seeks to celebrate this history and culture with a vibrant and inclusive series of events.
Opening on the 15th June, Migration Matters Festival will run alongside the annual Refugee Week celebrated across the UK and together with national partners deliver an online and digital programme which will bring people together across the world
Instead of hosting events across the city centre and community hubs, the venues will be online platforms like zoom, Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram and Migration Matters’ own website hub. For the full programme, see Festival 2020 on the website.
As ever there’s a rich and soulful programme that brings the diverse and global mix of Sheffield’s communities together with artists from all over the world in a celebration of food, culture and performance.
To support our 2020 Online Festival progamme check out the donation page here. All proceeds will support the ongoing work of the festival and also be split with two incredible charities, South Yorkshire Refugee Law & Justice and Lesbian Asylum Support Sheffield.
A year on from Refugee Week 2019 and our world is unrecognisable. We’ve become accustomed to doing the Corona swerve to ensure a 2m distance between us and others, on the pavement or in the supermarket. Many of us wear face masks, either because it’s required by our governments or because we feel they will protect us or (more realistically) others from us. We’ve all seen the photographs of landmarks around the world, usually teeming with people but now still and empty. Our own streets have been quieter, our air clearer. We become accustomed to hearing the daily death toll, to clapping for the people who are risking their lives to keep us safe, fed and protected.
We’ve adjusted to change that would have seemed unimaginable this time last year, and to tragedy that we could not have envisaged, whether or not it has come close to us and the people we love.
In this new world we have felt at times that we are ‘all in the same boat’, wherever and whoever we are. But it’s truer to say that whilst we are all in the same storm, some of us are in sturdier crafts than others. Those who had safe homes, a robust health service, family support and secure income when the storm hit can hunker down and get through it. Those who have nothing, nowhere and no one will perish. Of course, the former group may perish too, if they become seriously ill, they may fall into one of the risk groups (based on age, gender, ethnicity and underlying health conditions). But many in the second group will fall into the risk categories too, and so are still more likely to die. We say that the virus does not discriminate, and of course it doesn’t, in the sense of actively choosing who to infect. But its effects, and the severity of the effects, are inevitably worse in those who are already vulnerable, and those who have the least control over their circumstances.
The ‘stay at home, stay safe’ message must sound bitter to so many, whose homes were not safe, whose journey from home was to protect themselves and their children from danger.
How do you socially isolate in an overcrowded refugee camp? How do you protect yourself if you are in a detention centre, awaiting deportation? How do you escape the horrors of war, terrorist attacks, desperate poverty and starvation, when even the most porous borders, even the most welcoming countries, are closed? And, if your instinct is to flee a place of danger, how do you ensure you don’t take the plague with you?
This Refugee Week I will try to gather some stories about how refugees and asylum seekers worldwide are living through these perilous plague times. Because there are still wars, there is still famine, there are still terrorist attacks, there are still regimes that oppress on the basis of ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation and political views. There are still refugees.