As the curtain closes on another Refugee Week, we look at last week’s activities and give you a snapshot of some of the fantastic events that took place over this most special of celebrations.
The Refugee Council as always, was extremely active in organising and promoting events to celebrate Refugee Week. Our first event happened in the virtual world in the build up to Refugee Week where the Refugee Week blog attracted thousands of people who read our guest editors unique insights into refugee issues and many users left comments that gave us all more food for thought.
On Saturday, staff and volunteers from our Birmingham office launched Refugee Week with a major event. Tim Finch, Chair of Refugee Week, and Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, joined staff from our West Midlands offices for a free open-air festival in Victoria and Chamberlain Squares in the city centre. Our women’s project were also involved coming-up with an instant dance choreography during the event which was a lot of fun despite many of us involved having to rehearse for only 15 minutes before the actual number.
Refugee Week kicked off in Leeds with a party hosted by the Leeds Iranian Organisation at which Sharon Witton, our Leeds talks Team coordinator spoke.
On Saturday night, Refugee Council staff and volunteers were part of the first of the Still Human Still Here summer sleepouts against destitution among asylum seekers. Refugee Council volunteer Mafungasei Maikokera, who joined the sleepout gave excellent interviews about destitution for BBC TV Look North on Sunday 17th June and BBC Radio Leeds on Monday 18th June.
Sunday was a big day as the Celebrating Sanctuary festival took over London’s South Bank! Refugee Council staff met thousands of our supporters and gave out materials supporting our campaigns to interested passers. Local MP Simon Hughes even popped by to sign up to the Just Fair campaign.
On Monday our contribution to Refugee Week took a lighter, and sometimes scurrilous approach, with six very funny professional comedians giving their time for free to entertain a packed audience at London’s Comedy Club. Ian Stone headlined “No Laughing Matter”.
Hidden Art, an exhibition of art by a Refugee Council volunteer fleeing persecution in East Africa opened in Leeds. The artist, who has changed his name to a squiggle because he cannot promote his work with his real name (due to his fear of being returned), creates large images using only a biro pen, in a unique squiggling style. The artist gave an interview with BBC Radio Leeds about his work, and his work has been profiled on the Leeds Met University website.
Leeds Met and Refugee Council also hosted “The Big Asylum Debate”, a debate about destitution among asylum seekers with spokespeople from the Border and Immigration Agency, Joseph Rowntree charitable Trust Inquiry into destitution among asylum seekers, PAFRAS (positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Leeds Refugee Forum. The debate opened with a minute’s silence in memory of Manuel Bravo, and asylum seeker based in Leeds who committed suicide, whilst awaiting deportation at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in September 2005.
On Tuesday MPs met a number of outstanding refugees—and our Chief Executive—in an event organised by the Refugee Council and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. The idea was to promote ‘encounters’ between refugees and their political representatives and to learn from each other. The parliamentarians were impressed by the refugees who included sportsmen, community volunteers, businessmen and musicians. They provided a much-needed antidote to the negative stories about asylum seekers and refugees in the media.
By Wednesday we were still not flagging: Refugee Council staff joined an early morning vigil held outside parliament, addressed by the MP Jon Cruddas before he introduced a debate supporting the Strangers into Citizens campaign on regularisation in the Commons.
Refugees and their mentors cycled through Leeds City Centre and out to Kirkstall Abbey in Biking Together, an event organised by Leeds Library Time Together Refugee Mentoring Project and Leeds met University Mentoring refugees into Employment Scheme.
A packed audience in Leeds watched “Asylum Monologues”, a theatrical reading of 3 accounts of the asylum system, performed simultaneously in 12 locations around the UK.
On Thursday staff and volunteers at our London HQ gave out thousands of copies of a great new paper “The New Londoners” to commuters going through Brixton tube station.
By Friday we were going back to school with a Refugees into Teaching conference. 75 delegates were at City Hall in London for our conference – a productive mix of local authority representatives and refugee teachers, exploring the positive contribution refugee teachers are making.
We finished off the week by working with Amnesty International and Church Action on Poverty to co-ordinate a number of sleepouts across the country which defied the threatened storms to demonstrate concern about destitution for asylum seekers.
And that wasn’t all, all through the week Refugee Council volunteers, staff and friends contributed “reflections” to Leeds Met University website And Leeds Refugee Forum launched their new centre for Refugee Community Organisations and we hosted parties for newly arrived asylum seekers at induction centres in Leeds, Barnsley and Wakefield.
Phew! It was a busy week—but we think we made a real contribution to promoting the contribution of refugees to the UK. Of course, our highlights are only a small snapshot of some of the events that went on. Roll on Refugee Week 2008…