Refugee Nights is a virtual festival created by the IWM Institute marking its launch in November 2020. From those risking everything to cross the seas, to thousands who experienced the devastating fire in Lesbos’ Moria camp last month, 2020 has seen the highest levels of displacement on record. With an estimated 79 million people currently displaced worldwide, media attention has gravitated back to the so-called refugee crisis. But how much do we really know about the experiences of those behind the headlines? Over three nights, the festival will explore refugees’ stories throughout history in talks, eyewitness accounts, music and food, and celebrate refugees’ rich and important cultural contributions to UK public life.
Each night, spaced over three weeks, will be hosted by Hassan Akkad, Syrian refugee and creator of BAFTA-winning documentary ‘Exodus’ , who will guide online viewers through the festival and share his moving story along the way.
Here’s a lovely story for Refugee week. On hearing of one young lady’s struggles to keep up her studies during lockdown, a kind benefactor from a church group in St. Helens immediately promised to make sure that Bayan could fully engage with online classes. Just two days later a brand new laptop arrived. Bayan told us, “I am so happy with my new laptop. I want to say thank you to the person who gave it to me.”
Born in Aleppo, Bayan arrived in Liverpool as a 13 year old after spending the previous 4 years in a refugee camp in the Lebanon. Since then she has worked hard to learn English and to keep up with her schoolwork. This gift will certainly be a great help to Bayan as she works towards her GCSEs.
“There is sickness and we can’t wash our hands” – Iranian refugee.
France has been in lockdown since 16 March with strict rules limiting movement outside homes but what does this mean if you haven’t actually got a home?
There are around 1200 refugees living rough in the pas-de-Calais region. They are in constant fear about their health and supplies of food and water as COVID-19 takes away much of the support they had.
Care4Calais (C4C) is a volunteer run charity delivering essential aid and support to refugees across Northern France and Belgium. It is a charity well known to many staff and students at Edge Hill who have raised funds or worked for the charity as volunteers.
These refugees live in very poor conditions, exposed to the elements with a poor diet and a lack of readily available medical care. They are now living in constant fear of the virus due to the lack of running water and soap. An emergency appeal by Care4Calais recently resulted in a fast response from three companies, The House of Botanicals (a gin distillery in Aberdeen), International Water Solutions in Romford and L’Oréal Paris. However, there is a constant need to replenish supplies as the French authorities deny access to running water for washing.
Since the start of the lockdown, many of the NGOs who previously provided essential support to these already vulnerable people have made the difficult, but understandable decision to suspend their operations. One of these, Refugee Community Kitchen had provided hot meals to refugees in the area every single day since December 2015.
Recently, C4C surveyed 150 refugees across Calais and Dunkirk to gather data on the impacts of Covid-19. The results are interesting.
Almost half (48%) of those surveyed have been in Calais for three months or less. This is a reminder of how transitory the population is. It contrasts with ideas of a ‘permanent’ unwanted presence in the region.
Coronavirus was a primary concern for only 14 of the 150 refugees who responded. Nearly three times as many said they were most fearful for their most basic needs of food, sanitation, shelter or clothing. How can this be? Perhaps when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, a potential illness no matter how threatening, becomes secondary.
As the lockdown has continued, C4C has had to focus almost entirely on supplying food. The regular distribution of clean clothes and supplies of washing facilities more or less ceased resulting in many refugees having to survive wearing the same dirty clothes for weeks. This has resulted in a rise of conditions associated with a lack of basic hygiene. The need for clean clothing including footwear is a major concern for the refugees while C4C’s ability to meet this need has been compromised by the difficulties in obtaining donations and the lack of volunteers needed to deliver them.
C4C’s survey also showed that most people (86%) had serious reservations about using the shelters set up by the French authorities. This was mostly because the refugees knew this would mean abandoning their dreams of reaching the UK but also because they feared heightened exposure to coronavirus in confined spaces.
The refugees are in more need than ever before. Please consider donating to the Care4Calais appeal to help those in dire need.
COVID-19 cancellations of face to face teaching in some institutions, will be a change for all, but a significant loss for many AS/R students. Studying can help refugee students feel positive about the future. For Asylum Seekers particularly, classes provide a social space to share and learn with others as well as a constructive activity (as legally they are not permitted to work). The Universities of Sanctuary mailing list have shared some resources for remote learning for those whose English classes have been cancelled due to COVID-19.
These courses are free to access via COURSERA and are not just for refugees or asylum seekers. They can be run from some phones as well as other devices (e.g. library computers). Not all are running right now, but anyone can sign up to join when available.
S, an asylum seeker applying for a place next year, says:
‘It is such a great idea to make the most of these days.’
We question refugees’ motivations, scrutinize their stories, generalize their persecution, feel sorry for their plight, and invisiblize their individuality among the numbers that frame their displacement. The category that gives refugees international protection is the same that singles them out as a member of what seems to be a homogeneous group: refugees. By using this category in this way we generalize about their lives, we claim to understand their needs and we aim to find ‘solutions’ for them.
Four former unaccompanied child refugees from Eritrea,
Afghanistan and Albania working your average shift in your average pizza shop
take us on a journey across time and continents to show how extraordinary they
are. Having told their stories to social workers and courts as part of their
asylum claims, they are now reclaiming them.
Forced Migration Review issue 62 on ‘Return’, plus mini feature on understanding and addressing root causes of displacement
Deadline for submission of articles: Monday 17 June 2019
Maximum length: 2500 words
As one of the three ‘durable solutions’, voluntary return in safety and dignity has been a core tenet of the international refugee regime since the signing of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and is also reaffirmed in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Debates around the subject are complex, touching on political, legal and socio-economic questions as well as the central principle of non-refoulement and the humanitarian imperative to ensure that returns are informed, safe, voluntary and dignified.
This new issue of FMR will provide a forum for practitioners, advocates, policymakers, researchers and those directly affected to look at recent developments, share experience and good practice, debate perspectives and offer recommendations.