By Talia Smith
On 20 June, after Initiatives of Change (IofC) launched its Refugees as Rebuilders project in Parliament, we hosted guests at Greencoat Place to celebrate World Refugees Day. This was a creative and collaborative event featuring music, art, discussion and food from individuals from many cultures.
The event was held in partnership with International Centre For Eritrean Refugees And Asylum Seekers (ICERAS), Light Project Pro International, Erasmus+ IofC project Cross-Border Intercultural and Societal Entrepreneurs and Arab Forum on Cultural Heritage.
Amina Khalid, IofC’s Sustainable Communities Project Manager, opened the evening ‘tonight is about celebrating the success of refugees and also about the role that each of us can take to make a difference to the situation’. Amina encouraged people to ‘take away the labels and to see the human’.
Caroline Namugabi, founder and president of the Uganda Youth Forum and author of ‘Challenges of Identity: a psychological perspective’ spoke about identity as a person who came to the UK as a refugee. Caroline wrote this book as a response to her battle with identity. ‘We must not give up on our cultural identity. I am a British citizen, this is my national identity. It is like a double conscious – I am an African lady, holding the English culture. It is always a balance’.
Professor Gaim Kibreab, a Research Professor and Course Director of MSc Refugee Studies at London South Bank University, talked honestly about asylum giving a historic perspective. ‘The institution of asylum is a success’ Gaim commented. He explained there are core values that unite us, rather than divide us, but these are often forgotten when dealing with Asylum seekers and refugees. Gaim gave insights into the current global refuge situations, particularly in Syria and Libya. ‘There are 3.5 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey’ stated Gaim. In response to the staggering facts he provided, he asked ‘what happened to our shared values’ Gaim asked? ‘It is like human lives don’t matter anymore, greed and self-interest matters more. Liberal democracy, as a value, is threatened and this threat is against the common interest of the European Union’.
Daniel Trilling, a journalist, editor of New Humanist magazine and author of Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe, spoke about his work in the field and his personal reasons for being part of the struggle for refugee’s rights. Daniel was born and grew up in London, his parents are British and both of his grandmothers were refugees. He grew up hearing stories of their journeys and suffering. Daniel’s book focuses on the refugees on the boarders of Europe. He spent five years building friendships and trust with refugees, re-telling their stories of how they have encountered the system. Daniel’s response to the refugee situation is to ‘find refugees, connect with them and spread their stories’.
Joseph Nicolson-Porter played the piano, and Jeremiah Nicolson-Porter shared a pertinent poem about time. Faith Rose read a poem she had written especially for World Refugee day. As a gesture to the topic, she asked everyone to stand-up and take the person’s hand next to them and breathe together. ‘Just as now, we are all interconnected in this world. Refugees must not be forgotten’.
Key messages of the evening were the responsibility of the media within the refugee crisis, the personal actions and responses each of us can uphold and that refugees are to celebrate – a message that World Refugee day is acknowledging.