Archive for category Refugees
2012, for me, has been the year of the blog. The year that through this medium I found a creative outlet, met some fascinating people and discovered some wonderful writers, engaged in some stimulating and unexpected discussions, and generally had my optimism about the internet reinforced. I’ve been uplifted, fascinated and inspired on a regular basis by bloggers such as Diana J Hale, Vertigo, The Fife Psychogeographic Collective, That’s how the light gets in, Weaver’s Journal, Steve Sarson and Decayetude. And my blog on the US election led to a mutually respectful encounter with Rick from Billerica, with whom I would disagree about pretty much everything, except the principle of mutually respectful encounters with those who hold different views. On the Our Island Stories blog, set up in the aftermath of the Olympics to talk about questions of national identity, we’ve had contributions from some of the above, and also from Kate Elmer, Mike Press, Emily Wilkinson and Diane Magras. To all of those people, and so many others, thanks!
The internet comes in for some harsh criticism – and I read ‘below the line’ often enough to be brought almost to despair at the bigotry, the hatred, the cruelty that’s out there, only needing the anonymity of an internet forum to come spewing out. But my own experience has been entirely positive. Through blogging, through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve made friends, had fascinating conversations, shared enthusiasms, learned stuff. I’ve connected with people I would never have encountered at all otherwise, and connected in unexpected ways with people I already knew. This obviously doesn’t invalidate the experiences of those who’ve been subjected to the viciousness of trolls and the deceit of sock-puppets – but it needs saying, that it can be, and often is, an enormous force for good , and that connections made via the net are not intrinsically less ‘real’, less worthwhile than those made by other means.
So, looking back at 2012, these have been some of the best bits, culturally speaking:
- John Akomfrah‘s extraordinary The Nine Muses
- Watching the ever elusive and enigmatic Last Year at Marienbad twice – to be the subject of a later blog.
- TV : Homeland - plot holes wide enough to swallow up the odd aircraft carrier, but the degree of ambiguity in all of the main characters has been wonderfully sustained, and the denoument was unforeseen. Line of Duty and Good Cop shared the best of those characteristics. Misfits and Being Human somehow survived a brutal cull of main characters to emerge still witty and surprising. The Walking Dead kept us on the edge of our seats, where we must remain until February, and anxiously awaiting news of Daryl’s fate (and the others, obv, but hey, Daryl!). Oh, and Dr Who continued to be marvellous, moving and magical.
- I’ve been reading Proust. A statement which will probably feature in my summaries for 2013, 2014 and possibly beyond. I’ve been fascinated by two particular elements recently – the constant referencing of the Dreyfus Affair, and the theme of sexual ‘inversion’ – and rather less fascinated by some of the aristocratic dinner parties that one has to endure almost in real time, such is the detail with which they are described. There have been moments when I’ve wished Robespierre had been a little more thorough. I’m about at the halfway point in the whole A la Recherche project.
- New great stuff from Stephen King (11.22.63), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies) and Jon McGregor (Even the Dogs)
- First encounters with writers I should have read before and will read more of – Hans Fallada, Alexander Baron, Haruki Murakami and Wilkie Collins.
- Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s – I approached with caution knowing that she was riffing on my favourite novel of all time, Bleak House, but I need not have worried. Indeed, I went straight from Tom to her earlier novel (Murder at Mansfield Park), and have her next on pre-order – and she led me to The Woman in White as well.
- Theatre - Geoffrey Streatfeild in both Macbeth at the Crucible and Copenhagen at the Lyceum, Betrayal (lovely John Simm) at the Crucible
- Tramlines festival – Screaming Maldini and Early Cartographers in Weston Park, The Third Half at the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Ghedi & Neal Hepplestone at the Cathedral, and Frankie & the Heartstrings, Field Music and We are Scientists on Devonshire Green. Three days of music spilling out of every bar and coffee shop, of sunshine and people dancing in the streets – literally – and generally being nice to each other.
- Music in the Round – a fabulous Quartet for the End of Time, an introduction to Louise Farrenc, and the early polyphony of Pérotin and the Notre Dame composers in Sheffield Cathedral.
2012 has been the year that the Hillsborough families were vindicated, utterly and unconditionally. The year that the truth was not so much revealed – it had been in plain view all the time – as spotlit, so that there were no shadows in which the lies could continue to lurk. And that justice seems finally to be within reach now. Massive respect to all of those who fought this battle when it must have seemed hopeless, when everything and everyone seemed to be against them.
And it’s been the year of Inspiration for Life. The year a dear friend and colleague, Tim Richardson, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and a whole community came together to support him, and to help him set up a charity to do the things he believes in – supporting living, giving and learning. We’ve been both devastated and uplifted.
So – onward to 2013.
No resolutions as such. But anticipations and aspirations -
- Graduating (again), and planning the next stage of my lifelong learning, and publishing (if I can, in real, proper, academic journals) some of my work on Michel Butor
- Fundraising for Refugee Action – having hung up my trainers, I’m not sure yet how I can best do this, but their work is vitally important and I want to do what I can
- Reading Proust, and lots of other stuff. Lots and lots.
- Enjoying to the full Sheffield’s rich cultural life – theatre, arthouse cinema, Music in the Round, Tramlines, Festival of the Mind, Arts-Science Encounters, Site and S1 and Bloc, and more
- Blogging, about Butor, Sebald, French cinema, refugees, Dr Who, national identity, and whatever else is buzzing around in my mind at any given moment
- Enjoying working with physicists, astronomers and other scientists, and facilitating what they do, through what I do
- Continuing to be an utter geek
- Listening to as much music as possible, with as eclectic a range as possible
- Getting Inspiration for Life going – with the 24-hour Inspire at the end of Feb (24 hours of lectures, activities and entertainments), the publication of Tim’s diary, and the art exhibition in May, funds from which will go to local cancer charities (Weston Park Cancer Hospital Charity, St Luke’s Hospice and Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice).
- Going on about stuff that matters – refugees, environmental issues, injustice, inequality, that sort of thing. Going on and on.
- Doing all the above whilst being a good-enough parent, partner and friend
Phew! No pressure then.
Thanks to all who’ve enriched my life in 2012, and with whom I’ve shared the best bits. Here’s wishing you all good things in 2013.
“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...”
Hate crime occurs when an antagonist is able to hurt a victim, physically, mentally, financially, sexually or in any manner where the motivation for committing that crime against you, or the expectation of being able to get away with that crime against you is discrimination, inequality or intended hatred.
Above: A Runner, Another Runner, Me
Well, I never said I’d run the Great Yorkshire fast. In fact, I quite distinctly and explicitly said I’d run slowly, and I did. Slightly more slowly than last year, in fact. However hard I try, I find myself falling back towards the rear of the last wave of runners, alongside people who are in fact walking, and people in cumbersome fancy dress. If I’m honest, I do mind that, a bit.
I don’t expect to cross the finish line to a ticker tape welcome, cheer leaders waving pom poms, reporters queuing up to interview me about the experience. But for the stragglers, those last few runners to stagger over the line, there’s a bit of a sense of anti-climax as we stumble on suddenly jelly like legs to grab the last few goodie bags, and head home, as if we’ve arrived at a party after the booze has run out, and the music’s been turned down low.
I like to think, however, that there’s something a little bit heroic about my continued efforts in a field where I am so clearly not gifted. I like to think that the kind and cheery people who still line the route to the bitter end, who call out ‘Well done Catherine, keep going, you’re doing fine’, recognise a certain bloody-minded determination, whether or not they recognise or value the cause for which I run.
In recent weeks there have been cheers and tears for a Somali born refugee who’s proud to say that this is his country and to wear the British flag around his shoulders as he kneels on the track to pray. And as we marvel at the Paralympics we remember also that it was a refugee from Nazism, Ludwig Guttman, who saw that people with spinal cord injuries who had been written off, left to die slowly and in despair could be given new hope, purpose and the chance to achieve through therapy and sport. (And Guttman wouldn’t have been here without the help of the Society for Protection of Science and Learning, now the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.) This doesn’t prove anything, of course, except that amongst those who make their way here are some exceptionally gifted individuals. But to me it says that a country that is confident enough in itself to be open and generous, hospitable and inclusive, will be enriched by that. If we were to take away from our culture the contribution of refugees, we’d lose more than that gold medal, and more even than the Paralympic Games. We’d lose landmark buildings, high street names, publishing houses, works of art – in every field of business, politics, science, arts, sports, we’d lose. The societies that drive people out because of their beliefs, their race, their sexuality, they lose. And if the displaced and the exiled are not given sanctuary, then those people, gifted or not, destined to be famous or not, will be lost too, along with those who never got the chance to escape.
So, actually, I do like to think that I can use not only something I am quite good at (writing, communication) but something that I’m really
rather rubbish at, both for the same purpose, both to support the same cause, because more and more I believe that it is one of the most
important things we can do, to support refugees.
If you’d like to help, you can sponsor me here: http://www.justgiving.com/Catherine-Annabel0
Find out more about the work of Refugee Action here:
- Why I run, why I run very slowly – and why I run for Refugee Action (cathannabel.wordpress.com)
I’m not given to patriotic outpourings. I have difficulty saying I’m ‘proud’ to be British – I’m too aware of our colonial history to feel that in any simple way it is a matter of pride. But I’ve always resented the appropriation of patriotism by the racists of the National Front, the BNP and EDL, and whilst flags and royal weddings and the like don’t move me terribly I do feel lucky to live here, and I love my homeland.
I wasn’t expecting to find anything about the Olympics that would move me, any more than that wedding did. I was wrong. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony celebrated my Britain, my home, in all its glorious diversity, in a way I hadn’t for a moment expected. It was a delight – I was laughing with pleasure, and with tears in my eyes. And last night I was moved by our own Jess’s triumph in the heptathlon – a Sheffield lass, after our own Arctic Monkeys had greeted the nation with a cry of ‘Y’alreight?’ – and by . ‘s triumph in the 10000m
And so the whole thing, which I’d expected to be a massive bore, has turned out to be instead a massive, bonkers celebration of this marvellous, mixed up country, where the multiculturalism which a Tory idiot and the Daily Mail derided has brought us medals beyond all expectations, where the successes of a Yorkshire girl with a Jamaican dad, and a Somali refugee have been celebrated across all the boundaries that sometimes divide us.
Last night Mo was asked if he’d rather be running for Somalia. His answer is powerful in its simplicity and confidence: “Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.”
That’s not a pride that requires disparaging or disqualifying anyone, it’s not a pride that is based on being white or being able to trace centuries of ancestors on British soil. It’s not about believing that we as a nation have always been heroic or just, or that our policies at home or abroad are right now.
I’m proud that over centuries we’ve kept our doors open to people who’ve needed to find refuge here, from French Huguenots to Russian and European Jews, to victims of more recent conflicts and oppression. That’s the Britain I love, and celebrate – whilst at the same time wishing we were more welcoming, less mean-spirited (see my series of posts for Refugee Week, and if you would, sponsor me to run for Refugee Action in a few weeks time!). Our diversity is our strength, and I love and celebrate that too.
Danny Boyle’s vision for the opening ceremony was summed up in Tim Berners-Lee‘s gift of the internet to the world, a gift, as he said, that is for everyone. That celebration of ‘the creativity, exuberance and, above all, the generosity of the British people’ had ‘a golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of a better world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. We can build Jerusalem. And it will be for everyone.’
Idealistic, naive – perhaps. But that’s my country. And I’m proud.
- How Mo Farah rejected the “plastic Brit” charge (newstatesman.com)
- London 2012: Danny Boyle’s story of Britain was a celebration of freedom | Shami Chakrabarti (guardian.co.uk)
Those who’ve known me longest are the most surprised that I run – I spent most of my life strenuously avoiding unnecessary physical activity. However, to my own surprise, I enjoy it. It helps that where I live in Sheffield I can run for a few minutes from my home and find myself looking out over the lovely Rivelin valley, which lifts the spirits, even on a drizzly day. On a sunny day, it makes me want to burst into song (I don’t, as I’m usually too out of breath, and I don’t want to frighten the horses/dog walkers/other runners who are out there too). On the flip side, you can’t run anywhere in Sheffield without having to deal with hills …
The Great Yorkshire Run is a great experience – there’s the full spectrum of runners, from the elite group (who were back across the finish line almost before my ‘wave’ set off) to unlikely runners like me. I’m slow – though I get a tiny bit faster each time – which is fine, it’s a run and not a race, and I’m a middle-aged, traditionally built (thank you Alexander McCall Smith) woman, a pit pony rather than a gazelle. But I keep going – once I start running I don’t stop, till I cross the finish line.
Last year I shaved 3 minutes of my previous year’s time (which itself was 10 minutes faster than I’d ever achieved in training). When I’d slogged up the final cruelly steep hill a sudden spell of dizziness and breathlessness led to an ignominious journey on a golf cart to the medical tent. This year, I’ve had back problems which stopped me training for a few weeks. Despite that, I’ll be doing the Great Yorkshire again this year, wearing the Refugee Action t-shirt.
Anyone who read my Refugee Week‘s worth of blogs about refugees will not be surprised at my choice of charity. It’s really important to me how my country treats people who arrive here seeking sanctuary from persecution, violence and war. My parents offered hospitality to Hungarian refugees after the uprising in 1956. Ten years later we found ourselves in northern Nigeria during the violence that preceded the civil war, when Igbo people were killed in their homes, on the streets, on the university campuses and in hospital wards. Even those trying to escape from Nazi Europe often found their accounts of persecution doubted, and were unwelcome where they sought refuge. You only have to read the reporting in many newspapers of any refugee issues to see how many half-truths and complete falsehoods are trotted out to bolster the view that we should send them all back (or at least send them somewhere else). I know how much Refugee Action does to support these people, and to counter prejudice and misinformation, and I’m proud to be raising funds for this work.
So, if you feel as I do about the importance of this work, please sponsor me here:
‘Borders can become stifling and murderous. The dotted lines on the cartographer’s map can be transformed into walls of flame’ (‘Bricolage: An Interview with Michel Butor’, YFS, 84 (1994), 17-26)
All this week, I’ve been blogging about refugees. I set myself the task of posting at least once a day on this theme, and whilst it’s been demanding (given the day job, and all that) to keep to that, there’s never been the remotest danger that I would run out of stories to tell. The stories have spanned more than a century (Ukrainian Jews relocating to Sheffield at the end of the 19th century, through to Medecins sans Frontieres’ bulletin from South Sudan, and campaigns in the UK for refugees facing deportation and destitution), but only two continents, and every continent, every nation has its refugee stories.
The refugee story is perhaps the true story of our age. In the chaos of Europe after the Second World War the numbers of people displaced – because they’d fled, or been deported, or been driven out of their homes by fighting or bombing – were so great (around 40 million) that for the first time the idea of the refugee was given serious consideration. Our legal definitions come from that period, though they have evolved and adapted since. Estimates of numbers vary considerably, based on the nuances of the definitions – from 8.4 million to 62 million if we include people displaced within their country of origin, as well as those outside it.
The classic definition – a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ – is based on the idea of a national identity, and of national borders. Borders change, of course, and are in the main arrived at through conflict, occupation or colonisation – or by nature’s arrangements of sea or mountains. Nigeria’s ongoing hideous turmoil is felt by many to be a product of the arbitrary lines drawn on a map by colonialists with little notion of the land those lines were enclosing or the peoples who inhabited it.
Borders can be absolute – one step over and you are in safety or in peril – but there’s also the notion of ambiguity, in the old Marchlands – borderlands rather than borderlines – which were dangerous places where the rule of law might not prevail. And there were also sanctuaries – places where the rule of God rather than man prevailed and so one could be immune from arrest. That notion is powerful and long-lasting, despite the terrible roll call of abuses. The flight to a hoped-for place of safety sometimes did the work of genocidal mobs for them, as in Rwanda where a church in Nyarubuye and the technical school which had been a UN base had attracted many hundreds of refugees, who were surrounded by the Interahamwe and massacred.
The frontier can represent the limits of exploration (‘Space. The final frontier’), to be boldly gone beyond, with all of the implications that what lies beyond may contain unknown and unimaginable dangers. It’s a romantic notion in a way – and one which when given a historical context such as the American West reminds us that beyond the frontier wasn’t empty space to be occupied but homelands and homes and people to be displaced and destroyed.
‘I think I belong on the border. I feel safer psychologically if I have two countries, two places to go’. Carmen Bugan still feels this, decades after leaving Romania. W G Sebald, no refugee, but an exile, unable to feel at home in the place of his birth, said that his ideal station might be ‘a hotel in Switzerland‘ – a non-place in a neutral country. Going home – if one can – may be as painful as being a stranger in a strange land. For Carmen, returning to Romania two years ago to revisit her family home and old school was “one of the worst experiences of my life”. ‘Yet there is still an inescapable desire to reconnect. Her writing is circling ever closer to Romania. “Do I want to turn back?” she wonders. “Is Romania really the sun and am I the sunflower?”‘ A S Byatt said of Sebald’s narrator in Rings of Saturn that he “journeys in great circling spirals in order not to go home, to get away from his origins”.
Every day’s papers bring more news of people forced to make unimaginable choices, people for whom home is no place. South Sudanese refugees facing expulsion from Israel, boats carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers capsizing in the Indian Ocean, Ugandan Asians returning to the homes from which Idi Amin drove them, Burmese Rohingya refugees seeking help in Bangladesh, refugee camps filling up in Turkey, in DRC. It would be terribly easy to despair. But the other side of the picture is, as it always has been, the story of generosity and hospitality, of people giving a damn when it’s not their turn to give a damn, of the marginalised and spectralised finding a place in a community and people to listen to their stories.
What could I say, to sum up what this week has been about? Just that, as I said in my first Refugee Week post, every story that can be told is precious, a little bit of light in the darkness.
PS – Many thanks to all those who’ve retweeted and reblogged these posts to bring them to a wider audience than I could reach.
On 25/6 September 1940 a man took his own life in a hotel in Portbou, Catalonia. He was 48 years old. He was a writer, an intellectual, whose work, cut terribly short as it was, is still hugely influential. He was Jewish, and had crossed the border from France, having escaped Paris ahead of the German army. He’d just heard that all transit visas had been cancelled, and that he and his fellow-travellers would be forced to return to France.
The UNHCR’s campaign for World Refugee Day focused on the ‘choice’ faced by refugees – to stay or to go, either one fraught with danger. Walter Benjamin – and many others – took a third option. He had contemplated suicide before, seeing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. He’d recently been interned in France as a stateless person, and knew already that the Gestapo had instructions to arrest him.
His choice is made bitter by our knowledge that his travelling companion, Arthur Koestler, took morphine tablets too, but survived and escaped, and that the embargo on visas was lifted a few weeks later. As Hannah Arendt says in her introduction to Illuminations, ‘only on that particular day was the catastrophe possible’ (p. 18).
It’s also bitter because, if the scope of his influence on the humanities is so great on the basis of the work he published in his short lifetime, it could have been so much more had he lived. In the words of his friend Gershom Scholem, his ‘genius united the insight of the Metaphysician, the interpretative power of the Critic, and the erudition of the Scholar’. (Reflections, vii). Anyone interested in the city, in maps and labyrinths, in Baudelaire, Kafka or Proust, in text and translation, history and memory, will encounter Benjamin.
Walter Benjamin stands, in this context, for our loss, the loss of those who didn’t escape, and particularly those – notable and anonymous – who chose this third way. On the memorial to Benjamin in Portbou these words are inscribed: IT IS MORE ARDUOUS TO HONOUR THE MEMORY OF THE NAMELESS THAN THAT OF THE RENOWNED. HISTORICAL CONSTRUCTION IS DEVOTED TO THE MEMORY OF THE NAMELESS.
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, preface by Leon Wieseltier, Introduction by Hannah Arendt (NY: Schocken Books, 2007)
— Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, preface by Leon Wieseltier, Introduction by Peter Demetz (NY: Schocken Books, 2007)
Seventy or so years ago, homosexuals were arrested across Nazi Europe – around 100,000 of whom between 5 and 15 thousand were sent to concentration camps, where 60% of them are believed to have been killed. Their place in the Holocaust was not recognised officially for many years – after all, survivors could not tell their stories openly in societies where their sexuality was still criminalised and stigmatised.
Today in Uganda the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, apparently withdrawn under intense international pressure, has been reintroduced to parliament. It would broaden the criminalisation of same-sex relations by creating two categories: aggravated homosexuality (e.g. acts committed by someone who is HIV positive, is a parent or authority figure, a repeat offender, commits acts on a minor or using intoxicating substances),which would attract the death penalty, or the offense of homosexuality punishable merely by life imprisonment. This legislation extends to those who engage in same-sex relations outside of Uganda, and includes penalties for supporting gay people or LGBT rights. Uganda is not alone – homosexuality is punishable by death in a number of other countries, and criminalised across much of the globe. In these countries, not only are LGBT people subject to judicial punishments but to unofficial violence, against which they can have no hope of redress or protection.
Despite this, for a long time in UK asylum law, the idea that one’s sexual orientation could be grounds for seeking refugee status was not accepted. As a result, even where people could show that they had faced persecution because of their sexuality, and that their home country criminalised homosexuality, they were told to go home, and be discreet. Two years ago this was overturned by the UK Supreme Court.
‘The Home Office argument paralleled the idea that if Anne Frank could have avoided persecution by hiding forever in the attic, then she wouldn’t have qualified as a refugee. Sir John Dyson calls this argument “absurd and unreal”. The test essentially creates two parallel persecutions – the objective risk from the state or society one comes from, and the living lie required to hide from it. Moreover, the court holds that there is no possible yardstick for measuring when suppressing ones sexuality is “reasonably tolerable”. The question the court of appeal posed regarding what is “reasonably tolerable” is fundamentally unanswerable. As Lord Rodger points out, in the final analysis, “there is no relevant standard since it is something which no one should have to endure”.’ (Bernard Keenan, ‘Milestone victory for gay refugees’, Guardian, 7 July 2o10)
This was obviously a huge step forward. And the refugee organisations who helped to bring about this change also lobbied for improved training for UKBA staff, to enable them to deal with these issues more sensitively, and with a greater cultural understanding (see Stonewall’s report for the background to this). Things may well have improved in this area too, but the number of cases where gay asylum seekers are currently threatened with deportation suggests there is some way to go.
Julia Kristeva argued that the stranger/refugee multiplies masks and false selves. In their homeland the refugee may have had to ‘pass’, as conforming to whatever set of beliefs and behaviours will make them acceptable. In their place of sanctuary, the immediate threat may have been removed, but they still need to keep themselves as inconspicuous as possible, given that the very fact of being a stranger makes them vulnerable. And if the reason for their exile is their sexuality, their claim for refugee status is dependent upon their ability to be open about something that has been a source of shame and fear, something that may still expose them to violence. A new report from the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration says that ‘LGBTI individuals are virtually invisible in the international refugee protection realm despite being among the most pervasively and violently persecuted in the world. Moreover, they are placed in housing where they are exposed to violence, or are compelled to hide the true reason they were persecuted, which puts their legal status in jeopardy.’
So, if the gay asylum seeker conforms to the norms of mainstream society, they may not convince officialdom that they are genuinely in need of asylum because of their sexuality. If they conform to officialdom’s expectations of gay identity, they put themselves in even greater danger should their claim fail and they be deported, and they expose themselves to prejudice and aggression here – most poignantly, the communities which for many asylum seekers provide a vital support network, their compatriots in exile, may be the most hostile. Double jeopardy.
Stonewall, No Going Back: Lesbian and Gay People and the Asylum System, 2010
Julia Kristeva, Etrangers à nous-mêmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1988)
Médecins sans Frontières report from South Sudan:
Upper Nile State in South Sudan has seen an influx of some 35,000 refugees over the last three weeks, with a further 15,000 refugees said to be on their way. Most arrive on foot, carrying their most precious possessions. Many have been walking for weeks and some describe having had to leave the weakest members of their party by the roadside.
Most are fleeing fighting in neighbouring Sudan. They arrive to find refugee camps already overcrowded and aid workers struggling to provide enough water for the 70,000 refugees already in the area, because of this thousands chose to walk to other temporary camps.
“All these people in the camps are normal people who had normal lives. They had houses and clothes, and then one day, they had to pack their things, leave their lives behind and start to walk. If they were lucky enough and strong enough, they made it to one of these camps. And if they weren’t, then they died along the way” – Chiara Burzio
Meanwhile, closer to home, Refugee Action‘s appeal will be broadcast on Radio 4 this weekend:
Tune in on Sunday 24th June at 7.55am and 9.26pm when we’ll be broadcasting a very personal message to 1.9 million Radio 4 listeners. The Refugee Action appeal will focus on how, with your support, we’re providing a lifeline for thousands of destitute asylum seekers across the country by giving food parcels, clean clothes and small amounts of money for a hostel bed for a few nights. It will be read by Santok, one of our caseworkers. Please share this with your friends, family and colleagues so we’re able to let as many people as possible know.
Lemlem is 62 years old and was born in Eritrea. The village she comes from was a known support base for the Eritrean Liberation Front and consequently in 1978 her village was attacked by Ethiopian forces and burnt to the ground, leaving Lemlem with no surviving relatives.
Lemlem fled to Sudan and lived in a refugee camp, eventually achieving refugee status.