Archive for category Refugees

Assist

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2To celebrate Glastonbury weekend, check out the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, with Damon Albarn.  “When there is violence in the world, you have to make more beautiful music, and make it more intensely.” Music in exile becomes a kind of homecoming.

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We don’t know what impact there will be from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on refugees and asylum seekers.  We can be certain, however, that people will continue to flee war and persecution, and that those who get here, by whatever routes, will continue to face bureaucracy, prejudice, detention and destitution.  So the work of charities who dedicate themselves to campaigning and fundraising and organising to support them will continue to be vital.

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Assist Sheffield is one of those organisations.

ASSIST Sheffield is currently the only Sheffield charity focused on destitution among asylum seekers.

Our aims

  • To provide accommodation, food and support for asylum seekers in Sheffield who are in conditions of need, hardship or distress
  • To advance the education of the public, and other statutory and voluntary organisations, in order to assist the inclusion of asylum seekers into the wider community
  • To raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers in our city

Who we help

We help asylum seekers whose initial claims have been rejected, and who are therefore destitute.

We only give support to people who can demonstrate their situation.

Unfortunately, we cannot support everyone who needs help. We prioritise those who don’t have any other means of support from friends or family, those who do not have somewhere safe to sleep or regular access to food and those who are particularly vulnerable, for example because they are unwell, elderly or pregnant.

If you can, support this work by donating or volunteering.

 

sheffield welcomes refugees

 

 

cropped-cropped-Poster-2Migration Matters Festival

Saturday 25th June

Rudio, by Lucy Haighton
12pm-2pm

A ‘meet and greet’ movement based workshop.

NB: This workshop will take place in the Adelphi Room at The Crucible Theatre (55 Norfolk Street)

The Art of Migration Showcase, featuring Bashar Farhat (poet), Mina Salama + Special Guest
12pm-2pm

Performances from a vibrant mix of talented regional artists with migration and refugee backgrounds. Commissioned by Arts on the Run.

Puppetry Worskhop, by Vertebra Theatre
2pm-4pm

Exploring immigration through puppetry!

Silk Road, by Incomplete Collaboration
4pm-5pm

Migration explored through poetry, sound and art.

Eastern Europeans for Dummies, by There There
6pm-7pm

Brutal beginners guide to Eastern Europeans.

Tanja, by Strawberry Blonde Curls
7.30pm

Locked up. Shipped around. Sold as sex.

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8 Decades of Refugees

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2We may be preoccupied at present with the refugee crisis that has brought so many thousands across the Mediterranean and across Europe, displaced by war in Africa and the Middle East.  But looking back over the decades, this is really nothing new.

In 1936, refugees were escaping from flooding in Shantung, in China, and were fed and housed by the provisional government in Tsinan.

 

In the USA, the Dust Bowl and resulting drought forced tens of thousands of families to abandon their farms. Many migrated to California in the hope of finding better conditions. Meanwhile in Europe, the Spanish Civil War led many to flee, often heading across the border into France, which proved only a temporary haven, and in Germany Jews who had been subjected to anti-semitic legislation were taking whatever opportunities they could to leave before things got worse.  CARA (under the name of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning) was working to find posts in British universities for academics thrown out of their posts at institutions in Germany.

1946 saw displacement on a massive scale, across most of Europe.  Germans were forcibly expelled from the territories that had been occupied during the war and now fell under the Soviet remit.

Many citizens of Eastern European countries were desperately trying to stay in the West.  And the survivors of the concentration camps were making their way to the homes they had once known, or waiting for the possibility of passage to Palestine, or the US.

In 1956 the brutal Soviet suppression of the uprising in Hungary led to around 200,000 people fleeing the country, initially to Austria and West Germany.

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In 1966 Vietnamese were fleeing ahead of the Vietcong advance.  The New York Times reported that nearly half of the 10,000 inhabitants of the An Lao valley had chosen to leave, pleading desperately with withdrawing US troops for help.

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In 1976 in Lebanon the civil war created a wave of refugees, around 900,000, or about one-fifth of the population.   On 12 August 1976, supported by Syria, Maronite forces managed to overwhelm the Palestinian and leftist militias defending the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp in East Beirut, and  1,000-1,500 civilians were massacred.

In 1986 the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka generated thousands of internally displaced people as well as refugees, mostly Tamils. Many fled to neighbouring India and western countries such as Canada, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

In 1996, the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide became increasingly unstable.  Hutu militants in the camps were now well organised, and led attacks into Rwanda and eastern Zaire.  In what became known as the First Congo War, around half a million people were herded by the militants into the border areas, and subsequently fled back into Rwanda, or further into Zaire. Tens of thousands were killed, or died of exposure or starvation.

 

great lakes

Ten years ago, refugees came primarily from Sudan, DRC, Somalia and CAR, as they do currently. In addition,  Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia generated significant numbers of refugees following their civil wars, and the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes area added Burundi and Rwanda to the list.

2016more than 1,200 people have died of starvation and illness at an aid camp in north-east Nigeria that houses people fleeing the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, according to the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

It goes on, and it always will.  There will always be wars, and rumours of wars.  There will be, increasingly, natural disasters as a result of climate change.  There will be persecution and oppression and terrorism.  People will leave because they have to, because home is the mouth of a shark.  And we will have to find better ways of helping them, we must be braver, more generous, more open.  Today of all days that seems a forlorn hope.  But we must hang on to it,  nonetheless.

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Migration Matters Festival

Friday 24th June

To Walk in Your Shoes, by Rachael Munro-Fawcett
10.30am-6pm

Exhibition.

The Scar Test, by Untold
5.30pm-6.15pm

“I came to England, scarred for life.”


Deaths by Rescue, by SYMAAG with Dr Simon Parker
6.30pm-9pm

Film & discussion on the refugee crisis.

Iftar with Open Kitchen
9pm

Food and conversation!

 

 

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One in 113

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2One person in 113 worldwide is displaced from home due to conflict or persecution.  That’s the highest it’s ever been.  We’re talking about forced displacement, not people choosing to leave home because they fancy a better life somewhere else.  Warsan Shire’s poem expresses this with immense power:

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


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
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

The UNHCR says that Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under its mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.

Commentators have often shown an uncanny ability to scan the faces of the people in the boats or waiting at border posts and determine where they have come from, and then to use these conclusions to argue that they are not ‘genuine’ refugees but economic migrants.   Better to turn to the data gathered by UNHCR.

These tell us that the countries producing the highest number of refugees are, in order,

  1. Syria
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Somalia
  4. South Sudan
  5. Sudan
  6. DRC
  7. CAR
  8. Myanmar
  9. Eritrea
  10. Colombia

One does not have to be an expert on world affairs to be aware that the majority of these countries are, and in some cases have been for many years, riven by vicious civil wars, often spilling over into neighbouring countries.  The accusation that the young males amongst the refugees should be fighting for their country is nonsensical in these chaotic and volatile situations – who should they be fighting with, or against?  An oppressive government or an extremist rebel force?   Often both official and unofficial forces bolster their fighting strength by forcing boys and young men to join them.  In Sudan and CAR there has been at least the threat of genocide, in DRC disease and famine as well horrific violence and rape on an unthinkable scale.  In addition, IS and its affiliates are active in many of these areas.

Given all that, why do we even wonder about the motivations of those who flee?

The other accusation that is often made is that ‘they’ should have sought refuge in neighbouring countries – the nearest safe place – rather than heading to Europe.  Most do.   In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosted more refugees compared to its population than any other country.

Peace Talk Hopes Raised By Cease-fireBut in these countries, those who have fled genocide, famine, war and persecution find themselves in refugee camps.  These are, by definition if not in practice, temporary holding spaces, transitory, a stop along the road to a place to call home.  They are likely to be desperately short of food and medical supplies, sanitation is often rudimentary at best, and there is little prospect of education for the children.  Many of the countries that host most of the world’s refugees are barely able to support their own citizens.  When we say we are full or that we do not have the resources to support a pitifully tiny percentage of the desperate displaced people who need our help, we are demonstrating our own complacency and ignorance.

Here in Europe we can afford to feed, clothe, house and heal our own AND more.  The statistics tell us that we are not doing our bit, nowhere near.

 

cropped-cropped-Poster-2Migration Matters Festival – Thursday 23 June

Verse Matters – a Feminist Arts Event (19.30 pm) An inclusive, supportive space for poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music and comedy.  Performers include Khadijah Ibrahim, Rae Burgess and Chijioke Ojukwu.

 

 

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Safe Haven

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Magnus Wennman’s heartwrenching series of photos,  “Where The Children Sleep,” , shows what happens to the children fleeing the conflict in Syria.  He says that whilst the conflict and the crisis can be difficult for people to understand, “there is nothing hard to understand about how children need a safe place to sleep … They have lost some hope.  It takes very much for a child to stop being a child and to stop having fun, even in really bad places.”

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The recent debate about offering sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees was constantly and powerfully connected to the story of the Kindertransport.  As the Nazi threat to the Jews of Europe became clear, a number of individuals, including Sir Nicholas Winton, negotiated and organised transport for children to places of safety.  Their parents sent them onwards, with small suitcases or rucksacks packed with care and love, with the things they thought they’d need and the things that would remind them of home.  Some parents managed to get away separately, and were subsequently reunited with their children.  Most were too late, and perished.

The children who arrived in the UK were welcomed by a variety of organisations, Jewish and Quaker amongst others, and provided with foster homes.  There was a brief window of opportunity – once war was declared, borders closed, and no more trains could leave Germany, Austria or Czechoslovakia.  Other trains would take many of the children left behind to other, terrible destinations.  Some children got no further than France or the Netherlands, and many of those were deported from the homes they’d found there after those countries were occupied.  Gerda-Sophie Klein was born in Vienna in 1935, and came to the Netherlands early in 1939.  She survived until 1944, when she was deported to Auschwitz and murdered, on her 9th birthday.

In the House of Commons, on 21 November 1938, Sir Samuel Hoare (then Home Secretary) told Members of Parliament:

I could not help thinking what a terrible dilemma it was to the Jewish parents in Germany to have to choose between sending their children to a foreign country, into the unknown, and continuing to live in the terrible conditions to which they are now reduced in Germany. I saw this morning one of the representatives of the Quaker organisations, who told me that he had only arrived in England this morning from a visit to Germany and a visit to Holland. He inquired of the Jewish organisations in Germany what would be the attitude of the Jewish parents to a proposal of this kind, and he told me that the Jewish parents were almost unanimously in favour of facing this parting with their children and taking the risks of their children going to a foreign country, rather than keeping them with them to face the unknown dangers with which they are faced in Germany.

No one claims an exact equivalence between the circumstances in Nazi Europe and those we face now.  But equally no one would doubt that in desperate circumstances children are the most vulnerable, least able to defend themselves, most open to abuse.

It is often asked, below the line, what kind of parents would abandon their children to such a fate.  Firstly, it is a huge assumption that these children have been abandoned.  Many will be orphaned.  Many will have become separated from their parents in the chaos of flight.  And some parents, faced with the desperate choice to save some but not all of the family will have chosen to send their children on to at least the chance of safety, as those parents did 80 years ago.

It’s also often claimed that the children are a sort of Trojan horse – if we allow our hearts to soften and give them sanctuary here, their parents and older siblings will then emerge from the shadows and demand to join them. Or that they are not in fact minors, just young-looking adults.   It takes a particularly determined brand of cynicism to look at these children in such need and see only threat and deceit.

Most of us will see instead both vulnerability and potential. If we take them in we can both protect them from the dangers they currently face, and allow them to fulfil the potential they have, to contribute to the country and the community that gives them sanctuary.

The children of the Kindertransport gave back, richly.  Four are Nobel prize laureates, others have built distinguished careers in all branches of the sciences and arts, in politics and business.

One of the Kinder, Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, explicitly linked her philanthropic work to her history:  ‘I need to justify the fact that my life was saved.’

We can’t know who amongst the children currently stranded in war zones or in refugee camps might prove to be an outstanding scientist, writer, composer, or entrepreneur.  We can only know that whilst they live the half-life of the refugee camp, deprived of stability, education and adequate healthcare, they cannot be the people they have the potential to be.

The last words on this are those of the late Jo Cox. who would have been 42 years old today.

We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria.

We also know that as that conflict enters its sixth barbaric year that desperate Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere.

And who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing. The reality in which children are being killed on their way to school, where children as young as seven are being forcibly recruited to the front line and where one in three Syrian children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war.

These children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness and I know I personally would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hell-hole.

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Migration Matters Festival – Wednesday 22 June

Howl Yuan – The Invisible Guest (6.00 pm and 7.00 pm): A drop-in, one on one performance followed by a full audience show, exploring how we are changed by our names, the places we live, the languages we use

Eclipse Theatre Company & Amaal Sharif – Rather: A Work in Progress (7.30 pm): One man’s journey to understanding humanity and the bonds that tie us together more than land, blood, language or creed

Rachel Munro-Fawcett – To Walk in Your Shoes: a documentary exploration of asylum, giving a voice to the voiceless

 

 

 

Kindertransport survivors urge Government to bring children to UK in time to start school in September

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1938/nov/21/racial-religious-and-political-minorities#S5CV0341P0_19381121_HOC_448

http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/the-little-boy-who-escaped-from-hell-1-1259947#ixzz4CE9bnFYL

http://www.dokin.nl/deceased-children/gerda-sophie-klein-born-6-mar-1935

http://kindertransport.org/voices/schmeid_newHome.htm

New Calais census released – 700 children in Calais, 78% on their own

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Welcome – Refugee Week 2016

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2What is it they want, all these people?

What do we want?   What do we hope for, for ourselves and for our children?  We may hope for prosperity, for a nicer house in a nicer part of town, a better job, for our kids to be successful as well as happy.  But if what we have was taken from us, what then?

We’d want to be safe.  If our home, our street, our place of work, the school our children go to, the hospital they were born in and where we go if we’re sick, are bombsites and warzones, we’ll take our chances to go somewhere that perhaps just might be safe.

We’d want to be safe from violence and the constant threat of violence, because we believe in the wrong god or in no god, because we love the wrong people, because we support the wrong political movement, because we are the wrong race.  We’d want to be safe from rape and the constant threat of rape, from abuse, from mutilation in the name of tradition.  We’d want to be safe from the constant threat of starvation and disease, the desperate quest for enough food to just stay alive, the desperate quest for help when we or our children are sick.

But we’d want more than that.

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.

And with all of that we’d want not to be told in the headlines of the newspapers that we’re a threat, that we’re terrorists, that we’re spongers, that we’re liars, that we’re cowards.  We’d want not to see in the eyes of the people we meet that they wonder whether that’s true.

We’d want to be welcome.

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Tuesday 21 June – Migration Matters Festival

British Red Cross Refugee Awareness Workshop (2.00 pm): find out about their work, and how you can get involved

Displace Yourself Theatre – Free to Stay (7.30 pm): An exploration of life without nationality, through physical theatre and projection, telling the stories of individuals with first-hand experience of statelessness

 

 

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The Big Walk

big walkLast week, two teams from the University of Sheffield set off, from Hornsea and Southport respectively, to walk over 120 miles on the Transpennine Trail.

The weather was not kind.  The terrain was tough going too. It tested them all, even the most experienced walkers amongst them.  Day after day, to get up and face a 20 mile walk, in boots that had barely had time to dry out from the previous day, on damaged feet. But for Tom Rhodes the Big Walk was ‘a chance to show that humanity and hope is stronger than fear, division and intolerance’.  Tony Strike spoke of his tears of relief when it was all over, at not putting boots on blistered feet, and commented, ‘Respect to refugees who have no choice and no home’.

Physicist Matthew Malek gives his account here, and explains why he undertook the challenge.

Last week, I participated in the University of Sheffield’s Big Walk — a long-distance hike for the purposes of aiding refugee students and academics. In total, there were 21 participants; we were divided into two teams and sent to opposite ends of the Trans Pennine Trail. After five days of hiking towards each other, we met in the middle on Thursday night, and then hiked the final miles back to Sheffield together on Friday. Each team walked over 120 miles, and we were joined by about 100 other people on the final day for the Big Walk One Day Challenge.

I am an experienced hiker, having previously completed the Hadrian’s Wall Path, a large portion of the Thames Path, and the National Three Peaks Challenge. However, the Big Walk involved six days of long distances, covering over 20 miles per day. This sort of sustained distance was new to me. It proved difficult at times, both for myself and for other members of my team — Team Hornsea. We looked out for each other, though, and always made sure everyone was okay.

A long walk like this is a challenge that is part physical and part mental. You need the physical stamina to cover great distances daily; you need the mental resolve to keep moving when the pain kicks in and things get tough. We endured blisters and bleeding feet; we endured heat rash and muscle pain. For me, the greatest challenge came towards the end of the fifth day; at about 110 miles in, my ankles incurred soft tissue damage, leaving me to walk the final 20 miles on Thursday night and all day Friday in significant amounts of pain. As I write this, my feet are bandaged and I am walking with a crutch for the next week or so until the damage has a chance to heal.

What gave us the strength to keep going under such conditions? The spirit of teamwork was strong, to be sure. However, the single greatest motivation was the cause itself, the reason that we had undertaken the Big Walk in the first place — the refugees.

Despite the troubles we encountered, our walk was a pleasant experience, full of camaraderie. On the walks, we enjoyed good company and conversation. Each night, we were able to rest in a warm bed after a hot meal. These are luxuries and privileges that refugees do not get. When we walked, we had not left behind everything — and everyone — that we had ever known. We did not walk out of fear for our lives. We did not walk in danger; we all knew how long the journey would be and that we would survive it. Most importantly, we knew that when we reached the end of the walk, there would be friends and family waiting to cheer for us, hug us, and welcome us home.

I wish every refugee could walk under such conditions. This is not the reality that they experience. After leaving their homes behind and completing long, dangerous journeys, the sad truth is that it is all too common for these people to meet nothing but hostility at the end of their travel. The sad truth is that they are more likely to be detained in camps whilst accused of being terrorists, or of stealing jobs and unemployment benefits. This is to the lasting shame of Europe and the United States. We can do better. We must do better.

When my walk became painful, this is where my thoughts turned. It gave me perspective and the willpower to keep placing one foot in front of the other. Whatever I was experiencing, I know that it was utter luxury compared to a refugee’s journey.

As a newcomer to Sheffield and to this University, I am pleased to have moved to the United Kingdom’s first City of Sanctuary. And I am proud to be a member of a University that would initiate such an event, giving 21 staff members a week of paid leave to support such an important cause. We have raised over £40,000 for refugees, and I hope that others will continue to send support through our JustGiving page.

My Big Walk was made by choice and it is now over. There are far too many who are forced to make walks, and that is a reality that we must work together to end.

Dr Matthew Malek

Lecturer in Physics & Astronomy, University of Sheffield

 

Funds raised through the Big Walk will be used to support refugee academics and students at the University, to demonstrate our solidarity with refugees and to show that refugees are welcome at our University and in our city. Our University is a University of Sanctuary and this has been our tradition since this institution was founded.

Funds raised through the Big Walk 2016 will be used in the following ways:

• Supporting at-risk academics: We have strong links with a number of programmes to support at-risk academics, including the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund and the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) –  a charity which helps academics in immediate danger, those forced into exile. Through these partnerships, the University of Sheffield can host academics, giving them a place of safety and the financial and practical help to continue their careers until such as time as they can return home.

• Students seeking refuge or asylum: The University offers fully funded undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for refugees including those seeking asylum in the UK. Throughout 2016 we will be raising funds to increase this support.

http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/alumni/donate/specialfunds/big-walk-2016

https://www.justgiving.com/teams/big-walk2016

 

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Refugee Week 2016

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2This year things feel different, in the run-up to Refugee Week.  When I started blogging about refugees it felt like a neglected topic – even though organisations like Refugee Action and CARA and many others were working incredibly hard to support refugees and asylum seekers, and to raise awareness of the issues, they weren’t making headlines.

Since the photograph last September of that small boy, who came to stand for so many other children washed ashore as their flimsy, overcrowded boats sink in the Mediterranean, refugees have hardly been out of the headlines.

That’s a double edged sword, of course.  Whilst many, many people have been stirred to do something, moved by looking into the eyes of grieving parents, frightened children and traumatised young men and recognising that they are like us, that they could be us, others have used the same images to stoke up hatred and suspicion.

The theme this year is ‘Welcome’.  The heady days when refugees were greeted with smiling crowds and flowers faded pretty quickly but the people themselves are still with us, and more are coming, because they have no choice.  Those who are here already can’t go home because home isn’t there any more for them, just as those others who are leaving now, grabbing what they can carry, handing their money over for a hazardous passage to an uncertain future, can’t just say, well, you know what, perhaps we’ll stay put after all.

We have to keep pressing our governments to make them welcome.  We have to keep challenging the miserable, hateful lies that are told daily about them.  We have to keep telling their stories so that more people make that leap into understanding and empathy.

Over the next week I’ll be trying to do some of that.  As in previous years, I’ll post at least one piece each day.  If you like what you read, feel free to reblog/share.

Tonight at the Migration Matters festival in Sheffield, Ice and Fire Theatre present their Asylum Monologues, based on ten years of gathering and disseminating testimonies of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.  And they’ve a packed and varied programme throughout Refugee Week as well, including Ardi Mejzini’s one-man show based on his own experience as a refugee from Kosovo (Monday, 20.00).  All events will take place at Theatre Delicatessen, 17 The Moor and are Pay What You Decide.

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