Kirstin Innes talks to some of the people behind the excellent programme at this year’s Scotland-wide Refugee Week
Given the recent increase in profile of the BNP across Scotland, the timing and focus of this year’s country-wide Refugee Week are particularly prescient. This year, the multi-artform festival which aims to raise awareness of the issues facing and surrounding asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland has adopted the theme ‘Home’, reflecting the Scottish Government-run Year of Homecoming project.
‘For us, the Year of Homecoming is not just about welcoming back the Scottish diaspora,’ says John Wilkes, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council. ‘It’s about ensuring Scotland is welcoming for everyone who comes here. We want to remind Scots of the journeys refugees have taken to get here; fleeing their previous homes in fear of persecution and danger, and trying to build a new life and safe home here in Scotland.’
To tie in with Homecoming, the team behind Refugee Week have asked several asylum seekers and refugees living in Scotland to share their stories and ideas about what ‘home’ means with interested parties from Scottish culture and media. Matta Matabaro, the 33-year-old head of Africa Umoja Scotland, an organisation aimed at reducing poverty and increasing community integration amongst refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, invited writer and artist John Byrne into his house for a televised chat.
‘John didn’t even know that the Scottish Refugee Council existed until they contacted him to take part in this discussion,’ he says. ‘I think Scottish people need to understand more widely that many people are forced to flee their countries and seek refuge in places where they can get protection, and not to be surprised that these people are coming to their country.’
The Refugee Week website offers the opportunity to see videos of these conversations, and invites Scots to put faces and stories to the bogey-man phrase ‘asylum seeker’. The videos are companions to a Scotland-wide programme of theatre, art, live music, food and sporting events and dicussions designed to make people consider the positive impact refugees can have on a society. For instance, a screening of the AFI’s ‘Funniest Film of the 20th Century’, Some Like It Hot may not seem to have much relevance, until you consider that it was made by a refugee, German émigré Billy Wilder. Other highlights of the programme include the big names of the Red Cross Refugee Week Comedy Night, the first ever RefugeeWeek Scotland Film Festival, and Exodus, a club night co-organised by Umoja Scotland featuring the best in live hip hop, ragga and Afro-beats.
‘We want people to enjoy Refugee Week,’ says Wilkes, ‘but we urge Scots to continue to think about how crucial a safe home is – and to welcome those who have sought sanctuary in our nation.’
The first feature film to emerge from Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the anguished Turtles Can Fly is set in a refugee camp on the Iraqi-Turkish border, just before the US invasion in the spring of 2003. It vividly but humanely immerses the viewer in the nightmarish realities of daily existence in this makeshift…
Dance, music and poetry celebrating cultural diversity and resettlement with a cast of professional musicians and dancers and asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, BME and Scottish communities. Choreographed by Natasha Gilmore. 'Part of Refugee Week'.
Photography by Karen Gordon documenting the work of Maryhill Integration Network in bringing communities together. The launch event on Sat 20 Jun features a fashion show and performances (2pm). Further info from maryhillintegration.org.uk. 'Part of Refugee Week'.
Celebrate the diverse contributions of refugee women to the community, with a learning exchange, Tai chi, orchestra workshop and tour of the gallery. Lunch is provided and children are welcome. Part of Refugee Week. Booking is essential.
A barbecue and entertainment open to all refugee and asylum-seeking families, held by the Turkish Ethnic Minority Centre. More info from firstname.lastname@example.org. 'Part of Refugee Week'.
A festival of film including workshops, discussion, music and live performance, celebrating the positive impact that refugees and asylum seekers have on communities. Featuring a preview of work from Document 7 International Human Rights Documentary Film festival, alongside shorts from Camcorder Guerillas, Diversity Films…
Coordinated by Scottish Refugee Council, and centred around World Refugee Day (for 2019 it's 20 June), this annual festival of arts and cultural events celebrates the contribution which refugees
make to Scottish cultural life and the welcome offered by local people.