Staying Alert for refugees, from dusk to dawn

UNHCR partner Forum Réfugiés recently held an overnight concert, Alert Night, to shed light on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in France and around the world. International stars performed for free while refugees and asylum seekers shared their experiences with the audience of 10,000.

International musicians sound the alert for the plight of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide at the Vienne theatre in France.   © Forum Réfugiés

VIENNE, France, July 27 (UNHCR) - They came with pillows and sleeping bags, but never got to use them as the night flew by. Instead of dozing off, they gained consciousness of what it means to be a refugee or asylum seeker.

About 10,000 people turned up in Vienne near Lyon in south-eastern France last Friday night for the second year of Alert Night, a dusk-to-dawn concert to raise public awareness of refugees and asylum seekers. The event was organised by UNHCR partner Forum Réfugiés and held at the ancient theatre of Vienne, which was covered by large white umbrellas bearing the words, "We must protect refugees".

The concert started at sunset, with free performances by local and international artists like French accordionist Marc Perrone, Algerian singer Idir as well as Sarajevo-born musician Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Band.

They were joined by some 400 refugees and asylum seekers from the Lyon area, some of whom shared their experiences with the audience.

Those who spoke at the concert expressed their hope and their relief to be hosted in a peaceful country. A seven-year-old girl whose family is in the asylum process wrote a message for the French President: "Don't let me go back into the dark, I was so frightened. Here, I go to school. I have still bad dreams, but they are only dreams. Give us documents so we don't have to go back into the dark."

All night, a message was flashed throughout the theatre, urging the audience to "Pass the word around, we must protect refugees". Forum Réfugiés Director Olivier Brachet appealed to them not to forget the atrocities in places like Rwanda and Srebrenica that had driven people from their homes.

The 10,000-strong audience read and heard about the need to protect refugees and asylum seekers.  © Forum Réfugiés

The concert ended at daybreak on Saturday. As the musicians put their instruments away and the audience drifted homewards, the organisers and their special guests could only hope that they had achieved their aim of shedding light on refugee plights around the world.

As a UNHCR implementing partner in France, Forum Réfugiés oversees centres for refugees and asylum seekers, helping them during the asylum process, arranging for schools for the children and providing social assistance for the families and jobs for recognized refugees. The organisation also occupies a seat in the administration council of OFPRA, the French office for the protection of refugees and stateless people.

By Marie-Ange Lescure
UNHCR France