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A day isn't enough; UK marks Refugee Week with events and activism

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A day isn't enough; UK marks Refugee Week with events and activism

UNHCR combines with Migration Museum in London and Hull Festival to showcase artist Kate Daudy's refugee tent from Jordan
20 June 2017
One of our first events for Refugee Week was 'Gig in the Garden' in Hull where we supported Kate Daudy's (right) art installation 'Am I My Brother's Keeper?'

In Britain, World Refugee Day has evolved into Refugee Week to accommodate the public’s appetite to host and participate in hundreds of related events, which are taking place this year from Aberdeen in Scotland to Plymouth on England’s south coast.

Refugee Week is an umbrella festival started in 1998 and coordinated by Counterpoints Arts, a charity that engages with refugee and migrant experiences through arts and cultural programmes. The events are supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and other partners.

This year, the theme is ‘Our Shared Future,’ and the week is being marked by a host of events from the traditional -- plays, concerts, lectures, screenings – to the more off-beat, like ‘knitting for unity,’ a ‘big sing’ and cartoon drawing.

UNHCR has been working with the artist Kate Daudy, who has turned an old refugee tent into an art installation called ‘Am I My Brother's Keeper?’ It is decorated with crocheted flowers and quotes made by Syrian refugee women in Jordan.

The crochet elements of the Daudy's installation are made by women from Syria. It will be on display at London's Migration Museum 22nd - 25th June

In 2016, UNHCR gave Daudy a tent from Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, which had been home to a refugee family from Syria. In Za’atari, she met refugees, activists, war-wounded, volunteers, doctors, diplomats and representatives of aid organisations. And she drew on their experiences of the Syria crisis, and their observations about home and identity issues arising from it. 

The hope is that the tent can become a focal point through which to discuss and reflect upon the lessons that could be learned from the trauma of forced displacement and related loss. The first stop in the tent’s travels was Hull on Saturday, for a day long music and arts festival.

On Tuesday, World Refugee Day itself, UNHCR is also hosting a one-day take-over of its Instagram account by Maya Ghazal (@ghazalmia), a refugee from Damascus, Syria, who has become a role model and spokesperson for young refugees and migrants since seeking shelter in Britain in September 2015.

Maya has already learned English, and is excelling in her education -- she currently studies aviation engineering at Brunel University London. She has worked to ensure that young refugee voices are heard, speaking at events across the country, educating audiences on the hidden dangers faced by young refugees and migrants.

Maya was in Hull at the weekend, alongside Daudy and UNHCR’s James Bulman to help erect the tent and explain its story, as well as educating the public about the plight of refugees, especially those from Syria.

“We, as refugees, didn’t chose to be so, it just happened,” Ghazal said in a video post. “We are still humans, like you, like everyone else. We appreciate all support given; we will work hard to try to give anything in return. Spread love and hope, we live all together in one earth.”  

World Refugee Day also sees the launch of a flower delivery service with a difference. The social enterprise ‘Bread and Roses’ - set up by two Londoners to help refugee women to build skills and confidence through floristry - will be delivering bouquets hand-tied by refugee and asylum-seeking women. All proceeds will help to fund future workshops.

On Thursday, UNHCR will host an event at the Migration Museum in London, where Daudy’s tent will form the centrepiece, accompanied by speeches and music from a Syrian ensemble. 

Another refugee shelter installation was in London last week. AMP Art Collective brought its project ‘Refuge/e’ to London’s Southbank Centre, as part of the Meltdown Festival curated by MIA.

Supported by UNHCR, Refuge/e uses a combination of emergency UNHCR shelter kits and local materials to replicate a refugee shelter from Lebanon. From the basic possessions cast in white plaster, to the unfiltered accounts from refugees themselves, it allows visitors to imagine the precarious existence of living as a refugee.

AMP Art Collective's 'Refuge/e' has been touring the UK, from Yorkshire to the South-East. It was on display at London's Southbank Centre, as part of the Meltdown Festival curated by MIA.

The installation has been in the north of England, and has had around 10,000 visitors to date. The Collective hopes to move it to Europe in the coming months.

UNHCR is also sponsoring two films – ‘Home’ and ‘My Refugee Story’ -- to be screened at the “Different Pasts, Shared Future”  festival at the British Museum on Sunday.

The London office of UNHCR will also host a stall at the Refugee Week event on London’s South Bank Centre on Saturday, where it will be showcasing Virtual Reality refugee-themed films to the public.