It’s Refugee Week 15th – 21st June 2020 and I am launching my Crossing 25 Bridges challenge to highlight the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG) who since 2015 have been making an annual walk
in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and detainees.
In the manner of the Canterbury Tales, as they walk they tell stories, which are collected and published. Some refugees tell their own stories, and some are retold by accomplished writers.
The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely under immigration rules. For all kinds of reasons this is wrong. One reason is that it is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrart arrest, detention or exile.
[Universal Declaration of Human Rights]
Refugee Tales III
In the third volume of Refugee Tales, six stories are told by individual refugees in their own voice and 13 more are presented ‘as told to’ some notable authors such as Monica Ali, Roma Tearne, Patrick Gale, Ian Samson, Bernardine Evaristo, Gillian Slovo.
Tales are told by the stateless person, the orphan, the foster child, the father and the son and more. The people are identified by activities that we can all understand.
A terrible picture emerges. Each person’s story has a brutal start in their country of origin. These stories are individual, often violent and involving betrayal, torture and always fear.
Once the refugees have arrived in the UK the themes coalesce into a horrific story of the obstacles to being granted asylum. They all involve indefinite detention.
For a moment pause and consider what it might mean to have left your country, often your family, your identity, your language, culture, food and history. There is likely to be trauma in that story. You arrive, looking for safety and find yourself met with a wall of disbelief, distrust, cruel and labyrinthine administrative and legal processes, and ever-changing personnel. And imprisonment, without apparent reason, often removed when signing on as required, and often released again with as little apparent cause.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, or detention?
But more significant perhaps than the transgression of the UN Declaration is the inhumane aspects of this policy. Most people are aware of the Hostile Environment initiated by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, in 2012. Fewer people are aware that it involves indefinite detention. More people need to be aware that refugees have few rights to benefits, or a job, and only to meagre accommodation and, until very recently only £5 a day to live off. The current Home Secretary raised it to £5.26p in early June.
Responding to Refugee Tales
I cried a lot, and then I got angry and then I decided to do something.
Here are some things to do:
• Buy and read one of the three collections of the Refugee Tales.
• Listen to what refugees have to say.
You are not really going to listen. No one listens
You’re not really going to hear. No one hears.
But I will tell you my story anyway. I will tell you my story because you have asked to hear my story.
But that is all. You want my story from me. I do not want anything from you. […]
Now you have my story. And I still have nothing.
[From The Fisherman’s Tale as told to Ian Sansom]
- Hear what refugees have to say, be a witness, enter the community that acknowledges these stories and these lives.
So I ask him, why does he want me or anyone else, to tell his story? Wouldn’t it be more powerful coming directly from him? His response is that he needs someone else to hear, a person outside the immediate experience, to acknowledge and record what happened to him and to those whose sufferings he heard and saw. He wants me to be his witness, not because his narrative requires verification, but because of the fact of hearing itself; because it signifies that in a world that so often seeks to deny and disbelieve such accounts, his story has been absorbed by a listening heart.
[From The Erased Person’s Tale as told to Jonathan Wittenberg]
- Be a vigilant witness against evil and heartlessness and stand up for solidarity, beyond all seeming borders or nationality and creed. Jonathan Wittenberg knows the importance of this from researching the history of his own parents who were refugees from Nazism.
As I listen and record, I become a companion in defiance against the silence in which vicious regimes try to bury the knowledge of the crimes they have committed against the dead and disavow the living trauma of those who manage to survive them.
S needs me, us, to be allies. [From The Erased Person’s Tale as told to Jonathan Wittenberg]
- Support my lockdown walk over 25 bridges in support of retelling the stories of flight and detention and the work of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group.
- Join in the weekend of online events with Refugee Tales – 3rd – 5th July – details on their website.
My Lockdown Walk with Refugee Tales
My walk this month will, as far as possible, cross 25 bridges. Some may be crossed twice. I hope to walk with friends and family, including remotely. The bridges will be photographed and I’ll put them on Twitter, Facebook and my Just Giving page.
You can donate to the Just Giving page and the here:
Anything from £1 to £100 will be welcome towards my target of £400
Refugee Tales III, Eds: David Herd & Anna Pincus (2019), published by Comma Press. 201pp
Other connected pages
Refugee Tales, Eds: David Herd & Anna Pincus: a post in February 2017 on Bookword about the first collection of tales. I was raising money for Freedom from Torture at the time.
Refugee Tales 2, Eds: David Herd & Anna Pincus: a post in April 2018 on Bookword about the second collection.