We are still listening and holding space for conversations about the treatment and reception of refugees and asylum seekers. We trust you are too.
We plan to join the Refugee Tales walk to Westminster this July. If you are looking for a positive way to engage with these issues why not join us? For a few hours or days you can walk in solidarity with refugees and former detainees and raise your voice against the cruel practice of indefinite detention of migrants in the U.K.
With best wishes to all our friends on this special day.
Exactly one year ago Isabel and I set off from London to walk to Iona. Though Easter was late, spring was early and the sun was shining on London. The sky was a brilliant blue and there were fresh leaves on the trees, full-blown tulips in the parks and the waft of barbecue smoke along the canals. There was a hush in the city: Palm Sunday crosses were stockpiled on the steps of St Paul’s, the choir was warming up in The Temple and the Inns of Court were thronged with extras shooting a scene for The Crown.
It was the beginning of a glorious and unforgettable spring. Ahead of us lay 600 miles of paths and two months of new horizons. We were engaged to be married and full of hope that the journey we were making would bring us closer to an understanding of our country and its people. We looked forward to making friends and finding out more about the ways in which Britain offers assistance to vulnerable displaced people.
As I write this the skies are leaden and the trees still bare, though Easter has been and gone. I envy the couple setting out with packs on their backs in search of knowledge and connection, and I am grateful that they took that pilgrimage to become the people we are today.
This year our lives are different. We have roots in Sussex with full time employment and a happy home. We are married, and what is more we two are now three. Just two weeks ago our son was born and we have begun a fresh pilgrimage as parents, one that will shape the rest of our lives.
In May this year Christ’s Hospital School will host its first ever Refugee Awareness Week. The knowledge and network we acquired on our walk will now serve to spread understanding and compassion for displaced people among a very special group of 900 boys and girls.
We have scheduled a programme of visitors and talks spread over a week that we hope will inspire members of this community to take action in support of those affected by forced migration. We will welcome representatives from Medical Justice, Room to Heal, Medecins Sans Frontieres, The Red Cross, The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, Choose Love and Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, among others.
Two of our events will be open to members of the public, and we hope that you will consider making a trip to West Sussex to attend one or both of these. On Tuesday May 8th Patience Agbabi and David Herd will read from Refugee Tales and speak about the campaign to end indefinite detention. A former refugee and detainee will also be sharing his story on this occasion. On Sunday May 13th ex-detainees and their friends and supporters will go on a communal walk in the environs of Christ’s Hospital, followed by a picnic and spoken word performances at the school. To register for these free events please click on the underlined links.
Our Listening Pilgrimage may have finished, but we continue our journey of listening, learning and sharing stories. Thanks again for reading these reflections and for continuing to engage with this issue in a positive way.
Today is the shortest day of the year. Six months have passed since we finished our walk, and the Spring blooms of England and long days of Scottish midsummer seem like distant dreams.
Sometimes I see a hidden corner of the country in sharp detail, and walk those steps again in memory and imagination.
I wonder what became of the people we met, how they have spent the half-year that separates the solstices.
Since our arrival on Iona Isabel and I have had a busy few months. Soon after we got married we moved to Sussex and I started a new teaching job. Even more excitingly we have a baby on the way, and we look forward to a new arrival in the Spring of 2018!
We have also built on some of the lessons we learned on our Listening Pilgrimage. At Christ’s Hospital School in Sussex we are preparing a programme of activities and speakers for a Refugee Awareness Week in May. If you are reading this and would like to speak about refuge and asylum to the students of this remarkable school please get in touch!
Isabel has taken on a role as a volunteer visitor at Brook House detention centre. This is one of the facilities where our government detains people indefinitely while they await either deportation or leave to remain in the U.K. Visiting is coordinated by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, organisers of the Refugee Tales project.
Our friends from the Listening Pilgrimage have been busy too. Here are some of the highlights from the last few months:
Our patrons at Projects For All have continued to work for increased access to education, equality and justice on a global scale. They recently became one of the founding members of International Initiatives for Migrant and Refugee Education. You can read Monika Hubbard’s report and founder Katrin Macmillan’s reflections here.
James Turner has been instrumental in setting up the Choose Love store with Help Refugees which enables shoppers in London and online to buy practical gifts for vulnerable refugees. Click here for some compassionate Christmas shopping.
Help Refugees, along with Iris Andrews also recently worked with artist Ai Wei Wei on the launch of his phenomenal cinematic testament to the global plight of refugees, Human Flow. We urge you to see it, you can view a trailer for the film here.
The work of Room to Heal featured on the UNHCR website in October. You can read the article about how communal gardening is helping those who have suffered as refugees here.
MOOL in Dumfries continue working tirelessly to support those in need by organising clothes, materials and hand-knitted items, which are distributed to refugees accompanied by notes of love and support. Fundraisers included a Yoga day led by our former host Jill Dobbie. Find out more here.
Refugee Tales has recently celebrated some high profile challenges to the current U.K policy on detention of migrants, and they are planning their next annual walk to Westminster for June 2018. You can learn more here. We look forward to welcoming Refugee Tales walkers to Christ’s Hospital in May, an event which will be open to the public. Please contact us if you would like details.
Secular and spiritual pilgrimages are gaining popularity in Britain, and few work harder to promote the practice than the folk at The British Pilgrimage Trust. They have enjoyed some high profile write-ups in recent months which you can access here.
What about you? How has your life changed since the summer? What journeys have you made? What shifts have you noticed in attitudes towards migrants and refugees?
We would love to hear from you if you have news to share. Please click here to email us.
We would like to wish our kind friends and supporters a peaceful holiday season and a very happy new year.
We hope you will join us in thinking of the many thousands of people around the world still searching for safety, security and a place to call home. In the darkest night let us light a candle of hope for brighter days to come.