Refugee Tales: Interview


Pilgrims and Refugees:  The first collection of stories inspired by Chaucer and the journeys of displaced people today.

In March we began the second leg of our journey in Canterbury by walking around the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey with David Herd.

David Herd is a Professor of Modern Literature and Head of the School of English at Kent University. He is also a poet and critic and the co-organiser of Refugee Tales, a literary and cultural project that links the experiences of contemporary refugees with the tradition of pilgrimage.

Refugee Tales campaigns for an end to the indefinite detention of migrants, a practice which the U.K. Government is almost alone in pursuing, one which has extreme consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

In 2015 and 2016 Refugee Tales organised a walk from London to Canterbury in solidarity with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigration Detainees.  Taking Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a model, they coordinated and published a book in which famous authors co-operated with former detainees to tell their powerful stories.  The second book has just gone to the printers and will be available soon.

“Listen, Friend…

It’s where we start out
That people might
Simply circulate
Not stigmatized
For seeking asylum
In this straunge stronde
But listened to
As they tell their tales
That hearing we might
A polity –
Comprehending welcome.”
(Extract from Refugee Tales Part Two, from The Prologue by David Herd)

On July 1st 2017 Refugee Tales will commence a week-long walk from Runnymede to Westminster.  Runnymede is the site of the signing of the Magna Carta, and the walk will include a series of talks on ‘due process’ and the breach of human rights which is manifested in the practice of indefinite detention

Go to their website to sign up to walk alongside refugees and hear talks and readings by authors such as Ali Smith and Shami Chakrabarti.  We are planning to dust off our walking shoes to join them for a couple of days so we may see you there!

We were delighted that David took time to walk with us at the beginning of our own pilgrimage, when he told us about these amazing projects that intersect so neatly with our own.  Click on the link below to hear our interview.  If you listen carefully you will also hear David’s happy labrador Marcie as well as the bells of Canterbury Cathedral ringing out for evensong.

St Augustine’s Abbey as it appears now.  St Augustine arrived in Britain in 597, the same year that St Columba died.  Like Columba, he was instrumental in bringing Christianity to these lands, the abbey he founded became his burial site and a centre of pilgrimage.


Listen to our conversation with David here::

David Herd, Refugee Tales


New audio

We were thrilled to get this lovely message from one of our reader/listeners.

“I am reading your blog and listening to your interviews with such interest. How timely in these unsettling and uncertain times that you should be doing this walk. Thank you for doing it! It is a privilege to have this time and I rather envy you the freedom from school runs and the stuff of day to day; but as I am able to listen to your interviews and follow your walk vicariously, I am really struck by what an important thing it is you are doing. I am so grateful for the insights you give me into the lives of people I may never meet, and I know that your walk and work is informing my perspectives in a new way.” – Victoria

If you are enjoying our posts do drop us a line, it makes the whole thing feel worthwhile!

In the meantime please enjoy listening to the interviews now available on the Retrospective posts for Nottingham and Leeds below, edited with skill and enthusiasm by our colleague Scarlett Maguire from Crowdcaster.


Tom Scott-Smith


Christy with Professor Tom Scott-Smith in the Oxford University Parks

In March we had three weeks off between walking from Dover to London and setting off for Iona.  We took the opportunity to interview some interesting people who weren’t on our walking route.

Tom Scott-Smith is the Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration at the University of Oxford.  We went to visit him and he kindly agreed to record an interview while strolling in the blossom-filled parks of Oxford in early Spring.

Tom specializes in the ethnographic and historical study of humanitarian relief and its impact on the lives of refugees. He is currently finishing a five-year project on humanitarian nutrition, the results of which will appear in a monograph entitled On an Empty Stomach: the Humanitarian Approach to Hunger. He is also embarking on a new project concerning disaster shelter, with particular attention on encampment and refugee housing. His work has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed scholarly journals including Third World Quarterly, the Journal of Refugee Studies, Refugee Survey Quarterly and Disasters.

Tom had some fascinating insights into the refugee crisis and the global responses to it, which you can hear below.  You will also hear the sound of birds, footsteps and the cheery greetings of other walkers.  A fitting context for an early Listening Pilgrimage interview.

Isabel with Tom outside the centre. We took the scallop shell on the coat of arms to be a good omen as it is a traditional symbol for pilgrimage