Yesterday, I went to an event at London South Bank University called ‘London’s future – speaking up for refugees and diversity’. When I first heard about the event, I thought - what a great opportunity! It was an interesting combination of live theatre and panel discussion around refugees and what we can do as a ‘host community’ to enable those in need, and to become advocates for diversity and the benefits that refugees bring to their communities.
The event was part of the PROMISE Project (#PromiseRefugee).
PROMISE (Promoting Refugee Integration Support through youth Engagement) aims to promote better acceptance of European decisions for refugees in host communities through awareness-raising and discussion forums around key concerns. It’s an EU funded, Europe-wide project comprised of London South Bank University and universities in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and Lithuania.
The event began with an interactive improvised theatre performance, known as Playback Theatre. We were invited to volunteer stories around the theme of ‘London, what kind of city do we want to live in?’ Our responses were interpreted by four performers and a musician.
I got to share my story as a Londoner now living in the North of England, and how the contrast manifests itself in my life. It was emotive to see it being acted out as theatre; I thought it was such a great way of engaging an audience and will be looking to emulate this in Liverpool with our drama students.
Neil Coyle, Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, chaired the panel – levelling some concrete points of critique at the unimpressive level of response from the UK Government. Aside from his role as an MP, Neil is also a trustee for the North Southwark Environment Trust.
Dr Gaim Kibreab, Professor of Refugee Studies at LSBU presented the background around migration, refugees and the current context, successfully challenging mainstream negative rhetoric and fearmongering. Whilst this session was focused on the statistical element of the refugee crisis, it was helpful to see how the numbers translated.
Ana Ferreira, Borough Organiser & Migrant Youth Organiser – Citizens UK spoke about how grassroots community organising can give practical support to refugees and diversity, and shared success stories around programmes such as Refugees Welcome and Stand up, Stand out. This programme has been behind some major divestment wins, targeting media outlets that have promoted inaccurate and negative rhetoric about refugees.
Raghad Mardini, Founder of Arts Residence Aley spoke on how their organisation is enabling the voices of refugee artists and cultural producers by providing safe spaces to showcase creative talent. I think this work is incredibly important. We know that the arts are often wrongly seen as the property of ‘posh people’ – so it’s important we show the triumph of refugees who create beautiful art in the midst of such suffering. What a humanising form of activism!
Emily Churchill Zaraa, Refugee Week UK Coordinator at Counterpoints Arts spoke on innovative interventions in schools, museums and the community. I had a positive chat with Emily after the panel about ideas for activities we could bring to Liverpool - very exciting!
Throughout the event, there was a consistent theme of privilege, and how we can use it for good to challenge inequalities in our world. A poignant reminder of our roles as actors in the communities we live, work and play in.