Refugee week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.
When the original seed was sown for us to be involved in Refugee Week 19th-25th June 2017, I was inspired by exhibitions I’d seen featuring objects that had been left behind or objects taken from the Calais jungle – such as tear gas canisters, teddies, tiny shoes and toothbrushes. These items were displayed in such a way as to reflect the dirt, grime and despair of life in the camps.
So taking this idea we decided to put together an exhibition in June featuring items that our clients (the refugees and asylum seekers that we help) have bought with them from home and that contribute to an understanding of their story.
Once we had the exhibition ready, we realised that the items we had collected for display were in complete contrast to the exhibitions that I’d previously seen. Our display showed how our clients have fled from comfortable homes, with high quality possessions such as hand-made woven rugs, hand- made leather bags, bespoke clothing and beautiful family heirlooms. It brought to everyone’s attention just how challenging it is for them when they finally end up here in Watford and the Three Rivers area that they have to restart their lives from scratch, relying on the food bank, learning a new language, desperately trying to rebuild their lives.
The exhibition at the ‘Cafe in the Park’ in Rickmansworth coincided with events being held by other local refugee support groups. Some of our visitors were already sympathetic to the cause of supporting refugees in the UK. But they were also genuinely surprised, shocked and outraged to learn through the exhibition that: we have many refugees and asylum seekers from a wide range of countries such as Africa, Nigeria, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka living here in Watford and Three Rivers; that domestic servitude has existed in neighbouring Nascot Wood and that families with refugee status are required to reapply for permission to stay after 5 years with fees for a family of 5 totalling approximately
Refugee Week started in the UK in 1998 as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers, to defend the importance of sanctuary and the benefits it can bring to both refugees and host communities. Different pasts, shared future.
Our exhibition was an opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees in our local area to be seen, listened to and valued.
Sue, exhibition coordinator