Kimberley Nyamhondera gives a personal reflection on the 2014 Refugee Week Conference that took place in London in March.
At Amnesty International UK in Shoreditch, the 9th Refugee Week Conference started with a quietly contemplative reflection. The conference provided a clear platform to bring together interwoven motifs to shape and celebrate the contribution of refugees and help actualise the expression ‘different pasts, shared future.’ This conference championed a programme of arts, community, culture and education to set the precedent for the celebration of Refugee Week in June.
The theme for this year’s Refugee Week Conference, ‘the positive contribution of children and young people,’ inspired a sense of reverence and rumination. To set the scene, we think of a lonely arrival, alienation and feelings of persecution. We picture minds preoccupied with the who, what, whys and whens of migration and asylum. Sometimes we can imagine the many who disregard the importance of providing a welcoming safe haven. If we think long and hard enough, that shapeless image of a refugee becomes a number, 50% to be exact. Then beneath the statistics and figures, there is a child refugee and even if the child is not a UK citizen, it is still a child, so we give voice to the theme.
A key element in bringing people together and developing and sharing ideas is injecting culture into an event. The conference was shaped by a sense of meshing together different identities. It was evident in the folky and traditional music that prompted the feeling of the memory of a melody but not quite the words, a familiar sensation of community spreading through the hall. It was also present in mutterings of equal elation and confusion at sampling Ethiopian food that gave prominence to fingers and thumbs and threw cutlery etiquette out of the window.
Arts meant giving in to our inner poet with Kayo Chingonyi and allowing our notions of home, away and familiarity to stream onto the paper. It blew rigid structure out of the water and removed any barriers when putting pen to paper. The creative writing workshop proved popular, bonding and encouraging a sense of kinship in the visceral descriptions of the known and unknown and ending with positive messages on bits of paper to “reverse pickpocket” or slip into someone’s possession.
The conference was also about getting an education. A session on the legislation surrounding granting indefinite leave to remain schooled many on the contradictory nature of the UK Border Agency (UKBA). In relation to children and young people entering the country as refugees, the process seemed to be both confusing and isolating. This prompted discussions regarding children and the experience of being a refugee and how legislation should help this. The give-and-take, share nature of these workshops gave rise to the core reason for the conference and provided a prime example of the spirit of the Refugee Conference.