By Fiona McGarry 

This year the theme of Refugee Week (15th-21st June) is ‘Imagine’. It’s important that we do try to imagine, so we can begin to understand how people seeking refuge in the UK are treated – very differently from the rest of the population. 

During the pandemic, refugees in shared accommodation where Covid-19 outbreaks have occurred have faced difficulties in accessing tests. They have also faced more hostility than before the pandemic and have less money because of the difficulties in applying for and collecting allowances – a lack of support from the Home Office which may constitute a breach of human rights. It is also harder for them to access digital tools like Zoom that the rest of us rely on to get through lockdown. Especially given that most online support and material is not designed for speakers of English as a Second Language.

PICTURE: Sarah Gomes Harris

The Hastings, Rother & Wealden Refugee Buddy Project has been very active during the past two months. Pre-lockdown, it was already making use of online environments to communicate with Buddies and supporters, which made it easier to transition to develop the online projects that are taking place at the moment.

One campaign that was launched this spring in response to the increased arrival of people on boats is the #RefugeesWelcome social media campaign. Buddy Project Director, Rossana Leal, says: “We thought it was really important to offer a compassionate narrative which we know hundreds of local people share.” 

Full details are on their website: therefugeebuddyproject.org/refugeeswelcome 

Stitch for Change: Pandemic Patchwork Stories is another project, ongoing through Refugee Week, which, according to Alex Kempton of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, involves creating a: “giant patchwork of individual stories, experiences and names, stitched together into one quilt –
a record of community action
and a shared narrative of the pandemic.” The aim is for people to come together and make individual patchwork squares with images or words that express how they felt during the pandemic, or a message of solidarity. Weekly sewing workshops are held on Zoom to provide help and support. When the squares are sewn together, the quilt will be displayed in a local gallery. 

For more information and inspiration, go to: therefugeebuddyproject.org

The Buddy Project has a full programme of events for Refugee Week, including sharing of personal stories and recipes (via online videos); online exhibitions from the De La Warr gallery by three local refugee artists; and a diverse range of films about migration and the experiences of refugees.

Sister organisations, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary are organising a virtual version of their popular annual Festival by the Lake on Isolation Station Hastings see hastings.cityofsanctuary.org events page. On 21st June you can picnic in your own back garden to show solidarity with all those facing discrimination and enjoy “an afternoon of great live music, poetry, talks, creative fun for kids, an online raffle and more”. 

Rossana invites everyone to take part in Refugee week: “Share the #RefugeesWelcome social media cards on your social media, send us your photos for our Video of Welcome, watch the films we will be sharing with you, cook the recipes our refugee buddies are sharing, send us your patchwork squares for the quilt, join Festival by the Lake on Isolation Station.” 

The Buddy Project has joined various networks together and stands with people seeking refuge, despite the deliberate hostile environment generated by the Home Office. It describes itself as providing: “a safe space for people to come together and have some very difficult conversations about racism and privilege”, important ongoing discussions and debates that we should all get involved in. In the longer term, the group needs sustainable funding if it is to survive. 

Click here to see the Buddy Project’s full Schedule of Activities for Refugee Week 2020.

For more information about Festival by the Lake online click here and Stitch for Change click here


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