On Monday, January 29, the University of Edinburgh’s Amnesty International Society hosted the event: ‘Refugee Voices: A Multimedia Exploration of Refugee Perspectives’ at Edinburgh’s ‘Radical Bookshop’ The Lighthouse.
The sold-out event was extremely popular amongst the student body and showcased wide overviews as well as personal accounts of refugees’ experiences in Scotland.
Abdul from the Scottish Refugee Council, who emigrated from Afghanistan to Glasgow in 2001, opened the proceedings. He said: “I came as a refugee with a dream… somewhere to establish a family, somewhere safe and that was Glasgow for me, [I consider myself] an active citizen of Scotland.
“[In Afghanistan] youngsters never had a proper chance, either you join them or you leave, every single day there is bloodshed, [there are] no places in hospitals and it is a state of chaos”. Abdul gave an overview of the asylum system in the UK and talked about how his organisation supports asylum seekers entering Scotland. He highlighted the fact that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, stating: “The media is not portraying this the right way”. Most countries have signed the 1931 Geneva Convention, which gives individuals the right to seek asylum abroad.
Following this, Syrian Voices, a short film by Trina McKendrick and Kev Theaker, was screened: a moving account of the lives of three refugee families living in Edinburgh.
Theaker told The Student: “we have taken [the film] to different places and I think it’s really nice to see such a big audience for this event and it shows that people are engaged with the issues and are very attentive and receptive to what all three speakers have been saying”
The screening was followed by a discussion as the floor was opened to the audience for comment and observations. Issues relating to the general release of the film arose and McKendrick and Theaker explained it was not available online for public viewing in order to protect the families featured in the film.
The event also showcased a series of photographs taken with disposable cameras that were handed out to refugees living in Paris. Rhona Flemming, a first year Nursing student, was involved in this project. She told The Student: “So I took a gap year and went to the jungle in Calais and I spent maybe three months there but after the eviction in October, a lot of refugees were taken to accommodation centres around France… there was an influx of people to Paris, so some of us decided to go to Paris to see if we could help.
“We had the impression that the conditions were really bad, there was a lot of police brutality, and you would have journalists come, take photos. They stay maybe half an hour and leave again, and even if they have good intentions there is no way of them getting a good impression. People were quite frustrated that they were being misrepresented, so we decided to hand out some cameras”.
The photographs were displayed alongside captions expressing the hopes and dreams of the refugees who took them.
Dr Evelyn Arizpe, coordinator of the Med Programme in Children’s Literature and Literacies at the University of Glasgow, discussed the potential of books, especially children’s picture books, to address issues related to migration. Arizpe spoke about the power and universality of images. She was involved in a project that used various books to engage with refugee children who don’t yet speak the language native to the country they live in. A different project aimed to challenge issues of xenophobia amongst young people in Glasgow through the use of books.
Matilda Lewis, one of three organisers of the Refugee Rights Campaign, a branch of the Amnesty International Society, told The Student: “Amnesty’s Refugee Rights campaign this year is focusing on the lives of the refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Last semester we petitioned on the maternity rights of migrants, and we have an action coming up in February in support of the Family Reunification Bill.
“Our recent event at the Lighthouse Bookshop was a chance to discuss the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, and the inspiring people working to support them. We’re so grateful to the Lighthouse for hosting us… [it] was the perfect setting to bring a community of passionate people together and feel inspired to make a positive change”.
It is especially important for the University of Edinburgh’s community to be aware of Amnesty International’s work as it ties closely with relevant news today.
Whilst Scotland has not been directly hit with the refugee crisis at the same level as other countries within Europe, such as Germany, the impact is still evident in the experiences the Amnesty International Society has had with the refugees they work with.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International held a few other events to raise awareness on the experiences, often negative, that refugees have had in Scotland. This included an event in November 2017 which protested the way asylum seekers were treated in the United Kingdom, often facing terrible living situations.
If you want to get involved with the Amnesty International Society you can find them easily on Facebook. Their campaign group meetings are held every Wednesday from 17:30- 18:30.
Image: Amnesty kunstauksjon via Flickr