Edinburgh students’ experiences working in a German refugee camp detailed in new exhibition

On Wednesday, March 1, the Tracking Stories exhibition opened in 50 George Square, showcasing the experiences of University of Edinburgh students who helped run a summer school for refugee children in Germany over the summer.

The exhibition also features artwork and products designed by students at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA).

The event commenced with a brief introduction from Peter Dayan, head of the Department of European Languages and Cultures.

He began by speaking about how the exhibition had personally affected him, recounting memories of his great grandmother, who was originally from Syria.

He continued by stating that he was glad to live in Scotland, where hostility towards immigration is not a mainstream political trend.

Lastly, he thanked the German Consul General for attending, acknowledging that Germany is leading European nations by welcoming many more refugees than other countries, including the UK.

Next, Alasdair Allan, Scottish Minister for International Development and Europe, gave a short address.

Thanking the group for being invited, he stated that refugees deserve our respect, compassion and understanding.

Saying that he is proud that the Scottish government supports refugees, he confirmed that they will continue to encourage the UK government to do more to help those seeking asylum.

He also stated that he represents naturally bilingual areas of Scotland and appreciates the importance of language in integrating communities, saying that this diversity enriches Scotland and should be celebrated.

Lastly, the audience heard from Herr Jens-Peter Voß, the German Consul General.

Speaking about the refugee crisis, he said that it was terrible that the situation was being allowed to persist and that cities such as Aleppo are being destroyed.

He continued, saying Germany feels it has a humanitarian duty and is taking the chance to show that it has learnt from its history.

The students who visited Germany then gave a short presentation about their time in Bad Kreuznach.

Thanking everyone for attending, they said that it is encouraging that so many people are interested in their work.

They then each spoke about their experience, reflecting on their expectations before they went, where they stayed, and their everyday activities.

They also detailed the projects with which they assisted, talking about the children and adult refugees with whom they met and socialised.

They also showed a collection of interviews from a documentary that they are currently working on.

First, a German teacher spoke, saying that she welcomes refugees in her community and outlining the difficulties she faces in terms of language barriers.

Next was an interview with Pastor Pick, who runs the pastoral office for foreign nationals in Bad Kreuznach.

He explained that, although Germany currently mandates refugees to integrate into German society, there are very few opportunities to do this, as language courses are underfunded and oversubscribed.

He also stated the importance of Edinburgh students sharing their experiences and hopes that this will help to continue interactions between European countries and the refugees they host.

Finally, they showed an interview with two refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.

Explaining what their lives had been like in their native countries and their experiences in the German asylum seeking system, they spoke about the current political situation and what they would like to do next.

Following this, the audience was free to look around the exhibition, which featured photographs and texts documenting the time the students spent in Bad Kreuznach.

In collaboration with ECA, it also included creative writing, photography, artwork and an installation that referenced many aspects of the refugee experience.

Ellen Smith, one of the students who visited Germany, and part of the exhibition team, told The Student that it was lovely to see so many people interested in their experiences.

Anna Phelps, another student on the exhibition team who worked with refugees in Bad Kreuznach, agreed, telling The Student: “I think the evening has gone well and it’s really nice to be able to show what we did”.

The exhibition will be on display on the ground floor of 50 George Square until the end of May.

Image: Ellen Smith

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