Refugee Week Conference 2008 report

On Feb 15th I attended the Refugee Week Conference 2008 in London, to help me understand more of the issues surrounding the Flight Paths project that Kate Pullinger and I have been working on. The following is a report of the event – all my photos from the day can be seen here.

A summary of findings from the day from the Refugee Week team can be found here.

Refugee Week Conference - Almir Koldzic 6
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The conference took place at the Amnesty International building in Shoreditch, London. It was a full house, with delegates from a wide range of organisations from all over the UK. It was superbly organised and well run on the day – congratulations and thanks to all the RW team for their skill in putting on the event. I have the feeling that everyone there went away with new ideas and approaches for RW events, though several times during the day we were reminded: it shouldn’t be just about the week itself, but what can be carried on beyond the week for both refugees and their local communities.

As someone who knew lamentably little about RW before the conference, I came away from the day with several things. Firstly, a much better appreciation of the practical and ethical issues involved in putting on an RW event, and more generally working with refugees and asylum seekers. Secondly, many good practice examples from RW events in previous years (it will be interesting to think over how this might translate into a Flight Paths related event for RW 2008 in June, whether these are online and/or offline). Last but not least, fantastic access to a network of knowledgeable (and approachable and friendly) people who may be able to help with or give advice on a RW event, and perhaps (hopefully) contribute more directly to the development of Flight Paths.

10:30 – 10:45
Introduction to the conference
Richard Malfait, Chair

Aims of day:

1. Celebrate achievements
2. Learns about models of good practice
3. Influence future of Refugee Week
4. Discuss concerns and support needs
5. Make recommendations for RW2008

10:45 – 11:00
Opening Speech
Almir Koldzic, Refugee Week UK Coordinator

Hopes you go away with at least one new idea today

General framework/2007/plans for 2008

– a national event that showcase the talent and expertise that refugees bring to the UK
– ultimate aim is to create a better understanding between different communities and to encourage succesful integration

Theme and slogan:
– Space of Encounters
– Different Past…shared future

Strategic directions:
– encourage diverse events across the UK
– showcase talent
– develop a communication strategy
– provide information that educates
– develop infrastructure

450 events
350 organisers
220 000 visitors
media strategy – friendships
new initiatives – blog, national photo competition, new marketing materials etc.
launch event in Birmingham
new partners – timebank, the home office and children society

– new sections of the website with info for targeted audiences
– improved features – events calendar, examples of events, image gallery etc.
– online shop
– new and updated info resources
– new downloadable and printed promotional materials (flash movies, banners, posters etc.)

2008:(and beyond)
– 10th anniverary
– Spaces of Encounters for individuals, communities and sectors
– Playful and subversive – arts and creative sectors (cf Samina Zahir report)
– Small actions campaign
– Refugees are… (workshop) – changing representation of refugees
– hub of information and activities

11:00 – 11:15
Overview of Events in Scotland
Abbie Wallace, Scottish Refugee Council

Scottish context:
– scotland’s recent refugee history – about 5000 refugees in scotland, mainly glasgow. Also Edinburgh.
– Scottish refugee council set up in 1995
– RW grows and grows: 2001 – 1 RW event; 2007 over 100 events.

Scottish refugee council events – commissioning piece from award winning photographer going to Syria and talking to Iraqi refugees, linking to Scottish Iraqi refugees
Contributions from partners organisations
Community participation

Communication strategy / marketing strategy – case studies, poster campaign, target advertising (big issue, the list etc/)

Full time commuincation officer

Successes and strengths:
1. partnerships – arts orgs, NGOs, communities – relatively smaller cities makes easier to form partnerships than in London
2. Seed funding – allocating funding to arts orgs etc. to allow them to extend their reach
3. Incentive to take part – people now want to be part of the event as it is a high profile national event. Incentive is to be part of the media coverage – posters or other media coverage

1. Moving beyond Glasgow – refugees are perceived as a ‘glasgow issue’
2. Difficult to reach groups – isolated groups and communities
3. Demographic changes – new influx of EU economic migrants

Future of EW in Scotland
1. Build on successful model
2. Move away from just 1 week – ensure activities and themes continue on all year
3. Longer term commitments from stakeholders

Conclusion – future is looking good

11:15 – 11:25
Arts and Refugees – research findings
Samina Zahir, Hybrid

How engaging with arts refugees can give us something special

Arts and refugees- history, impact and future : commissioned by Arts council

3 areas:
1. participation in the arts
2. artistic and cultural
3. strategic interventions

identified over 200 organisations

Focusing on 1. participation:

A. How using arts can provide us with a means of communication that enables us to build relationships between UK refugees

1. Derwood Refugee Action Project in Derbyshire
Incorporated arts from the starts of the process, eg. Zambezi community group – developed a choir, increased participation in music that community group had. Sought to engage people from various communities, open participation. What made it successful? It was engaging and participatory, rather than explicitly about refugees. Also it built relationships.

2. Birmingham – Craftsbase (craftspace?), running photography and jewellry making workshops

More about developing skills to adjust to life in the UK, and the role of the Arts Council

Enjoying themselves allowed the refugees to raise confidence, self-esteem, and then they began to look further at other courses and available resources

Full document launched in conclusion soon.

11:25 – 11:35
Bringing Communities Together
Olivia Cavanagh, Islington Refugee Forum

From Islington Council – Islington Refugee Integration Service

No other council in London has an integration service

Planning team:

– Islington Refugee Forum
– St Mary Magdalene’s Centre for Refugees and Asylum seekers
– All change
– Innvovative Enterprise Agnecy
– IRIS (Council)
– library and cultural services
– equality and diversity dept in council

Theme 2007: “From conflict to safety”

Funding sources – money and in kind services, prizes, food from community groups etc.

Publishes leaflet about RW – they are lucky to have a small budget

Advice: speak to councillors, local MP to see if they can get involved and raise profile of events

Re stalls: might be language problem, remember translate

‘Food fair’ – food from various countries – re hygiene, possibly if not selling it is easier legally?

Henna tattoos

Don’t forget to evaluate – list of people who attend, feedback, photos and records

11:35 – 11:45
City of Refuge
Shanaz Kedar, New Writing Partnership

Norwich City Refuge programme launched 2006

Norwich City Refuge programme:

1. First city of refugee in the UK to join international cities of refuge project. Provide refuge for writer who is in danger. Over 19 cities of refuge. Origins are International Parliament of Writers (Rushdie, Vaclav Havel, Derrida…) – International Citites of Refuge Network (ICORN)

Community program enables them to involve different audiences. Engages general public through schools, youth groups, BBC VOices, Libraries, arts centres and museums, organsiations working with refugees and asylum seekers.

How can you engage with the less inclined/interested?
What kinds of events fcan you organise?
Who could you involve/partners?
Where could you locate your event to enable participation?

1. Workshops for local writers and exiled writers exploring themes of identity, home and belonging.

2. Programme of reading at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library with exiled writeres Mansure Rajih, Chenjarai Hove, Mansour Koushan

3. Strangers and Canaries school programme – reached over 6000 students in primary and secondary schools. Theme is specific to local history (Canaries are local football club). In the 14th and 15th century Norwich had approx 37% of ‘strangers’ from the low country.

4. Young Poets competition on the theme of Refuge

5. Press conference launch

6. Involving Norwich City football club

RW 2008:

evening of music and readings; screenings of film poems exploring norwich’ readings and literary salon; digital stories project for asylum seekers and refugees; events to announce winners of young poet’s competition

They also support RW through media training events for groups and individuals, and for journalists.

Recently held a training and networking event to increase knowledge and awareness, improve understanding of the purpose of RW, develop skills to plan and promote events and activities, increase awareness of support structures to help in the process; network with others and identify possibilities for collaboration and cooperation

12:15 – 13:15
Wokshop – Education
Roisin Cavanagh, Refugee Week

How to move from a too general multicultural event to an informed RW event

– Challenge myths
– Enable young people to understand why refugees leave their country
– Understanding of the benefits that refugees bring to the UK
– Promote awareness through interaction of common humanity
– Understanding of how young people can actively support refugees
– Involve members of the local community
– Make people aware that RW is about EVERYONE

14:15 – 14:25
Music for Change – Presentation and Performance

1. Lucky Moyo

Lucky was first on after lunch – another piece of superb conference organising, as he was the ideal post-lunch speaker. He immediately engaged the audience with song, asking us to learn a musical phrase “I have the right” (in 4 part harmony, which led to predictable amusement at our communal lack of singing prowess) to answer each line of his song.

2. Douglas Noble

Canterbury based educational charity

participatory activities delivered by facilitars from around the world

Using music as a common language to break down barriers of communication and understand

Music to bring about beneficial change

Joining in, creativity are at the heart of what they do

Learning from doing and having fun

Work in all kinds of institutions – schools, galleries, libraries, on the streets – wherever they are invited

“Safe and Sound” project has been going for approx 3 years in Kent and London using music as an awareness raising tool. Uses music, story, drama.

Preject based in Marlow academy in Ramsgate. Most students born in Thanet. 8-10 years old. At beginning of week they had very negative ideas about refugees and asylum seekers. Teachers and students wrote, performed to parents lyrics, music and performance.

3. Julie Larner – Migrant Helpline

Dover based. Charity for Kent. London and Sussex and South East. Working with Music for Change. MH has worked with schools for 5 years from infant age through to college. They offer the chance to experience what it might be like to be a migrant, and for students to debate real cases. Music for Change is designed to complement the Citizenship curriculum perfectly. Might be contact because of actual conflict in schools. Interactive activities, games and debate – allowing kids to think about issues.

Lucky – short example of how to bring issues that seem far away into classrooms – king lucky takes over classroom and then “king lucky bans…” – mcdonalds; mobile phones; fair trade organisations; etc.

14:25 – 15:25
Wokshop – Refugees are… funny, talented, sexy, groovy, sporty, spicy!
Richard Byrne, Refugee Council

Richard’s workshop concentrated on the media portrayal of refugees. He began by asking us all to list words that we have heard media agencies use to describe refugees; then words that we use to describe our friends (positive and negative) – exactly the idea behind this piece I had recently completed on Flight Paths. We then went on to look at some examples of media stories managed to emphasise more positive – or individual – characteristics of refugees:

– the radio show that invited someone who had experienced genocide to talk as an expert on genocide
– the artist who had changed his name to a squiggle (as per Prince) – a body with its hands, feet and head removed – to highlight his uncertain immigration status
– the Iranian flamenco dancer who didn’t talk about asylum at all, only about flamenco

Finally in groups we discussed ways of subverting and encouraging positive meaning in media stories relating to refugees. Our group talked about:

– the need to define exactly what the target audiences for these stories was
– focusing on economic, cultural, and social contributions of refugees
– focusing on individuals rather than groups – role models
– examples of refugees who have become successful and/or famous in this country, and more focus on the long history of migration to the UK
– more specific data and case studies about the economic benefits of migration
– using film rather than only words to actually see and hear people tell their own stories
– using online media to reach people more directly without the fear of journalistic bias or spin
– focusing on why people have to come to this country
– looking at british migrants and the problems they face abroad
– enabling individuals to better deal with the media through training or other advice

A member of another group mentioned the ‘Refugee Media Project‘, from which came the ‘New Londoners‘ newspaper.

16:00 – 16:25
Panel Discussion
Chaired by Tim Finch, with Abbie Wallace, Stella Barnes, Esme Peach, Olivia Cavanagh and Almir Koldzic

(Q)uestion from audience, (P)anel

Q: “RW Steering group should take into account other statutory bodies”

P (Almir) – yes, lots of room for improvement – please come forward and tell us of those groups!

Q: “Need for cohesion – govt policy regarding cohesion, and everybody working with everybody instead of localised initiatives – is RW dealing with this?”

P (Abbie) – yes, we work with educational networks, partnerships, no specific discussion about cohesion initiative

P (Almir) – number of discussions about how Home Office could promote RW; not enough discussion with local authorities at a national level – haven’t found suitable communication routes

P (Olivia) – councils are looking to commission specific services – get organised now for when they are ready to commission

Q: “1. Expanding RW instead a month
2. Expanding into Europe and rest of world”

P (Almir) – have been trying to speak to people in different European countries; there are lots of people who would like to use this model, but often itnerest is in policies rather than this particular model.

Australia has a small version; NZ also. But noone else.

P (Esme) – is this an Anglo phenomenon – black history month, etc. etc.?

P (Tim) – make sure RW doesn’t become an isolated week, but integral to other initiatives throughout the year.

Q: Maybe some countries might be in favour of a day, rather than a week?

P (Olivia) Exiled artists complain that they get all their work in one week, then none for the other 51 weeks. Make sure you employ them around the year! RW needs to be a way of celebrating your year-round work.

P (all) Yes – the aim is to embed good practice and models, not to keep events within in a single week.

Q (Richard Byrne): As a press officer, I know lots of good stories appear in the week, but relatively few can be run; if more appeared throughout the year then more stories could be placed in the media,.

P (Esme) – yes, pursue contacts made in RW throughout the year.

Q: “How to secure funding?”

P (Esme) Refugee Action has problems securing funding, so it is difficult! Going as a coalition of organisations with as many partners as possible to local government may help. Also use localised funding to put on specific activities in regions.

P (Olivia) Many designated refugee funds have disappeared, though the funding is still there but just not called or earmarked for refugees. Funding has become more difficult however.

Q: Blag! Tell councils that you are running events to secure funding now, rather than waiting to secure funding when events have been confirmed.

Q: businesses – may well consider supporting local groups for the week, and they don’t require all kinds of reports and paperwork – also a great way to encourage local support

Q: Yes, why not go to the businesses who have employed refugees as great examples and possible sources of support or funding during RW.