REFUGEE WEEK is a celebration of the contribution refugees and asylum seekers make to Scottish life, as Allan Radcliffe discovers.
ver the last decade the term ‘asylum-seeker‘
has been given pretty negative connotations.
The issue of how to welcome and accommodate those ﬂeeing persecution and arriving on our shores has been manipulated and misrepresented by craven politicians and the more invidious sections of the right-wing press. It’s time to tackle head-on the tide of poisonous misinformation about refugees that’s regularly spewed across our media. A good start is a week of diverse cultural events highlighting the important roles that refugees play in society.
While Refugee Week is a UK-wide phenomenon, events taking place north of the border from 14—20 June have been co-ordinated by nine organisations. including the Scottish Refugee Council. Amnesty lnternational. the British Red Cross and Save the Children. Patrick Evans from the Refugee Council outlines some of the principles and aims behind the week‘s events.
‘What Refugee Week in Scotland mainly stands for is celebrating the contribution refugees make to this country. which is extensive — both in today's terms and historically — as well as to bring people from different cultures together.’ he says. ‘Although it crops up annually, this year there are events taking place all over Scotland, from the central belt to Dingwall. so it's the first time we’ve attempted something on this scale before.’
Among the many opportunities for integration offered by Refugee Week, one of the biggest and most colourful will be the brand new Midsummer Carnival. which can be seen making its way around Glasgow‘s Queen‘s Park on Sunday 20 Jun. The carnival has moved from its usual slot as part of the West End festival to be the centrepiece of the Refugee Week celebrations. It will be the culmination of weeks of workshops run by Scottish Carnival Arts in collaboration with a diverse array of communities and individuals on skills such as mask
100 THE LIST 10—24 Jun 2004
THERE IS A RACIST an AGENDA AT WORK IN SOME OF THE PRESS
and flag making. samba and djembe drumming and African dancing.
Just how far-reaching the programme will be is illustrated by another key project, the inauguration of a website on the theme of refugees, contributed to by some 90 schools across the nation.
There will also be several opportunities to address the central role war plays in the refugee issue. including forum discussions and workshops. films. a powerful new piece of theatre from Boilerhouse and a ‘Picnic for Peace‘. lt’s virtually impossible to imagine any cynicism being attached to such a rich. vibrant programme. Yet. as Patrick Evans acknowledges. the organisers are facing a torturoust uphill struggle to debunk some of the myths that have engulfed the asylum issue. ‘The vehemence with which asylum is written about has grown inestimably in the last three years. There is a racist agenda at work in some of the press — I hate to say that. but it’s true. The worst headline was the Daily Star‘s “Asylum Seeker Ate My Donkey’. Fourteen months and investigation by the Press Complaints Commission later. they printed a postage-stamped sized retraction in the middle of the paper. But of course that wasn‘t nearly as eye- catching as the original headline.”
With this cynicism in mind. one of the objectives of the group programming Refugee Week north of the border has been to emphasise the Scots‘ popular self-image as a welcoming nation. while drawing our attention to the importance of asylum seekers to the economy. We are. after all, an ageing, dwindling breed. ‘Scotland is a country that is missing a large portion of its population to forced migration,” says Patrick. ‘We all have relatives in places like Canada and Australia, so it’s ironic that we should be negative when it comes to people coming here, particularly as asylum seekers are among the best-educated. best-trained sectors of society. and tend to tackle their work with an enviable zeal.‘
The events that you can 't afford to miss a Refugee Week
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. Peter Iain Campbell showcases photographs that challenge the stereotypes presented through the media. Dynamic Earth, Holyrood Road, 550 7800. 10am—5pm. Free. BLACKBOARDS. THIS BOLDLY uncompromising portrait of life on the margins of Iranian society is a must-see for ﬁlm buffs. CCA, 350 Sauchiehall Street, 352 4900. 6.15pm. UNITE: A GOVAN GATHERING. An evening of film, food and music. Pearce Institute, 840 Govan Road, 445 1941. 7pm. Free.
CELEBRATING DIVERSITY AT NGC. The NGC presents contemporary exhibitions to highlight the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers. North Glasgow College. 110 Flemington Street. Springburn, 558 9001. 10am—3pm. Free. WHAT DO REFUGEES BRING to Scotland? A public talk as refugees join high profile speakers for this important debate. STUC Building, 333 Woodlands Road, 7pm. Free.
OPENING DOORS. MORE THAN 1 1,000 asylum seekers have been dispersed to Glasgow since April 2000. Here, this transnational conference, with its series of workshops. exhibitions and stalls, aims to highlight new and developing practices in integrating asylum seekers and refugees. Hamish Wood Building, Caledonian University, 9.30am—4.30pm. Free.