The United Nations General Assembly decided that, from 2001, June 20th would be recognised as World Refugee Day; designed to celebrate the courage and perseverance of the millions of refugees across the world, World Refugee Day acts as a public show of support for the families forced to flee their homes.
This year World Refugee Day serves as a timely introduction to the upcoming anthology Refugee Tales Part II, due to be published on the 20th July. Comma’s involvement with the Refugee Tales project began last year when we published the first anthology of stories, Refugee Tales, from which all profits are being donated to the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group and Kent Help for Refugees, who started the Refugee Tales project. These organisations are campaigning against Indefinite Immigration Detention in the UK, the only country in Europe that practises the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. The British Home Office has eleven designated Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) where people can be detained indefinitely under the Immigration Act of 2016, for reasons such as being refused permission to enter the UK, overstaying the expiry of their visa and lacking the required documentation to live in the UK. However, the overwhelming majority of detainees in these centres are individuals who have fled persecution and are seeking refuge from a stifling and dangerous life.
Legally, the main criticism of IRCs and Indefinite Detention is that detainees are losing their right to due process. Some detainees linger in the IRCs for years, unknowing when they will be released and often living in poor conditions. Having fled persecution in their country of origin they only find themselves persecuted again in the UK; being treated like a prisoner without having committed any crime. However comparing their treatment to that of an incarcerated criminal is inaccurate, as a criminal has the privilege of a count down to their release, whereas an asylum seeker in an IRC is forced to count upwards to an unknown date of release, often with their sentence extending further for pitiful reasons like bureaucratic delays.
The Immigration Act overlooks the fact that behind every single detainee is a complex story, and most importantly, that every single detainee is in fact a human being. A human who is trapped in a system which inevitably works against them, even if they manage to get released from an IRC. From inhibiting stipulations on their £35 weekly money allowance, to being forced into working illegally, due to being disallowed legal employment whilst their asylum claim is being processed, their existence even outside of an IRC is often miserable.
The Refugee Tales project aims to shed light on the people who fall into this system, and focuses on humanising a demonised population through the sharing of stories. Many people in the UK aren’t even aware of the process of Indefinite Immigration Detention, and so even fewer will know the intricate and harrowing stories of the people now at its mercy. As such, the Gatwick Detainee Welfare group organised the Solidarity Walk with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees, which originated in 2014 to lift the silence around Indefinite Immigration Detention.
This year the Solidarity Walk with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees starts in Runnymede, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta which states:
- No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go against him, nor will we send against him, save by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.
- To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right to justice.
The walk will journey to Westminster, giving live performances of stories everywhere they stop along the way. Refugee Tales is similarly modelled on The Canterbury Tales and brings to life the stories of fourteen real-life refugees. In Part I, Ali Smith, Chris Cleave, Marina Lewycka and many others came together to tell the stories of Europe’s new underclass – its refugees.
‘A wonderful way of re-humanising some of the most vulnerable and demonised people on the planet. This collection is both challenging and poignant. Readers will surely be moved to move their leaders to action.’
– Shami Chakrabarti
In this first collection we saw the stories of two unaccompanied children, travelling across the Mediterranean in a boat designed to only make it half way and an orphaned slave who writes to the Home Office for help and is rewarded with a jail sentence and indefinite detention. Refugee Tales Part II is another stunningly poignant and heart wrenching anthology featuring more stories of pain and loss, but also of friendship and hope.
Be the first to read an extract from the new anthology; here David Herd, co-editor, sums up the work of the Refugee Tales project:
“What Refugee Tales sets out to help achieve is a space of recognition, a space in which stories that are routinely discredited, thwarted, disrupted and disbelieved can instead be safely heard. This can sound utopian perhaps, and in some contexts the first volume of Refugee Tales has been presented as utopian writing, which might be said to catch the spirit of the project, but also indicates just how expectations have dropped. There is not, or at least shouldn’t be, anything utopian about the demand that ‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’ Imagine the alternative. Such a demand is basic.
The larger context in which the stories that constitute Refugee Tales are told, the hostile environment, means that when it comes to publication anonymity has to be carefully observed. The stories presented here are the tales of people who have been detained indefinitely in the UK and who, pending resolution of their cases, are liable each time they report to the Home Office to be detained indefinitely again. For this reason, real as they are, the stories have to be anonymised and, as was described at length in the first volume, they are mediated by the writers to whom they have been told. This, it must be underlined, is only one of the project’s methods of telling stories. During this year’s walk, just as at the day-long forum with which last year’s walk opened, people who have been detained tell their stories for themselves. The tales presented here, by contrast, are collaborations, between the person whose story it is and the writer with whom they were in conversation. The experiences presented are real, and part of that reality is the necessity of anonymity in publication. That they are collaborations, however, means that, in a significant sense, the stories presented in this volume have at least been shared.
To detain a person indefinitely is to breach the principles that underpin due process, a principle that has its origin in Magna Carta and that achieves forceful expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those documents weren’t for nothing. They were an attempt to stop cultures acting at their worst, to ensure that the power of the law is checked by due access to the law’s protections. What they call for is the mutuality of recognition, a recognition which is rooted in the proper hearing of stories. In the present moment the stories of people who have been detained indefinitely demand to be heard.” – David Herd
Publication date: 20th July 2017
Sign up for the Refugee Tales Solidarity Walk here!
Written by Rachel Poultney
Comma Press Marketing and Productions Assistant