It’s not often that you get a group of people from around the country sat in a room learning to sing in a language they’ve never even spoken before. But that was exactly what happened at the Refugee Week Conference in Bristol last week. Taban Osman, a Kurdish actor and singer, led the chorus, teaching the audience to sing a celebratory Kurdish New Year song. This was a sign of the inspiring and moving things to come from a conference that saw workshops, planning and performances from across the sector.
The theme of Refugee Week this year is “imagine”, and it certainly was easy to imagine with a room full of people all dedicated to making the UK a place of welcome for those seeking sanctuary. After a welcome from Cllr Asher Craig, the creative warm up from Taban, and an introduction from those coordinating Bristol Refugee Festival and Refugee Week, the conference split into workshops discussing everything from climate change and displacement to “minding our language” when it comes to talking about sanctuary.
We then joined back together for a delicious lunch cooked up by Moveable Feast. This was a time for catching up and networking, and I’m sure many plans were made whilst eating incredible stews and curries. After lunch we were treated to music by Sudanese-German Oud band, Nabra, followed by two keynote speeches on the subject of “imagine” from Bristol Refugee Rights Voice speakers. They spoke of their dreams as children and of their experiences living in the UK. Of hope, and how important it is to never give up.
The afternoon sessions continued with more workshops, giving attendees the opportunity to learn about social media, community engagement and to take part in a creative writing session. This again centred around the theme “imagine”, specifically imagining what was behind a door. We looked at the next steps, and attendees were invited to share their plans for the upcoming festivals.
The conference finished with Mandla-Rae Nkomo, from the Refugee Week Leadership Project, reading her poetry. As she so eloquently said, let us “challenge the narrative of what a person who is displaced looks like or is capable of.” As we prepare for Refugee Week & Bristol Refugee Festival, those are words to carry close to our hearts.