The Refugee Tales – 2016

Welcome from Ali Smith

Patron of Refugee Tales

Ali_SMITH (credit Sarah Wood)

Ali Smith (credit Sarah Wood)

When Anna asked me if I’d be a patron to the project I said an immediate yes and a big thank-you for asking me. The most heartening work I did last year was the work I did with Refugee Tales, and the highpoint of my year was the night I came to Charing to meet and read with the walkers.

Late last year too I was in the audience at an event in London featuring the great writer and cultural visionary John Berger.   Someone in the audience asked him what he thought we could do about the movement of people across the world and the reactions of countries to those who arrive in them seeking help and refuge. He sat and thought in silence for a moment or two. Then he began to talk about storytelling.

The telling of stories is an act of profound hospitality.  It always has been; story is an ancient form of generosity, an ancient form that will tell us everything we need to know about the contemporary world.  Story has always been a welcoming-in, is always one way or another a hospitable meeting of the needs of others, and a porous artform where sympathy and empathy are only the beginning of things. The individual selves we all are meet and transform in the telling into something open and communal.

Imagine if every city, if every country, greeted refugees with signs which said in many languages the word welcome, and the words you are safe, like Vienna did last summer.

We will tell it like it is, and we will work towards the better imagined.
Welcome to this year’s Refugee Tales.

Ali Smith

Ali Smith’s ‘The Detainee’s Tale’ is available on the Guardian website.


The inspiration for the walk focuses on the journeys people make as refugees; we walk in solidarity with them and we echo the journey that is the migrant’s defining experience demonstrating that refugees and asylum seekers are no more and no less than people who have had to move. By walking from Canterbury to Westminster, we will collectively establish the fact that journeys are integral to our landscape and that they provide the stories out of which our shared histories emerge.