Refugee Tales / The Edinburgh International Book Festival


Here is a delightful report from Anna Sayburn a faithful RT supporter.

‘We started to get an idea of just how popular the Jackie Kay/Kamila Shamsie Refugee Tales event was going to be when we saw the queue being organised into three tranches. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was our biggest event yet, almost selling out the main auditorium. Both writers have big followings. Jackie Kay is the current Scottish Makar, or poet laureate,  and Kamila Shamsie’s acclaimed novel Home Fire won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. They are just two of the authors who wrote for us in the second volume of Refugee Tales, and we were thrilled that so many people came along to hear them talk.

They began with an arresting recital of 28 facts and figures around indefinite detention. These are facts that people involved with campaigns against immigration detention know well, but they never fail to surprise a general audience, and audible gasps accompanied some of their words. They finished with two statements that seem unarguable – “Detention is a waste of money,” and “Detention is a waste of human life.”

Peggy Hughes, chairing the event, began by asking them how they each got involved. Both credited our patron, Ali Smith, who wrote so movingly about the project and told The Detainee’s Tale in Refugee Tales volume one. “This was a story that had to be told,” said Kamila Shamsie.

Both spoke of the “moral duty” of writers to give a voice to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to tell their own stories. Heartbreakingly, Kamila Shamsie explained that the subject of The Lover’s Tale, which she wrote, decided he needed to be anonymous not for fear of repercussions for his family back in his home country, but for fear of how it might affect his application for asylum with the UK Home Office. The two writers gave short readings from their Tales, demonstrating the different and beautiful ways in which they had approached the commission. Afterwards, audience members asked questions – including  What can we do, when the situation seems hopeless?  Kamila Shamsie stressed the situation  is not hopeless. This parliamentary year there will be an immigration bill, and many MPs have expressed support for an amendment to include a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention. We need to keep telling our stories, keep piling on the pressure, above all ensure that our politicians know this matters, refugees matter.

If everyone in the audience took out that message into the sunny Edinburgh afternoon, imagine the difference it could make. Given the length of the signing queue – and the numbers of copies of the Refugee Tales we sold – we gained plenty of new supporters in Edinburgh.’