The Launch of Refugee Tales 2017


“This is the best room to be”

A few years ago, Refugee Tales was a crazy idea in the heads of a small group of people wondering how to let people know about their call for an end to indefinite immigration detention in our country. They knew the power of stories to illuminate truths; they knew the power of walking to claim landscapes; they knew the power of drawing upon a language of welcome from our histories and our experiences; they knew the power of engaging in these acts together. They didn’t know that they were pre-figuring a heart-felt response to a small piece of the jigsaw that is the picture of migration, asylum, refuge and being humane in our turbulent times.

Well, they know now.

On Saturday 21st January 2017, a group of walkers, story tellers, supporters, and people who had been detained met together to greet old friends and new. They came to celebrate being part of Refugee Tales in the last two years, and they came to raise a big cheer at the prospect of doing it all again in 2017.

Quite a lot happened before lunch…….

The best room to be was in the Hurtado Centre in Wapping.. Every chair in the building was needed to accommodate all the participants. We sent messages of solidarity to friends who were walking in the Women’s March down the road. Sal and Nicky broke the ice by sharing our names across the world. (That’s a very flowery way to say that we played a game with an inflatable globe. There was much laughter and some clumsy catching). The room then fizzed with words to describe our experiences of previous Refugee Tales walks. Movement, freedom, equality, resolve, safety, love, kindness were but a few in a cloud of words that emerged. Cake was mentioned. We somehow missed out snoring.

Osman, Rashid and Seth welcomed us and drew us together by telling us what Refugee Tales means to them as we bear witness to their experiences of detention and reach out to be friends and family.

David Herd stirred us to stiffen our sinews and summon the blood to walk once more. Refugee Tales 2017 will start at Runnymede, reminding us of Magna Carta, and our voice in the wider context of due process as the balance between the power of law and the rights of the individual person. As we pause on the walks each day, we’ll have the opportunity to think about due process in common ground, writing, ethics, social reform, human rights and detention. My goodness we need such reminders in these times of ‘post-human-rights’!

We had a short time of reflection on what we had heard and what we might wish to bring to our discussions as we walk. We shared some of our questions that had no easy answers, some of our fears and discouragements, and some of our suggestions for new approaches to the task. How do we withstand the media headlines that assail us every day when we pop into the local shop? How do we talk with neighbours and friends in a culture that seems to be shifting around us? How might we use the language of the tabloids to change the narratives? How do we ‘keep the light shining’ when so many draughts seem to threaten to blow it out?

Christina then encouraged and enthused us with an outline of the route along the Thames. She tempted us with the prospect of walking through landscapes that evoke ‘Wind in the Willows’ and messing about on the river, to places where people have imagined and called for different worlds, such as St George’s Hill and Putney Church.

We ended the morning with a love letter to Refugee Tales – Sarah Hickson’s breathtakingly beautiful images from last year’s walk from Canterbury to London. If you are not yet convinced about the beauty of Refugee Tales, then look at https://sarahhickson.shootproof.com/RefugeeTales2016

And that was just the morning……..

Avril Loveless, February 2017