Refugee Week in Sheffield

Refugee Week Logo

Story: Carrie Hedderwick

The aim of Refugee Week is to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK. Some refugees arrive in Sheffield via the United Nations Gateway Resettlement Programme; others have undertaken traumatic and hazardous journeys to get here. Sheffield recently declared itself the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and hosts many refugee and community organisations that offer support and advice.

Burngreave is home and a cultural centre for many refugees. I feel lucky to have lived in Burngreave for 26 years, and to have benefited from the diversity, initiatives and friendliness of the area.

From 2000 – 2004, I worked for 2 different refugee organisations in Sheffield – Refugee Lifeline and Refugee Housing. Fellow workers had mostly been asylum seekers themselves. Day to day work involved supporting newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees, and sorting out issues around housing, training, language, employment, family reunion and much more. More recently, I have worked as a volunteer one-to-one English tutor at REEP – the Refugee Education and Employment Project. This project has sadly had to close through lack of funding. However tutors and students still keep in touch, and Refugee Week was a time for meeting up with old friends and colleagues.

I met up with one of my REEP student’s and a Burngreave resident at ‘Voices in Exile’, a poetry reading session, at the Quaker Meeting House. Afghani, Kurdish, Zimbabwean, Iranian and others have written the poems in English; English is their second, (sometimes third or fourth) language. The poems tell of the refugee experience –

'Those precious friends, family and childhood
That passion of father and lovely motherhood
Because there was no chance of survival
So we left everything behind'

Come on, Jaheen, make a promise today
Be loyal to this land, and be free this day
This land which gave us shelter and comfort
Even though we left everything behind.'

Then there is the worst kind of experience when refugees in a strange land are misunderstood -

'I am a free man but
People throw stones at me
They spit behind my back,
They torture and abuse my feelings
Because I am different'

This project has been developed at the Conversation Clubs in town run by ASSIST, the Sheffield Union of students and Sheffield Council.

On Friday night the World Over 2009 Concert was staged at the Montgomery Hall on Surrey St, This was a brilliant event that included traditional dance by children of the Karen community from Burma, an Iranian flamenco guitar player, the Latin American Son Para Todos group, Khula Arts, an African dance and song performance, and Curtis Elmer, a crazily inspired, mime fan and banjo player from New York.

These events, and the whole Refugee Week programme, represented everything that is best about a multicultural society – our common experiences and our unique cultures.

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The content on this page was added to the website by Lisa Swift on 2009-07-20 17:40:42.
The content of the page was last modified by Lisa Swift on 2009-07-20 18:02:36.

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