A personal response to Refugee Week, June 2019 …
‘Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day on the 20 June. In the UK, Refugee Week is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK, and encourages a better understanding between communities.
Refugee Week started in 1998 as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers. An established part of the UK’s cultural calendar, Refugee Week is now one of the leading national initiatives working to counter this negative climate, defending the importance of sanctuary and the benefits it can bring to both refugees and host communities.’
(from the International Awareness Events website)
‘WELCOME’ by Kate Murdoch 2019
I made a new piece of work at the weekend, in response to World Refugee Day and Refugee Week which ended this year, on Sunday, June 23rd.
I headed for a specific piece of coastline, Winchelsea Beach, in East Sussex which is significant to me for more than one reason.
It’s a place I’m very familiar with as my parents bought a caravan close to the beach some 30 years or so ago. I’ve been a frequent visitor to the area ever since and love the remote bleakness of this particular stretch of coast.
Two summers ago, I had a short exchange with a man I met on a morning walk, close to the caravan site where I stay. I commented on seeing a police car making its way down a fairly inaccessible lane, towards the beach, in the direction we were both walking. I said what an unusual sight it was, in what is a relatively crime-free corner of the world. The man simply replied: ‘immigrants.’ His aggression took me by surprise and when I asked what he meant, he went into a tirade about immigrants landing in boats ‘all along the East Sussex coast’ – ‘coming here, living off our land, claiming our benefits, etc etc’. He was full of anger and certainly very sure of his opinion, to the point that I was slightly nervous about voicing mine. But I felt I needed to speak out for what I believed in and told him how sad I thought it was; how utterly desperate people must be to put themselves and their children at such risk and how, crucially, after experiencing such trauma in their lives, they should be welcomed with open arms. The conversation ended there, thankfully and the man grunted and sloped off – we were clearly at complete odds with our opinions.
Albeit brief, this conversation stayed with me for a long time. I’d seen opinions like this expressed on TV, but had never actually been face to face with someone who felt so strongly about ‘his’ land, ‘his’ taxes and so full of fear about ‘the immigrants taking over’ and getting their hands on anything that belonged to him. The idea of laying down WELCOME mats to welcome refugees arriving in boats on the shoreline came to me at the point of being confronted with this seething ball of anger. This week, I finally managed to make the work that’s been buzzing around for such a long time.
Ironically, one of the things that spurred me into action was a recent news report that a small group of refugees did actually land on the very stretch of coast I know so well. I only wish the WELCOME mats had been there to greet them.