Performing poetry this Refugee Week – putting joyful, funny, complex refugee voices at the centre of the narrative


Performing poetry this Refugee Week – putting joyful, funny, complex refugee voices at the centre of the narrative

Refugee friends will perform poetry sharing their experiences & celebrate together in community

13 June 2023

Performing poetry this Refugee Week – putting joyful, funny, complex refugee voices at the centre of the narrative

Refugee Week 2023 will run from Monday 19th to Sunday 25th June. Ahead of Refugee Week, we sat down with Mark, Community Projects Coordinator, to learn more about what JRS will be doing to celebrate.  

What is Refugee Week?  

Refugee Week is an important week in the UK – and now in lots of other countries – which celebrates the contributions and value of refugees in our communities. With a myriad of arts and cultural events, it’s a week in which we highlight how much our communities benefit from and are strengthened by the presence of refugees, with all the gifts and new perspectives they bring to our society.  

In this hostile environment, it’s more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity with those who come to the UK seeking safety and sanctuary. Media and government narratives try to separate and divide, and scapegoat refugees as victims that just ‘take’ – as people who are needy and damaging to us as individuals and as a society. Refugee Week shows us the opposite of that is true.  

The celebrations of Refugee Week are a powerful demonstration of refugees being our equals in society, with inherent dignity and unique and special talents. We see this demonstrated in the joy and love they bring to friends, family and new communities in the UK. Refugee Week is a joyful celebration which counters the hostilities and trauma many refugees face – on their journeys and continued here in the UK. Refugee Week shows that we are stronger together.  

What are JRS doing for Refugee Week?  

On Thursday of Refugee Week we’ll be holding an internal celebration day just for refugee friends, volunteers, and staff to come together. This is something refugee friends have asked for – a space and a day for the community to join together and have fun together. This day will be the launch of a regular social space we want to host, bringing peer support and socialising back into the centre on a regular basis. We haven’t done a large scale event like this since before the pandemic.

JRS will also be present at events celebrating the launch of You can see me, but I don’t exist, a photography and poetry exhibit which speaks to the extended periods of uncertainty that many refugees face whilst waiting to hear on their asylum claims. The long-exposure photography – which blurs refugee friends’ faces – speaks to the dehumanization and marginalisation of asylum seekers in our society, whilst the poetry speaks to these experiences of not being seen – but also of the complexities, the ups and downs of the rest of life.  

See what’s on and join JRS for Refugee Week 2023

Refugee friends are practicing in the centre this week for their performances next week with the help of poet Laila Sumpton. It sounds really joyful – through the door I’ve heard lots of singing and chanting, sounds you might hear in a local market. Their performances at the various external events during Refugee Week won’t be poetry done traditionally, but instead it’ll be dynamic and sensational. To see that work come to life will be really great.  

All of the poems they’ll be performing next week were written by the whole group – all of the poems are collaborative. There’s one that is particularly funny which has everyone involved in performing. It’s nice to show that refugees aren’t just in tragic circumstances – the collection of poetry shows very well the full breadth of their experiences; their joyful, funny and complex lives. They are all complex human beings, like each and every one of us.  

What special importance does Refugee Week have?  

It’s hugely important that people and society have an opportunity to hear refugee voices, particularly from refugees themselves. Refugee Week is the perfect opportunity to encourage society to hear the voices of refugees. Even with good narratives, it’s essential that refugees are in control of their own stories.  

Having seen all the hard work, and knowing how skilled, creative, and joyful JRS refugee friends are, it’s a great honour – and very important – for JRS to share that work externally. JRS plays a vital role in making sure that individuals affected by the hostile environment are connected to global movements, and have access to be a part of things like Refugee Week. We’re always learning how better to make refugees voices the heart and centre of what we do. 

I hope you’ll join us for Refugee Week, and participate in the wider Refugee Week events more generally. It’s also not too late to host an event yourself – the Refugee Week website has lots of ideas for things you could do. Whatever you do, I hope Refugee Week is an exciting opportunity to learn more and experience genuine encounter. I look forward to updating you all on what we get up to at JRS!  

See what else is on during Refugee Week

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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