Local people walking for change as part of Refugee Tales

People from Hastings and Bexhill will join a five-day walk from Brighton to Hastings as part of a walking arts festival which finishes in the town next month.

The Refugee Tales project brings together walkers, musicians, writers and storytellers, walking to show solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. This year – the fifth annual walk run by the project – will see a 150-strong group walk the south coast, tracing the UK border.

The ten-mile walk to Hastings on Wednesday July 12th will be the group’s fifth day of walking and will start in Bexhill with walkers going via Crowhurst en route to Hastings.

Local woman Jo Shawcross, who worked for 20 years as a palliative care consultant at St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne, first came across Refugee Tales when she heard one of the tales being read at the Charleston short story festival. She will join the group for three days of the walk, from Lewes to Bexhill.

Since retirement from St Wilfrid’s, Jo now works with refugees at the medical charity Freedom From Torture, which provides therapy, support and rehabilitation for asylum seekers who have been tortured, as well as supporting local refugees with the charity Networx.

Organisers expect 150 people to take part in the Refugee Tales walk from Brighton to Hastings.

She’s joining this year’s walk to increase the public’s understanding of what refugees are going through: “These people have escaped from unspeakable horror, having lost everything, often being trafficked and tortured on their journey. We have taken them in – but hanging over them all the time is the fear of indefinite detention. Refugee Tales highlights this injustice. These are human beings, just like you and me, deserving the same respect and compassion,” says Jo.

“I love to walk, especially through this beautiful countryside and walking with others, having a common purpose, meeting like-minded people and those who have been through the asylum system will be a truly nourishing experience,” she says.

Each night after the day’s walk, Refugee Tales sets up a storytelling and music event in the town it has reached. Local people are invited to come along, enjoy music and hear some of the stories of the people who are walking who have experienced immigration detention.

Refugee Tales is calling for an end to the indefinite detention of people in immigration removal centres, some of whom spend years in detention, despite having committed no crime.

In Hastings the audience at the sold-out evening event at the Kino-Teatr will hear two stories, both written by established writers after speaking to people held in detention.

The host, award winning writer Kamila Shamsie will introduce Abdulrazak Gurnah who will read The Stateless Person’s Tale and another story will be read by a former immigration detainee. There will be music from renowned folk duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.

The Refugee Tales project began in June 2015.

Refugee Tales is an outreach project of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, inspired by the experiences of men held in immigration detention at Gatwick and the work of the group in 20 years of visiting.

The project began in June 2015. Each summer since, the project has walked in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. Everywhere walkers stop they have been met with hospitality and enthusiasm.

Working directly in collaboration with those who had experienced the UK asylum system, and taking Chaucer’s great poem of journeying as a model, established writers told a series of tales en route. Through that sharing of other people’s tales the project gathered and was able to explain experiences of migration and has attempted to turn a spotlight on just what indefinite detention means in human terms.

Immigration detention centres are officially called Immigration Removal Centres. Their purpose is to hold people who the government intends to deport from the UK. Around half of people in immigration detention are asylum seekers, and many have family ties in the UK. Around 25,000 migrants are detained in the UK every year.

There are, at present, ten detention Immigration Removal Centres in the UK. Some are run by private security companies, others by the Prison Service. People in detention cannot leave and have very limited freedom of movement within the centres. Security levels are similar to prisons.

The UK is unique within Western Europe in that there is no maximum time limit on immigration detention. While the maximum time limit for people to be detained in France is 45 days, in the UK detention is indefinite – people can be and are detained for months or even years. It costs, on average, more than £30,000 to detain someone for a year.

Refugee Tales has worked with politicians from all parties to try to change the law and introduce a 28 day time limit for detention.

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