A packed Kino-Teatr in St Leonards was the venue last month for a fitting finale to an incredible five days of walking as this year’s Refugee Tales concluded with an evening of story-telling, laughter and occasionally tears.
Almost 70 miles was covered from Brighton to Hastings and more than 150 people joined each day in friendship and solidarity with guest walkers who have experienced indefinite immigration detention.
The walk passed through Lewes, Alfriston, Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings. As Refugee Tales’ patron Ali Smith very beautifully phrases it: “walking towards the better imagined…”
The tickets for the final event at the Kino had sold out almost as soon as they became available on June 1st. The evenings are modelled on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with these modern day pilgrims sharing stories of their own lives and experiences as they arrive in each new location.
The host for the evening, the acclaimed novelist Kamila Shamsie, led the audience through two very moving tales. One of these was read aloud from the published collection Refugee Tales as a first-hand account by the young man – ‘N’ – himself, and there was also an unexpected personal contribution by Canadian poet Stephen Collis.
Music was provided by award winning folk duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Altar who, at the end of the evening, had the entire audience, walkers and local community, dancing in the aisles – aching feet, blisters and tiredness quite forgotten!
Hastings resident and Chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary Felicity Laurence says: “I was privileged to join the final two days of the walk, from Eastbourne via Bexhill and Crowhurst back to Hastings.
“Walking and talking is a powerful way to explore and reflect upon the thoughts and experience of our fellows, and a context in which those among us who have experienced the unimaginable trauma of indefinite detention can feel comfortable telling others what that is really like for any human spirit.
“At our lunch pause at the lovely Crowhurst church, we listened to Ali Smith’s passionate exhortation to us all to keep on with this quest to bring to an end this profoundly unjust practice of – so often – random incarceration of some of the most vulnerable and injured people in the land.
“Hastings Borough Council was well represented on this final leg by Councillors Maya Evans, Antonia Berelson and Paul Barnett, joined later at the Kino by council leader Peter Chowney, and Mayor Nigel Sinden whose heartfelt welcome set the evening in motion.
“In a particularly powerful contribution, guest walker ‘N’ read his own story, his voice sometimes unsteady but always riveting as he recounted his own experience of incarceration and official hostility from the moment he arrived on our shores: his desperation, and his disbelief that instead of kindness and understanding of the situation that had brought him to flee his country, he was treated with harsh scepticism, and locked up with neither explanation nor time limit.”
This is the fifth year that Refugee Tales has moved through the English countryside, walking in solidarity with asylum seekers, refugees and those who experience immigration detention.
“The UK is the only country in Europe that has no time limit to immigration detention and detainees can be held for months and sometimes years in the equivalent of a Category B prison.
The third book of Refugee Tales has just been published and contains all the stories told during this year’s walk. The book is available from bookshops or Comma Press.