Ben Okri, the Nigerian novelist and poet, posed the question at a one-day forum on our Canterbury campus. ‘How can we tell refugee tales in a different way – in a way that is relevant and powerful and beautiful?’
The question was raised in many forms throughout the day – by asylum seekers and refugees, by academics and policymakers, by journalists, poets and novelists, by support workers and campaigners.
The forum was part of Refugee Tales, an unusual project that has been challenging the UK policy of indefinite immigration detention. Drawing on Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales for inspiration, each year the project organises ‘walks of solidarity’ through the English countryside – several days of trekking and telling stories along the way.
Quote Jeremy Irons
To become a refugee, you have to give up your country, your friends, your home, your things and your life.Jeremy Irons Refugee Tales speaker
The stories are read out in local venues – usually a town or a village hall – and are crafted by well-known novelists and poets such as Ali Smith and Patience Agbabi. The crucial part is that these are not written as works of fiction. Instead, each author has spent time talking to someone with first-hand experience of indefinite detention. The events provide the detainees – usually asylum seekers or refugees – with the chance for their stories to be heard.