Writers call for a future without immigration detention

Gary Hughes

Poets and writers from the University are once again at the forefront of Refugee Tales, an annual charity event calling for a future without immigration detention.

Participants with lived experience of detention, including novelist Behrouz Boochani, will be joined by David Herd and Simon Smith from Kent’s School of English, along with the likes of Shami Chakrabarti, Kamila Shamsie, Robert Macfarlane, Ali Smith, Sarah Wood, Patrick Gale, Dina Nayeri and Omid Tofighian for a free online event (3-5 July) that will include talks, readings of new stories, musical performances and film screenings. As in previous years, the inspiration for these tales comes from those directly affected by the UK’s policy of indefinite detention.

Now in its sixth year, Refugee Tales normally involves a large-scale public walk across the southeast of England but due to the coronavirus pandemic it will go online for the first time. However, the public will still be able to participate and show their support by walking in their locality.

Professor Herd, a co-organiser of Refugee Tales, said: ‘Taking Refugee Tales online this year was a necessity. Although it was not what we had planned or hoped for, it will nevertheless enable people to join us from anywhere around the world.

‘As the recent Detention Action report has confirmed, there are few clearer manifestations of the UK’s institutionalised racism than the detention estate. At the same time, many people who have experienced detention and who for years were subject to the Hostile Environment, and who have now finally secured leave to remain, have worked as designated key workers throughout the pandemic – as care workers, as nurses, as delivery drivers. As this year’s readings, talks and tales show, now more than ever it is crucial that we call for an end to immigration detention. We look forward to joining people online.’

Anna Pincus, a co-organiser of Refugee Tales and Director of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, said: ‘Hearing these new tales is free and open to everyone, and between events we’ll be inviting people to walk in their locality according to government guidance at the time. We invite walkers to send in photos of bridges that they see to emphasise that we are very much connected wherever we are.

‘As we come out of lockdown, when our lives have been defined by confinement and uncertainty, perhaps now more than ever we can understand how it feels to be indefinitely detained.’

The full schedule and registration for this year’s event is available here.

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, it has walked in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. Working directly in collaboration with those who had experienced the UK asylum system and taking Geoffrey 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 communicated experiences of migration, seeking to show what, in particular, indefinite detention means.

Three books of these tales have been published and are available here.