Locals Walk For Change With Refugee Tales

People from Eastbourne will join a five-day walk from Brighton to Hastings as part of a walking arts festival which stops off in Eastbourne in July this year. 

The Refugee Tales project brings together walkers, musicians, writers and storytellers, walking in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. This year – the fifth annual walk run by the project – will see the 120-strong group walk the south coast, tracing the UK border.

The 10-mile walk to Eastbourne on Monday July 8 will be the group’s third day of walking. The day will start in Alfriston and take in the glories of Friston Forest, Birling Gap and Beachy Head. The following day walkers will put their boots back on and head along the shore to Bexhill.

Local resident Dr 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 3 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. 

She decided to join this year’s walk because she is passionate about widening the understanding of the refugee experience. “These people have escaped from unspeakable horror, having lost everything, often being trafficked and tortured on the journey, and 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” she says. 

“I also 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.”

Music and stories

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 walking with us, 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 Eastbourne, the audience at the evening event on July 8 will hear two stories, both written by established writers after speaking to people held in detention. Poet Jonathan Skinner will relate The Expectant Woman’s Taleand journalist and novelist Ian Sansom will tell us The Fisherman’s Tale. Both tales are included in the new anthology, Refugee Tales III, to be published this year.

There will be traditional music from the wonderful Don Kipper, an award-winning seven piece band performing and transforming Turkish and Greek folk music, alongside Romani music and Klezmer.

The night will be hosted by broadcaster and journalist Anita Sethi. The event takes place on Monday July 8 at Victoria Baptist Church, Eldon Road, Eastbourne BN21 1UE and starts at 7pm. Entry is free and there is no need to book. 

About Refugee Tales

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. As the project walked it reclaimed the landscape of South East England for the language of welcome, and everywhere it stopped it was 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 communicated experiences of migration, seeking to show, in particular, what indefinite detention means.

About Indefinite Detention

Immigration detention centres are officially called Immigration Removal Centres, as their stated 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 27,000 migrants are detained in the UK every year.

There are, at present, ten detention Immigration Removal Centres in the UK.  (This figure includes Short Term Holding Facilities.) 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. Whilst 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.