#RefugeeFestScot round-up: What’s your story?

Our Storytelling Officer Chris Afuakwah reflects on the theme of Stories at this year’s Refugee Festival Scotland.

We are all made of stories. And my role for the past few years has been all about them. Hearing them, speaking them, sharing them, encouraging people to share theirs, to take agency over them, to find the words, to stand tall when asked difficult questions and say no – that part of my story is for me alone.

This year in Scotland is all about stories. In fact, it is Visit Scotland’s Year of Stories. The theme of this year’s Refugee Festival Scotland was “What’s your story?” And here I am, Storytelling Officer at Scottish Refugee Council. Well, let me tell you a story…

Another day, another protest. During two years of pandemic, often the only times we have been able to connect as a community is standing in George Square in the rain, shouting into a megaphone about the constant erosion of rights and abdication of responsibility by the UK Government towards people seeking sanctuary. Hotel detention, dawn raids, deaths of our friends in the asylum system, climate justice, losses of life at our border, the crisis in Afghanistan, deportation flights to Rwanda. The same faces getting steadily wearier, greyer, crushed by the weight of a government and vocal minority incensed by people daring to need safety from war, terror and persecution. Refugees are welcome here, we yell to commuters and punters passing by, to cameras and politicians, to the roaring crowds at Kenmure Street who brought us hope and renewed our energy just when we needed it most.

On this day, 28 June 2022, the Nationality and Borders Bill becomes the Nationality and Borders Act. A bleak day in our history of refugee protection, and one that will take years to roll back. And this government isn’t stopping there, using the ECHR’s blocking of the first planned deportation flight to Rwanda as cover to introduce the Rights Removal Bill. Against a global context of mass displacement, climate emergency, war, pandemic, power-grabs and rights rollbacks, the road ahead looks unclear and treacherous.

And yet, in the midst of all this grief and sadness, there is always light to be found. Between the 16 and 26 June 2022, this light was shining bright over Refugee Festival Scotland. From the first journalist thanked for their commitment to fair and accurate reporting at our Media Awards, to the final goal scored at Glasgow Afghan United’s annual football tournament, old and new friends came together to laugh, to celebrate, to share wisdom, culture, heritage and history, to dance and sing and play. Whilst the Festival is perhaps not an antidote to our times, it is certainly a tonic, filling our stomachs and hearts with some much-needed joy.

Joy, big and small. Joy in the work of grassroots community groups being recognised nationally. Joy in the sound of the Joyous Choir reverberating through the air and echoing long in our minds thereafter. Joy in the shared celebration of journalists and the people who shared their stories, working against an endless onslaught of scapegoating and negativity. Joy in the taste of new spices on your tongue, cooked and shared with love and thoughts of home, of grandmother’s cooking, of long nights in the desert. Joy in the being part of it all. Joy in finally connecting after so many years. Joy in dancing together. Joy in sharing our stories.

“I’ve never shared this with anyone before,” explained a participant in our media training workshops, which I ran in the lead up to the festival. I’ll leave it at that, it’s not yet something to be shared further. But that’s what the festival’s all about, behind the running around and the funding applications and the press releases. It’s about creating space for people to get something off their chest or realise they’re not alone, to make new connections or enhance existing friendships, to come together and recognise how far we’ve come and how much work there is still to do, but just for this moment, to stop, and smile, and raise a glass, and have some much-needed fun.

In these times, we need it.


Image: Lindsey Roberton