The Festival across time

Early Festivals 2000-2008  

Originally the festival was a one-day food and music celebration in George Square in Glasgow and has since evolved to a Scotland-wide festival with over 100 events. These celebrations, eventually coined Samba in the Square originally served 500 people in 2001, growing to 1600 people in 2003.  

2004 was the first year with events outside the central belt. The news of the festival spread further through a special edition of The Big Issue, which focused on the festival and its offerings. Eventually, the festival joined partners across the UK and began producing the first week-long Refugee Week Scotland programme alongside Refugee Week.    

In 2005, the Ceud Mile Fáilte schools’ project encouraged young people to share their perspective on the contribution that refugees and asylum seekers make to British society and the reasons why people are forced to leave their homes. Exhibitions of the work produced were displayed at local venues across Scotland as well as on-line, creating a Welcoming Web. 

By 2007, World Refugee Day was being held at the Scottish Parliament and the number of events across the week was up over 70. The theme of Different Pasts, Shared Futures was adopted for the 2008 festival and the programme featured stories of integration and belonging from New Scots and settled communities.  

The Festival Grows 2009-2015 

The festival evolved greatly over the following years. In 2009, Scottish Refugee Council facilitated a series of home visits as part of a campaign to change public attitudes. Five well known Scots were invited to the homes of refugees in Scotland who volunteered as part of the campaign. The campaign showcased a crucial area of the festival’s work which is encouraging the wider public to meet New Scot neighbours and community members near them.  

By 2010, there were 110 events across Scotland, which were attended by approximately 15,000 people. As the festival grew, the adaptation of specific themes to guide the festival also grew in importance. The themes during these years included Year of Homecoming, Journey, Courage, Spirit and more. Each festival included a programme of events that responded to the year’s theme, giving each festival a unique feel!   

2015 was a particularly special year of the festival because it was the year that Scottish Refugee Council celebrated its 30th birthday. This was the first year that Refugee Week Scotland became Refugee Festival Scotland, as we know it today!  

The Festival Now 2016-Present  

Over this period, the festival infrastructure developed significantly through support from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. As the festival grew in size and scale, so did the events! 

In 2016, the festival showcased a year-long project where a group of refugees and local Scots worked to uncover the hidden heritage of thousands of Belgian refugees who came to Scotland during WW1 and drew parallels with their own experiences of re-building their lives in Scotland today. This project was entitled Lest We Forget: WW1 Refugees Then and Now. This year-long project culminated in a film screening, discussion and exhibition that lasted across the length of the festival.  

2018 also presented German-Syrian artist Manaf Halbouni’s public sculpture Rubble Theatre, which recreated a scene of destruction in Syria, featuring the rubble of a bombsite and an abandoned car. This artwork sat in the middle of Glasgow and passersby were encouraged to consider what the artwork meant and how it made them feel to see such a sight of destruction in the middle of a safe city like Glasgow.  

2020 was the first year when there was no festival, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2021 saw a resurgence of the festival, with community groups and organisations finding unique ways to hold online events as well as in-person events that followed government guidelines. These years of challenge highlighted the resilience and creativity of organisers across Scotland.   

The festival has grown immensely since its first Refugee Day celebration in George Square. We look forward to continuing to support communities, continuing to highlight the achievements and contributions made by those seeking safety in Scotland and challenging the negative rhetoric of the media and our politicians.