AMBER: marking 70 years of the UN Convention on Refugees

A unique performance which seeks to celebrate stories of migration, reflect on the fragmented journeys that many refugees face, and protest proposed asylum reforms.

This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, the international treaty that upholds the right to seek refugee protection and the legal obligations of states to provide for people seeking asylum.

Over the past seven decades, the Convention has had an impact on millions of people’s lives. But in 2021, the rights and principles it enshrines remain insecure and under threat.

To honour the anniversary of the Convention, Scottish Refugee Council has commissioned Paria Goodarzi and Francisco Llinas Casas of Distanced Assemblage to create a piece of public art in response to this complex moment in time.

Here, they talk about their artwork, AMBER, and what this moment means to them.

“We live in an ambivalent world where the cost of human conflict has reached more than 10,000 deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean since 2014. It’s clear that the values of the Convention are threatened and, with them, the freedoms and guarantees it endows to people seeking asylum.

So we ask ourselves, is this seventieth anniversary a time to celebrate or time to protest?

Can our protest be in itself an expression and celebration of freedom?

How can our actions help to document the moment of crisis we live in for future generations?

With AMBER, we wanted to make a radical artistic expression that could engage with personal aspects our stories of migration in a celebratory way and, simultaneously, protest against the current apprehension and reforms around the UK asylum system.

AMBER consists of two artists walking from Dungavel Detention Centre to the Home Office building in Glasgow through two different routes on the first day of Refugee Festival Scotland, Monday 14 June. We will push our bodies in this long performance, while wearing an engraved mirror on our backs. The engraved mirrors feature elements relevant to the Convention, commenting on the freedom of movement it guarantees.

Our performance responds to the different paths asylum seekers might take in their migratory journeys, commenting on the impossibility to judge their need for protection based on the way they arrive to our shores. Likewise, the walk from these two buildings examines the tension between the two ends of the system: the ‘Home’ office that can provide refuge according the Convention, and the ‘Removal’ centre where refoul takes place.

The reflection of the audience against the mirrors will uncover different layers of meaning, including the negotiation of identity and underrepresentation of refugees and minorities.

We also want people to look at their reflection against the surrounding reality of the city and think about issues of our contemporary social experience such as discrimination, political upheaval and inequality. We will bring these issues into the street with our walk from one place to another, reminding ourselves how civilised life and humanity coexist with conflict and displacement.

We invite the audience to ask questions, discuss and share while we perform our journey, providing a platform to engage with people and their socio-political concerns.”

Paria and Francisco will set off from Dungavel at 6am on Monday, 14 June. At around 1pm, they will spilt up, each taking a different route before reconnecting in Queen’s Park in Glasgow at around 3pm. Here, they will take a short break before beginning the final leg of their journey to the Home Office arriving at approximately 4.30pm.

We’ll be following their progress and posting regular updates on social media throughout the day. Join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see how they’re getting on. 

Find out more about AMBER

6 fantastic events for foodies

With just days to go until the festival begins, we’ve prepared a selection of mouth-watering food-focused festival events to get your taste buds tingling.

1. Live Cooking Class

Join Standing Tall Arts for a live cookery demonstration featuring dishes from their new cookbook. All recipes have been contributed by young refugees living in Scotland.

Tuesday 15 June 2021, 19:00 – 21:00

2. Celebrating Refugee Festival Scotland

Pop along to Ruchazie Pantry to sample a selection of cultural dishes and recipes, listen to music and chat with people from the Cranhill community.

Wednesday, 16 June, 10am-3.30pm, 355 Gartloch Road, G33 3TJ

3. Syrian Food From Bute

The Syrian community on the Isle of Bute invite you to join them for a virtual cookery demonstration. They’re looking forward to sharing some traditional recipes and hope you enjoy trying, and sampling them yourselves.

Friday 18 June 2021, 11:00

4. Sharing Food Experiences

Join Sean Wai Keung for a creative online workshop on food and poetry. Bring along a photo, recipe or an idea about food that means something to you. Explore memories, share foodies thoughts and explore favourite ingredients. Ideas shared during the workshop will feature in an illustrated micro-publication which will be sent to participants and made available in community spaces across Renfrewshire.

Saturday 19 June 2021, 14:00

5. Tasteful Cuisine

Want to learn more about the tastes of Africa? Join cooks from across the continent as they demonstrate how to prepare popular dishes and traditional recipes from their home countries

Saturday 19 June 2021, 15:00

6. Rise Refugee Week Super Club

Enjoy the atmosphere of the sunken terrace at Woodlands Community Garden and sample food from the cultural heritage of the women from Rise. Book your six-person, private gazebo and let the celebrations begin.

Saturday, 19 June, 8pm

View the full programme of events

Finding a home as a Wikipedia editor

Ever wondered who writes all those Wikipedia entries? This workshop aims to give people from refugee backgrounds the skills and confidence to share their knowledge on the world’s largest encyclopaedia. We caught up with Abd Alsattar Ardati and Dr Kirsty Ross from IDEA Network at the University of St Andrews to find out more. 

Tell us a little bit about your event

Abd: We want to introduce people from under-represented communities to the idea of open knowledge and encourage them to have a go at becoming a Wikipedia editor.  

We have all used Wikipedia to look up interesting facts. Wikipedia can also be used as a tool for you to share your own knowledge about your culture, history and heritage. This can be extremely rewarding and valuable too! It’s a great way to improve your computer skills and give back to your community at the same time.

Kirsty: Wikipedia has always reflected biases in society, especially in terms of the knowledge that is found on the platform. It is heavily weighted towards Western knowledge and the English-speaking world.

We want to connect with communities and build relationships so that, together, we can redress that balance and enrich open knowledge with more diverse voices.

What does being part of Refugee Festival Scotland mean to you?

Abd: I have many friends and family members who are refugees. At one point in my journey, I was very close to seeking refugee status myself. This helps me to understand the community’s struggles, needs, and aspirations for a better future. It is important to feel that you are in a welcoming environment. I feel grateful for this opportunity to join people with whom I can relate.

Kirsty: It is an immense privilege to be part of the Festival. I only understand two languages (English and Scots), so I am in awe of those with knowledge of multiple languages! I’m incredibly excited that we will be able to create a safe space for folks to come together and share their knowledge with us – and with the rest of the world, via Wikipedia. 

Why do you think the festival is important?

Abd: I’ve always wanted to take part in an event that brings different people from different communities together. It is great to celebrate the things we have in common, but it is also enriching to exchange ideas around what makes us unique as communities and individuals. 

This year, so many people are experiencing feelings of isolation, which makes it even more necessary to set up channels of discussion among refugee communities. Conversations about culture are especially important because they are the glue that helps hold communities together. 

Kirsty: We’re looking forward to sharing our enthusiasm for open knowledge, meeting lots of new people, and playing our small part in amplifying the voices and knowledge of refugees on the world’s largest encyclopaedia!

The Finding a home as a Wikipedia editor workshop takes place from 2pm on Saturday, 19 June.

Get your free ticket here. 

View the full festival programme.

6 art events you won’t want to miss

Struggling to decide what to see at this year’s festival? Here are six amazing art events we think you’re going to love.

1. Tears of Gold: Stories of Refugee Women Displaced from Home

Drop in to the University of Glasgow Chapel between 11-17 June to view Hannah Rose Thomas’ powerful portraits of Yezidi, Rohingya and Nigerian survivors of displacement and sexual violence. You can also join the artist for the live streamed exhibition opening and closing events.

Check the event listing for opening times.

2. I AM FROM HERE, THERE

This participatory digital installation by Glasgow- based art collective, Distanced Assemblage, encourages discussion around the semantics of representation, belonging, identity, othering, and the concept of home. The piece features different elements that explore the ongoing concerns of the collective’s socially engaged practice, such as the idea of cultural identity, nationhood and landlessness.

Tuesday 15 June, 11am

3. Making Home

An online exhibition, which brings together artwork created by families in Dundee (Scots old and new) which reflect on the idea of “home”. Works include collages created using recycled materials, as well as photographs and digital family portraits. Information in English and Arabic will accompany the exhibition.

Monday 14 – Sunday 20 June

4. A Thread Is a Journey

Join members of Central and West Integration Network for an outdoor exhibition of fabric and textile designs. The artworks were created as part of a 10-week creative project in partnership with Glasgow School of Art, which included printing, weaving and embroidery.

Tuesday 15 June 1-4pm

Garnethill Multicultural Centre, 21 Rose Street, Glasgow, G3 6RE

5. Colouring Outside the Lines

This virtual art exhibition showcases over 70 pieces from the UNESCO RILA Affiliate Artist Network. Paintings, photographs, videos, audio, poetry, music and 3D installations, offer artists’ perspectives on migration, integration and identity in a globalised world and stimulate critical reflection on our understanding of refugee integration. Join one of the artists for a guided tour of the exhibition: step into their space and imagine what a more hospitable world could look like.

Tuesday 15 June 2021, 4pm

6. Body mark making with Iman Tajik and the Gallery of Modern Art 

Join Scottish-Iranian artist, Iman Tajik, for this interactive workshop to learn simple printmaking techniques using unusual materials. Taking inspiration from famous artist like Yves Klein and David Hammons, Iman will guide you in using parts of the body to make prints, and you’ll have a chance to test this technique during the session using your hands.

Wednesday 16 June 5.30-8pm

You can view the fantastic festival programme in full here

5 events for music lovers

If you like music, you’re going to love Refugee Festival Scotland. Here are five events from this year’s programme that you won’t want to miss…

1. Musicians In Exile: Always on the Move

Monday 14 June 2021, 08:00

In this short film, a group of asylum-seeking and refugee musicians, explore the journey of making music during lockdown and what that music means to each of them as they slowly return to live performance. Their new song, Always on the Move, speaks to their flight from danger, constant instability and hopes of settling in a new home.

2. Music and Hope

Monday 14 June 2021, 18:00

Join Massive Outpouring of Love for an uplifting online concert. From fantastic performances on the saz (a traditional Turkish lute) to rousing blues and rock and poetry readings, there’s something for everyone.

3. Belal plays the Oud

Wednesday 16 June 2021, 18:00

Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy presents a short performance by Syrian refugee and talented musician Belal, who will be showcasing the traditional instrument the ‘oud’.

4. The Sounds of Displacement: Edinburgh Jewish Cultural Centre

Thursday 17 June 2021, 19:30

A talk by Phil Alexander, with live music from world-renowned Yiddish singer Sasha Lurje. Discover some of the many ways that music was a part of post-Holocaust displaced refugee life and explore the importance of music under these difficult circumstances.

5. Celebration Of Life

Sunday 20 June 2021, 14:00

Join Maryhill Integration Network’s Joyous Choir for a live performance at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. Featuring special guest, Farzane Zamen, a singer/songwriter from Iran, the choir will share traditional songs from many cultures; songs of solidarity, sisterhood, friendship, freedom, journeys, and dreams.

Take a look at the full programme for Refugee Festival Scotland 2021