World Refugee Day 2018 – fun, games and food but a serious message

World Refugee Day on 20 June saw Freedom from Torture meeting MPs in Parliament Square and ended with the launch of our Tamil recipe book at our annual Great Street Feast. Our message for the day was an inclusive one – #SharingMySanctuary. Yet even as we celebrated the contributions of refugees, we remembered torture survivors trapped in the asylum system.

On Sunday at the Victoria & Albert museum in London we started the process of creating our giant Sharing My Sanctuary banner. Adults and children enjoyed transforming the once-white canvas into a multi-coloured combination of images, symbols and personal messages.

In the Europe galleries our Write to Life group performed a special version of “Lost and Found”, their experiences expressed in words and music. Thank you to the V&A for hosting us and allowing our very wet banner to dry out on the premises overnight.

In the Europe galleries our Write to Life group performed a special version of “Lost and Found”, their experiences expressed in words and music. Thank you to the V&A for hosting us and allowing our very wet banner to dry out on the premises overnight.

We set the banner up Parliament Square on Wednesday at noon and for the next three hours entertained a stream of visitors, including many MPs, popping out from a hard day’s debating in the Commons to offer their message of welcome.

We are very grateful to all those who took time to join us: Jonathan EdwardsHywel WilliamsBen Lakeand Liz Saville Roberts of Plaid Cymru; Stuart McdonaldDr Philippa Whitford and Stuart McDonald of the Scottish National Party; Tim Farron and Christine Jardine of the Liberal Democrats; Rachael MaskellDebbie AbrahamsJanet DabyJim Fitzpatrick and Lord Alf Dubs from the Labour Party; Preet GillKate Osamor and David Drew from Labour and Cooperative Party; and Caroline Lucas from the Green Party.

We set the banner up Parliament Square on Wednesday at noon and for the next three hours entertained a stream of visitors, including many MPs, popping out from a hard day’s debating in the Commons to offer their message of welcome

Our Banner

Other visitors included sightseers and tourists, many from abroad, who were curious but sympathetic, and many joined in with messages of welcome and support in many languages. Survivor activists from Survivors Speak OUT joined us, as did Freedom from Torture Chair Sue Berelowitz and Chief Executive Sonya Sceats.

Our final visitor was Lord Alf Dubs, refugee campaigner and Freedom from Torture patron. It seemed fitting that someone who arrived as a refugee on the kindertransport should add the last message.

We enjoyed a number of high profile endorsements on social media too, including comedians Eddie IzzardRomesh RanganathanJeremy Hardy and Rory Bremner and the broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

We enjoyed a number of high profile endorsements on social media too, including comedians Eddie IzzardRomesh RanganathanJeremy Hardy and Rory Bremner and the broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

MP Caroline Lucas

Later that day Sonya gave a lively interview to Three Counties radio, which covers Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The interviewer began with the terrible situation of detained children in the USA and the situation of refugees internationally before discussing the injustices in our own asylum system. Sonya argued that under the guise of tough policies people are being wrongly detained and the the public now wants a more humane system.

Also that afternoon was the annual football matches between Freedom from Torture football team and other refugee footballers, organised by Arsenal football club. It was a fun event, on a sunny day. Our football therapy is supported by Arsenal in the Community and we were thrilled to launch the video supporting Refugee Week featuring top Arsenal players, Mesut OzilPetr Cech and Granit Xhaka. It’s short but it delivers straight to the back of the net – check it out here.

We finished World Refugee Day with the third Great Street Feast, a celebration of food and diversity, and a great fundraiser for our work. As usual, the food, from chefs Paul MerrettAnton MangaranoAtul KochharViellio Reyes and Cesar Garcia was out of this world, and our Tamil Group team matched them with their tasty Tamil treats. We had yet another fabulous dessert from top chocolatier William Curley.

The event saw the launch of Sri Lanka: Recipes from Home, a recipe book that draws on Tamil torture survivors’ memories of traditional recipes from their homeland. Food is a binding force for many refugee communities and one of the enduring contributions made by refugee and migrant communities to UK life. You can purchase the recipe book here.

Big thanks also to our patron John McCarthy for his hosting duties and to the amazing Ian Hislop who had the room in gales of laughter while delivering a serious message about the terrible plight of torture survivors and the continued and increasing need for Freedom from Torture’s services. And thank you also to everyone who bought raffle tickets or bid for our lots at auction – you really do make a difference.

As for the money raised – we don’t have a final total as yet but we do know that we value it and will use it wisely to support our work with torture survivors, in London and in our centres in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. World Refugee Day is but a day but our work continues year round.