Online editor Izzie Fernandes writes about Bristol’s Peace Feast run by STAR (student action for refugees) and shares a side to travel that should have a voice too…
Take a moment to think about the various ‘travelling plans you have discussed over the past few months. Whether or not these plans are your own, the travelling that will fill most peoples summer itineraries likely constitute a sense of adventure, enjoyment and freedom.
This is not a case of ‘sun, sex and suspicious parents’ but instead, of escape from war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Amidst exciting plans, it is easy to overlook a significantly different side to travel. A quick Google of the word ‘refugee’ puts things into perspective. This is not a case of ‘sun, sex and suspicious parents’ but instead, of escape from war, persecution, or natural disaster.
For refugees, the word ‘travel’ carries very different connotations. Rather than flocking towards the sandy beaches of Thailand with hopes of a sun tan, these people travel with hopes of gaining basic human rights.
The reality of this side of travel was highlighted to me when I recently attended a Peace Feast run by Bristol STAR, (Student Action for Refugees) and Bridges for Communities. As the names imply, these charities aim to bring communities together and on 24th March they did just that.
each person stood on shared ground in a city they had come to call home.
The feast brought, charities, students, refugees and asylum seekers together to eat, speak and listen to live music. Bristol itself played an important role in the evening for once gathered in Stokes Croft’s Hamilton House, each person stood on shared ground in a city they had come to call home.
The evening’s goals were threefold.
- Have a good time.
- 2- Students were invited to find out about ways to get involved with refugee charities in Bristol.
- 3- This was a way for refugees and asylum seeking communities to find out what charities in Bristol had to offer them.
Food and music was all it took to bind people as they shared a delicious vegan curry,(heroically cooked by Bristol Hospitality Network volunteers) but more importantly, some harrowing stories.
The story which sticks most in my mind was delivered by Mohammed a refugee from Eritrea who has been in England for 9 years.
Mohammed gave us an insight into the Eritrean system of government and this was a harsh reality check. A poignant introduction set the tone for Mohammed’s story.
‘how many of you know where Eritrea is?’ Some hands went up but many did not.
Addressing the room, he asked, ‘how many of you know where Eritrea is?’ Some hands went up but many did not. This represented the sad truth- this North African country is unknown to so many people.
With no freedom of speech, education, profession or even movement, the Eritrean government treats its people with an utter lack humanity. This system strips people of their most basic human rights.
Yet, due to minimal press coverage and few people being able to escape the system, a large majority of the West remain unaware of what is going on.
Mohammed told us how, in Northern Eritrea, people are treated like animals
Mohammed told us how, in Northern Eritrea, people are treated like animals and trafficked into Sudan for their hearts, eyes and kidneys. A large proportion of these are children who, once they have left Eritrea, are abused and yet unable to return home. Writing this down, I should correct myself; these people are not treated like animals, they are treated far worse than that.
“I did not choose to be a refugee” Mohammed told us, “I had to be.” Harrowing as it was, Mohammed’s story brought to life those we’ve read in the press countless times before.
Here was a man who had travelled from Eritrea to Sudan to Turkey, Greece, Calais and to England. It had been a long, treacherous journey to Bristol but not one made out of choice.
Eloquently, Mohammed shared his past struggle and unimaginable oppression with the room. ‘So I brought a lifejacket which I thought was going to save my life and it was a red life jacket. When we came to the boat the smuggler told me, well he didn’t tell me he took the life jacket from me and he threw it. And when I asked him, he said because it will give some reflection to the sea-guards, so he took it. I remember I told my friends, this is the end because this was the only hope I thought would save my life.”
Listening to this, I wondered why Mohammoed’s story seemed more poignant than news articles I have read many times before. As desperate as his situation had been, ironically he was lucky; whilst he stood in Bristol speaking freely, many people from his country still suffered.
No newspaper can explain the injustice.
That said, by standing before us in the flesh, Mohammed brought to life the injustice of the refugee plight. Here was an intelligent man, who had achieved a pharmaceutical degree, and had had a dream of using his education to make a difference.
refugees with identical hopes contend with life threatening circumstances
We are university students; these sorts of attitudes are not unusual. Yet, there is a crucial difference; whilst we work toward BA’s and BSC’s (begrudgingly at times), refugees with identical hopes contend with life threatening circumstances that go with pursuing these dreams.
No newspaper can explain the injustice. Some of us are dealt a good hand, a passport, freedom of speech, education and travel whilst others travel miles in search of such things.
Mohammed is an inspiration for many reasons but as the summer approaches, he poses an important reminder. Whilst ‘travelling’ is often(and quite rightly) met with excitement, in other countries, the word carries a different meaning which, sun kissed or not, needs to be voiced.
Would you like to be involved with Epigram Travel next year? Let us know…. @e2travel