Issue 97 is out now
Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

20th June 2013

Did you know that toilet paper rolls were introduced to the UK by a German refugee in the 1930s? Or that the favourite British dish, fish and chips, was brought to our shores by refugees from Portugal in the 17th century? The quintessentially British Mini was designed by a Greek, who fled Turkey in 1922.

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

20th June 2013

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

20th June 2013

And one of the designers working on Hampton Court was a Huguenot refugee. I have to admit that I didn’t know these facts, and the people I asked also didn’t – but the truth is, the history of the refugee is often shrouded in secrecy. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many things refugees have given to our country, from literature, art, an incredibly diverse range of music, inventions, patterns, fabrics, scents, sounds, language and, of course, fantastic food!

There’s no doubt about it, we’re living in politically strange and tumultuous times. In our home town, UKIP posters seem to be springing up everywhere, including right opposite the garage run by a friendly Indian family. I find myself studying the faces of people on the high street, wondering how such a sweet and sleepy town could have such a dark underbelly of resentment and mistrust. UKIP policies, as I discovered from the (poorly written) pamphlet delivered to my door, are founded in a sense of exclusion, limitation, negativity and suspicion. So that’s why I feel uplifted and inspired by events like Refugee Week, running from 17th to 23rd June.

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Anyone can take part by organising, attending or taking part in activities. It started in 1998 as a direct reaction to the hostility that was reflected in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers. There are lots of ways you can get involved: organise or attend an event, volunteer, or donate. There’s also an online shop where you can get your mitts on some Refugee Week clothing (made by refugees for American Apparel) and a delightful notebook.

The delightfully quirky part of the Refugee Week website – 24 Simple Acts – invites you to use small, everyday actions to change perceptions of refugees. The aim is that with each action, we get a little closer to removing barriers between communities and to creating the kind of world we all want to live in. They’re all fun, thought-provoking and inspiring, and a lovely way to engage kids with the diversity of our country. When you’ve completed an action, you can post your experience on the Action Counter. Here’s a pick of just some of them, check the lot out here:

Tell a child a story from another country – there are yarns from Nigeria, Korea, Sudan and Sri Lanka to name but a few

Cook a dish from another country – why not try Ethiopian staple Engera? Or what about baked trout with vegetables, a Bosnian speciality?

Find out who you really are – look back through your family history to perhaps uncover your own stories of seeking refuge

Learn to say a few things in another language

Find an object that tells a story about migration – get along to your local museum and discover objects that tell stories from all over the world

Play a game of football with refugees

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