An audience at The Place theatre in Bedford experienced an insight into the day-to-day reality of young refugees, through a film, and the heartbreak of families being separated.
The evening was held in celebration of Refugee Week by ‘Surviving to Thriving’ — a charity partnership between the British Red Cross, the Refugee Council and youth leadership development organisation UpRising.
The project supports vulnerable children and teenagers who have fled conflict, persecution and torture and have arrived, alone, in the UK.
Through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the UpRising workshops give 16-25 year old refugees and asylum seekers an opportunity to engage in advocacy and influencing, helping them express their experiences through film.
The young people take up the roles of actor, script-writer, director, and film-maker, producing films which address the challenges they face, from social isolation to lengthy asylum claims.
One film, produced in Bedford, focusses on family reunion and the current restrictive rules preventing young refugees from sponsoring their parents to join them in the UK. In the film, entitled ‘Family’, one boy says: “There is nothing like your mum and dad. You grew up with them. It’s who you are, it’s your DNA. It was so hard to say goodbye to my family. My little sisters and I were really close.
“I want to be successful to make my family proud because I really believe that one day I’m going to meet them again.”
Other films focused on the toll prejudice can have on young refugees, as well as the importance of education opportunities for those aged over 18, showing how the dangerous journey to the UK does not always mean an end to the challenges these young people may face. One young person said: “It is hard to be an adult when you feel like you haven’t had a chance to be a child.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston, attended the event and delivered closing remarks following the film screenings.
He said: “These young refugees and asylum seekers have shown such incredible resilience and strength, despite going through more than most of us can imagine. However, settling into a new country is never easy, especially for someone who is unfamiliar with the language, or has been separated from family and friends at such a young age. These films go a long way to showing what these talented young people have to offer the Bedford community when they’re given the right support.”
Kalyani McCarthy, Surviving to Thriving National Project Manager, said: “Refugee Week is a great opportunity to highlight the contributions, creativity and resilience of young refugees in the UK. Young people from Surviving to Thriving have worked so hard on these films to help raise awareness of the day-to-day reality of being a refugee and it’s fantastic to see the response from the Bedford public.
“It is so important to offer these young people a platform like Surviving to Thriving where they can be supported in sharing their experiences and building a new life in safety.”
The project has so far supported close to 100 vulnerable young refugees and people seeking asylum in the East of England, including Bedford. The project offers group sessions that build confidence, skills and social networks; one-to-one and group therapeutic counselling; workshops on rights and entitlements, and personal development and social action schemes.
To find out more about Surviving to Thriving visit www.redcross.org.uk/thriving.