Monday, 25 March 2013

Refugee boy - radio podcast with Lemn Sissay and Benjamin Zephaniah

Refugee Journalist, Zwedu Mengiste, interviews Lemn Sissay and Benjamin Zephaniah about the new adaption of Refugee Boy for West Yorkshire Playhouse

Mengiste, from Ethiopia, encourages Sissay and Zephaniah to talk about themselves, their work, migration, human nature and how Sissay feels he's following in Zephaniah's foosteps.

Quotes from the podcast:

"Kindness is a language, honesty and openness are languages... we need to employ them to their fullest." 
Lemn Sissay

"Every time you hear so many thousand refugees... everyone one of those individuals is alive... not just a statistic. A lot of people in England can be lazy in their thinking." 
Benjamin Zephaniah

"One of the advantages of being in Britain is that you can have friends from all over the world and get a flavour of it, and from all different sides of a dispute".- Benjamin Zephaniah

"Mankind didn't evolve in Britain...Borders are man made - we are one people". - Benjamin Zephaniah

"Migration is part of who we are.. Immigration and migration are part of what it is to be human." - Lemn Sissay

To listen to this 23 minute Lucy Radio interview please click to download the podcast from the following dropbox public folder.

Benjamin Zephaniah - Lemn Sissay interview

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Refugee Boy review

On Wednesday 13 March, the West Yorkshire Playhouse hosted the press night of their adaption of Benjamin Zephaniah’s novel ‘Refugee Boy.’ Zephaniah’s novel is a fictional portrayal of a boy, Alem, who leaves Ethiopia during the civil war in the late 90s and seeks refuge in Britain. The set of the play, designed by Emma Williams, is open plan and multi-dimensional, with stacked suitcases alluding to Alem’s quest for sanctuary and to ultimately shed his refugee boy status. Fisayo Akinade’s portrayal of Alem is well-crafted and depicts a sweet, dynamic and enterprising boy who tries his hardest to assimilate into British culture. Such a depiction challenges the negative perception of refugees and asylum seekers; Alem is brave, polite, cheerful and immensely likeable. As the play progresses he develops genuine friendships with his car-obsessed, care home companion Mustafa, and foster sister Ruth. Nevertheless, frequent flashbacks to his homeland and glimpses of marauding soldiers threatening his parents jar with his increasingly stable domestic set up, and remind the audience of his underlying anguish and painful journey.
The play repeatedly refers to a moment before Alem’s separation from his parents, when he is with his father counting the stars in the British sky; his father’s insistence that Alem counts in English re-emphasises his good intentions and aspirations for his son. When Alem’s mother is killed, his father returns to Britain to be reunited with his son; whilst the two of them negotiate the formalities of the Refugee Council, in a bitter twist of fate Alem’s father, having escaped the violence and brutality of his homeland, is murdered in Britain.
Sissay’s adaption of ‘Refugee Boy’ is a humorous, moving and compelling drama with thought-provoking performances. Alem’s story may be one of many, but the play highlights the complexities of his situation and widespread impact of his search for asylum. His foster family provide him with a sense of belonging, yet have to relinquish their care upon his father’s arrival, and the emotional trauma of such an occurrence is keenly felt. Perhaps most importantly, ‘Refugee Boy’ discourages generalizations and impresses that those with refugee status should not be reduced to a mere statistic but, like those of us holding citizenship, are similarly individuals with personal dreams, stories and affections.

Charlie Duffield 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

March 4th Amnesty International and STAR Sleep Out

In the UK every year thousands of asylum seekers and refugees are refused asylum by the UK government. As a result of government policy they are forced into a life of destitution in order to encourage them to leave the UK. Asylum seekers and refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, fleeing from horrors such as war or persecution. Instead of receiving the UK government's support they are faced with destitution, leaving them penniless and potentially homeless if their asylum application is refused. Groups all across the UK have come together to raise awareness about this issue, pushing towards a future where refugees and asylum seekers are provided with some financial support and help from the UK.  Amnesty International are working with the 'Still Human, Still Here,' campaign ( to try and provide better living conditions and a fair asylum system in a manner of ways. This aims to be done by researching aspects of asylum policy and practices, coming up with ideas and proposals on how to improve these, and putting forward these proposals to the government.

Student groups all across the UK have also been staging sleep outs and the Leeds University Union Amnesty International Society will be working with the student group STAR (Student Action For Refugees), braving Leeds' blustery winter weather in hosting their annual Sleep Out outside the Union on Monday March 4th. The aim of this event is to raise awareness, money and donations of essential items (such as food, toiletries and warm winter clothes) for those refused refugees and asylum seekers who are not provided with any help and support from us in the UK. The idea is to have a fun and social evening whilst focusing on the immoral and unjust way thousands of people fleeing to the UK are treated each year. The night will feature various forms of entertainment (from fun societies such as Circus Soc and Swing Soc), food and hot drinks and hopefully some speakers from refugee charities who can share with us tales of their own experiences. Our sleep out is NOT a student-only event, and everyone who wants to join us is welcome to. Last year's event was a huge success, with students shivering shoulder to shoulder with non-students who happily gave up their night in solidarity with destitute asylum seekers. So, come armed with warm clothes, sleeping bags and as much as you're able to donate and arrive any time after 8pm outside Leeds University Union building. It doesn't matter whether you're planning to sleep out the entire night or to just come and join in for a couple of hours, we welcome any contributions. It will be great for us all to experience, just a little, what it is like for those scared people who merely seek a little help and support from us and our country!

By Kataya Bernatavicius
From Amnesty International Student Society