Sunday, 22 December 2013

PAFRAS and CreAtive AspIRer: Clash of the Arts Fashion Show

On Saturday the 14th December people made their way out of the cold to come to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for the Clash of the Arts Fashion Show; a collaboration between PAFRAS and Leeds youth enterprise CreAtive AspIRer. Since 2003 PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) has been working in Leeds as the main provider of direct support for asylum seekers. They are a charity that offers a valuable service to people who are often the most invisible within society; running drop in sessions, mental health services and distributing food parcels.  Yet as PAFRAS director Christine Majid made clear in her speech, the work of the charity has become increasingly pressed as funding cuts take their toll while changes to government policy since 2005 have made destitution an increasingly common fate for asylum seekers. In October 2013 due to lack of funding PAFRAS was forced to close one of their weekly drop in sessions. However despite all the pressures on the charity from the current economic climate, the Clash of the Arts fashion show was an evening of celebration; celebration of talent, of CreAtive AspIRer’s young people and of the work of PAFRAS itself.

CreAtive AspIRer’s achievement of their aim to inspire youth talent and responsibility within the community was evident through their ability to put on such an amazing show. Hosted by Alisha Musungo, Miss Face of the Globe and Zimbabwe UK, the evening was an incredible display of creativity, dance and musical talent.  The models strode confidently down the catwalk showing off clothes created by four young Leeds based designers. Bright colours and patterns were a theme of all the collections. The work of Siobhan Thomas featured jewel coloured dresses for the women and colourful sportswear for the men, including an eye-catching feather headdress style hood. A collection called ‘Breaking Walls’ inspired by PAFRAS itself showcased huge headbands, brown leather capes and bold zigzagging patterns in vibrant blues and greens. Meanwhile designs by Norma, director of Olando Tailors, brought a taste of sophisticated eveningwear with her collection of cream silk dresses.  As the models changed their outfits, the audience was entertained by the improvising of the band and the energetic fluidity of dance group Y.G.T. (Young Gifted and Talented) whose passion shone through individual and group dances.

This event was a wonderful chance for people to come together for a night of entertainment. Yet as CreAtive AspIRer’s director Talent Charura reminded everyone, it was also to raise awareness and donations for PAFRAS. A final speech by Christine Majid ended the night, denouncing racism across the city and encouraging continued pressure on the government for positive action for asylum seekers. As the audience stood holding hands through the band’s final number, Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’, the evening ended on a message of unity, compassion and determination to fight social injustices in the local community. 

Erin Rooney

Friday, 13 December 2013

Free Radio Training for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Radio in a day
Saturday 25th January
One Community Centre
10.00 – 4.00

Join Leeds Press Gang for a fantastic free training day (equivalent courses charge £90)
that will equip you to get involved with community radio and produce your own radio shows.

Book now – only five spaces remaining for refugees and asylum seekers

If you are interested please email Hannah at

The training will be led by Judith Weymont, former South Leeds Community Radio Station Manager.  Judith worked briefly in education before joining BBC Radio Leeds in the 1970s, and was part of the team that set up Manchester's Radio Piccadilly. She then spent 25 years as a producer/director with Yorkshire Television and Channel 4, heading up the Media Unit for the NUM in South Africa and producing radio and television documentaries in Zambia

Press Gang is a Leeds based group of people dedicated to the action and promotion of positive stories about asylum seekers and refugees. Acting to counteract misinformation, prejudice and negativity in the press, we work with both exiled journalists and activists to help change this imbalance. It is supported by Leeds Refugee Forum, Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, RETAS, Pafras, Solace, Refugee Council, Refugee Action, British Red Cross, Abigail Housing, and the Manuel Bravo Project.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Refugees in Focus.

Human Rights Week at Leeds University does an outstanding job every year of raising awareness of a huge array of issues that endanger the basic rights of people worldwide. The week of non-stop events is led by the Leeds University Union’s (LUU) Amnesty International Society but is successful in uniting a diverse set of groups, emphasising the diversity of rights we are fighting to protect.

On Thursday 28th November Human Rights Week brought us ‘Refugees in Focus’, an event co-hosted by Leeds Friends of Syria, LUU Revolutionary Socialists, Leeds Student Action for Refugees, and No Borders Leeds, an eclectic set of groups which served to further stress the broad-reaching scope of the week’s events.

The evening was split into two parts with a break in the middle to give a chance for the audience and the speakers to mingle, a nice touch which helped break down any artificial barriers and create an inclusive atmosphere. The first part gave the audience a chance to listen to different experiences from a refugee and an asylum seeker living here in Leeds. Nisreen Al-Zaraee, who was a student at York University when the war started in Syria, was at pains to explain that her experience of claiming asylum was not representative of the asylum procedures most people go through. Despite feeling that she is lucky in being one of the only 0.1 per cent of over 2.5 million externally displaced Syrians registered as a refugee in the UK, she still felt like she was “treated like a suspect” throughout the asylum process.

Nisreen’s situation, in which she was able to claim asylum relatively quickly while living with a friend, is in stark contrast to so many others, who may find they rely on charities such as Abigail Housing and volunteers working with projects such as Grace Hosting. During the process asylum seekers are not allowed to work and many have to rely on as little as £5 a day for food and transport before an initial decision is made. This can sometimes take up to a year and it is hard to imagine making ends meet on so little for so long while at the same time not knowing where you will sleep tomorrow night.

The second part of the evening focused on the range of charities that provide services to asylums seekers and refugees in Leeds. I was impressed to learn of charities such York Street Health Practice which provides an enormous number of services including counselling, visiting teams, immigration solicitors, and housing teams. At the same time however, there was a running theme when any charity was mentioned: increased strain and budget cuts. Major charities such as the Refugee Council received heavy cuts, meaning they have had to reduce the number of services available.

Throughout the event, it was stressed by the LUU Revolutionary Socialist that they wanted to see concrete action develop. This may not have happened in the way they envisaged but with the number of charities mentioned, the range of groups involved in the event and signup sheets available, they can be sure that the majority of people in the room that night will have felt inspired to get involved and help out with those who need our support.

Adam Leake

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Love is a Human Right

Love is a Human Right. But a right that we all enjoy?  Not even close. Imagine if you were told you couldn't love someone because it was a crime, for gay Ugandans this is the world in which they live.

On the 7th of February 2012 an Anti-Homosexuality bill was brought once again to the Ugandan Parliament. The bill makes any homosexual activity a crime punishable by long-term imprisonment or even death. It also states that anyone who knows of any homosexual activities going on is also to be punished with three years in prison. Parents are expected to report children; teachers are expected to report students. Unfortunately, but maybe not unexpectedly, the basis of the anti-homosexual laws originate from British rule during the colonial period- one of those laws they just never got round to eradicating. Ugandan newspapers have sparked campaigns of hate selling newspapers by promising to name and shame homosexuals, encouraging Ugandans to take the law into their own hands.

Last Monday I attended a talk entitled Love is a Human right which was put on by the Amnesty International at Leeds University and LUU LGBT. The talk gave an incredible insight into the plight of the gay and lesbian community in Uganda. It was the first event to kick off Human Rights week. The evening opened with a short film, Call me Kuchu, in which key figures in Uganda were documented trying to combat state discrimination against homosexuals. What was remarkable about the events documented was they continued insistence by government officials that homosexuality was inherently ‘un-African’.  The film itself is well worth a watch if you want to get a better idea of the turbulent situation there. You can watch the trailer below: 

The first speaker at the event was Kevin Ward, a former schoolteacher in Uganda who taught religious studies to university students. Kevin who is originally from the UK, had lived in Uganda for almost ten years, he had become fully immersed in the culture and had many friends and respected colleagues there. “I found being in Africa a liberating experience” he said, Kevin explained that whilst there was still stigma about being openly gay in Britain, Uganda offered a place where he was free to have close relationships with men, without causing gossip. Whilst Ugandans were not supportive of homosexuals, Kevin argued that the situation was one of acceptance. The situation became volatile though, when religious preachers from America organised a tour of Uganda preaching homophobic hatred and connecting it with religion. When Kevin was found to be gay, his colleagues and friends turned on him, he was fired from his job at the school and forced to start afresh.

The second speaker was Quentin Bashem, a Kenyan student at the university of Leeds. Quentin explained that the un-African perception of homosexuality goes beyond Uganda and is embedded in the culture and society of Kenyan also. Although there are no laws that make being gay illegal in Kenya, Quentin explained that he had a friend at school that was discriminated against because of his sexuality. Quentin, always being a liberal thinker promised that when he returned to Kenya he would be sure to speak more openly and supportively of the gay community in Kenya, in order to try and change the prejudices felt amongst the younger population in general.

The situation in Uganda and Kenya are not isolated cases, even here at home, homophobia is rife. Gay Ugandans, fearful of imprisonment and even their lives have fled Uganda, some have tried to seek asylum in the UK, but Kevin argues the immigration office doesn't take their fears seriously enough. If we can learn to accept each other and love one another, the world will be a better place.

After all, Love is a Human Right.  

Hannah Martin