Refugee and Asylum Seeker Awareness Week 2020

Celebrating Refugee Week during the COVID-19 pandemic

I look forward to Refugee Week as it normally brings a range of engaging events and activities. Food and music (two of my most favourite things) usually play a big part and there are many opportunities to come together in celebration and solidarity.

The Refugee Week website describes the week as “a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees” and normally it does feel like a celebration.

Image: Photo of Manchester Refugee Cultural Festival from MRSN Collection (GB3228.57- AIU RACE Centre)

Marking Refugee Week during lockdown is very different.

Normally we would have a range of events and activities in Central Library, platforming the work of our refugee community partners, but of course this is not possible now. Refugee Week will still be celebrated online, of course, and we look forward to taking part digitally, if not in person.

COVID-19 and refugees and asylum seekers

Of course, having to move to a digital platform is a minor concern when compared to the impact of COVID-19 on the UK’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. BAME people have a higher risk of death than the white British population, and within this, we know that Refugees and Asylum Seekers are more acutely affected. Poor housing, the No Recourse To Public Funds policy, fears about seeking medical help (and many other factors) make refugee and asylum seekers more vulnerable than ever. And as we know, factors such as gender, sexuality, disability and HIV status further increase vulnerability.

Supporting Refugee Community Organisations to support their communities

Image: Collage of archive material from the MRSN archive – (GB3228.57 – AIU RACE Centre)

We also know that many of the Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) we work with are struggling to provide the support that is desperately needed within their communities. Many are volunteer-led little or no funding. This Refugee Action article explains how their community partners are being affected by COVID-19 and lists the five most common issues as:

  1. Destitution among the people they support
  2. The mental and physical health of refugees and people seeking asylum
  3. Coordinating the response
  4. Delivering services remotely
  5. Keeping in touch with refugees and people seeking asylum

We salute our community partners who are tackling these issues on a daily basis, and we encourage our readers to support them financially, during Refugee Week and beyond. Please consider how much you would have normally spent this week on coffee & drinks, public transport, entertainment and consider donating this.

You can support Manchester Refugee Support Network, who bring RCOs across Manchester together to work collectively, here:

Women Asylum Seekers Together support women in the asylum system across Greater Manchester. Support their work here:

There are many many more individual RCOs in Manchester and we encourage you to do some internet research to see who else you might support.

Recording the impact of COVID-19 on refugee communities

All of the above is why we have launched our COVID-19 Collecting project. Our mission at the AIU RACE Centre is to make BAME history, heritage and culture more visible. We want to ensure that our collective and individual experiences of COVID-19 are fully recorded, in our own words.

We understand that archive collecting may not seem a high priority for communities dealing with COVID-19. However, by building up an intersectional and inclusive collection, we provide resources for researchers and students, for policy-makers and for activists. Our collection becomes evidence and data that can be used to challenge the systemic racism which puts BAME communities are at heightened risk during this pandemic.

We are particularly keen to get submissions from Refugees and Asylum Seekers, who are often particularly ignored and unheard.

We will collect records of all kinds, including digital formats. Please send us videos, photos, screenshots, newspaper articles, blogs, creative projects, journals and diaries – anything you think tells the story of you and your community during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can send them with your full name and contact details to [email protected] to start the donation process.

So, we start Refugee Week on a sombre note but we hope you feel motivated to support our COVID-19 Collecting as well as the RCOs doing such excellent work. We look forward to taking part in the many digital events over the week and hope that – despite current circumstances – celebration is as ever a part of Refugee Week.