Behind the scenes of Refugee Festival Scotland with Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget
Lest We Forget group plants a tree in former site of one planted by First World War Belgian refugees in Glasgow

Refugee Festival Scotland is fast approaching and in the run up to this year’s festival, I’ve been out meeting groups that embody our theme of solidarity.

At a park in Glasgow I met up with a group of refugees from Eritrea, Sudan, and Iran as well as local Scots who are all involved in our Lest We Forget: Refugees Then and Now project.

The group have been on a journey together over this past year to discover the stories of Belgian refugees who fled to Scotland during the First World War. An exhibition and documentary about their journey into the past will be a highlight at Refugee Festival Scotland 2016. 

The group meet on regularly, but this day was quite different…

They have gathered to plant a tree, a Cedrus Atlantica, in place of one that was planted by Belgian refugees a hundred years ago but perished in a storm. The mood was joyful as a refugee – a farmer in his own country - led the digging and packing of the soil.

In turn, each person piled earth over the roots and considered what their experience as a refugee in Scotland has been like compared to the Belgian refugees they are studying.

I met two from the group to discuss what being a part of the project means to them, and about their experiences as refugees in Scotland.

Khosrow Zanganeh Asadabudi is a heritage researcher with the project. He is originally from Iran and is going to study social sciences. Khosrow reflects on time spent with the project and his experience as a refugee.

“My experience as a refugee was slightly different to others because I first came here as a student. Due to some problems in my own country, I had to apply for asylum.

“One of the most difficult situations is that as a refugee you get moved around a lot. Once you do it’s hard to make connections with people and hard to get used to a place because you might not be there for very long.

“I came to Glasgow in September 2014.  I was here a few months when my case was rejected. I had to get a lawyer and go through the appeal system. It took another year until I got leave to remain status.

“When I joined this project I had just got my leave to remain. “Lest We Forget was at the right time for me as the period of waiting was over and it was time to get back into the community. It helped me get active again after almost two years of waiting and doing nothing.

 “One of the biggest parts of Lest We Forget is the people that I have met. The project means a lot to all of us because it is relevant to what we have gone through as refugees.

“It is pretty much our story being told and to a wider audience, so people can understand what we have been through.

“There is great solidarity in this group, from the support we give each other to the friendships we have made.”

Abdalgader Alasha is also a Heritage Researcher, and enjoys spending time finding out about Belgian refugees from the First World War. He is originally from Sudan and learnt about Scotland from a well-known Scottish patriot.

“I learned about Scotland when I was in Sudan from the movie Braveheart, about William Wallace. I knew the accent in Scotland was different. When the Home Office sent me to Glasgow I thought I would find many statues of William Wallace.

“I came from Sudan. My first experience was seeing many countries and I think I now know a lot about other cultures. I have seen how people help each other.

“I enjoyed finding out about Belgian refugees from the First World War.  The project talks about these people. I love this story because when I came here I thought I was one of the first refugees to come to Scotland.

 “I feel good here. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and everyone who has given me a smile.

“When I first came to this project they asked me about my feelings and about my life here. They helped me to learn English. I always feel that there are people around me. They have become like my family.”

There will be a commemorative tree unveiling event at Queens Park (by the flagpole) in Glasgow on Saturday 4 June.

The group will launch a documentary about the project on Tuesday 14 June at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow as part of the Refugee Festival Scotland. #RefugeeFestScot

For more information, follow @LWFproject

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