Imagination and refugees

Imagination and refugees

Pictured: Inua Ellams, An Evening With An Immigrant

The tragic and senseless killing of MP Jo Cox in her constituency will have caused us to shudder: how can such goodness be destroyed? Her family’s dignified and grace-filled response has been deeply moving. As has the overwhelming reaction of MPs up and down the country who recognised in Jo someone who epitomised all that should be best about their offices – humility, advocacy, speaking truth to power, a passion for justice, and a remarkable selflessness.

Among many things Jo spoke out about and acted on was the the rights of refugees – both with Oxfam and then more latterly as an MP in the House of Commons.

In last week’s issue of the Church Times there was a great feature on artists involving themselves with the rights and lives of refugees. It featured street artist Joel Bergner, who was with us in 2014, and also Chris Sonnex, one of the founders of the Good Chance Theatre in The Jungle, Calais, who will be with us at Greenbelt this year.

Greenbelt is about acts of the imagination – and that’s not just about artistry. Imagination is the ability to see things as you hope they might be and then to work towards that vision. So imagination is bound up with all work towards justice. Jo Cox was brilliantly imaginative. She lived her life in pursuit of a better world. At Greenbelt we hope we can do that too – creating a space where arts, faith and justice collide, where acts of the imagination ignite in us a vision of a world where the dignity and value of all might be celebrated and safeguarded.

Here’s just a quick snapshot of the some of great programming we have in store at this year’s festival that resonates with the refugee ‘crisis’ …

From Save the Children, we’ll be joined by Alasdair Roxburgh who will set the scene at the beginning of the festival with A Brief History of Refugees, reminding us that the current refugee crisis in Europe is part of a history of people across the globe moving and being moved and asking what does this broader history teach us about the situation we face here today. To a final summing up panel conversation at the end of the festival where we’ll try to draw all the threads from the festival together – Calais Doesn’t Need Your Cast-Offs.

From the wonderful a cappella song of Matthew Crampton and the London Lubbers with their sung history of some of the most powerful stories of human trafficking and migration, Human Cargo, to Actors for Human Rights’ Asylum Dialogues – a set of real life conversations with three pairs of friends, one an asylum seeker and the other a British citizen, exploring the positive transformations created by their encounters with each other. And Inua Ellams with his An Evening With An Immigrant – a one-man telling of his own story of journey and re-settling.

From Rev Nadim Nassar, reflecting on the ‘Syrian Jesus’ and reminding us of the plight of the long-suffering population of Syria, beleaguered by years of bitter and bloody civil war, to Fr Malcolm Bradshaw MBE, working over the past few years on behalf of the church in Greece to receive migrants as they arrive after their perilous journeys across the eastern Mediterranean and Chris Sonnex, a community theatre producer at The Royal Court and one of the founders of Good Chance Theatre in the Calais ‘Jungle’.

There will also be two extended homegrown ‘workshop’ sessions – under the title Under the Canvas – hosted for us by Katherine and Paul Maxwell-Rose, themselves involved in peace, relief and advocacy work. These sessions are designed to help us really engage with and immerse ourselves in the practical issues faced by today’s refugees and then share ways in which we can think about this urgent situation and, more importantly, respond to the crisis.

Our associate partners, Us (the European Diocese’s partner agency), and our partners Christian Aid – whose Chair Rowan Williams recently warned us not to turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees and urged the UK Government to do much more in its response and welcome – will also be focussing our attention on refugees.

We’ll also be joined for the whole weekend by a group of young people from the Al Rowwad Cultural Centre in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem (reminding us the the oldest refugee ‘problem’ in the world is that of the Palestinians living in their millions in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and inside the West Bank itself, yearning for their ‘right to return’). Together with their inspirational artist-leader and teacher, Abdelfattah A Abusrourthis cultural exchange will not only be inspirational and educational for Greenbelt young people but will also help to show the young Palestinians that their lives lived behind walls in their refugee camp are not ‘normal’ – even if that is all they have ever known.

Jo Cox’s legacy urges us to face these issues full square – with humanity, reason and (com)passion. We cannot shy away. Join us at Greenbelt so that we might come together, think together, pray together and act together in solidarity with all those who are forced to flee their homes and homelands. As we make our temporary tented home and community together at Boughton House, let’s extend the strength we draw from gathering together to embrace a wider community of wayfarers and strangers. Let’s act on our imaginations, not on our fears.