Refugees, asylum support organisations, policy makers and academic researchers from across Wales gathered in Aberystwyth to mark Refugee Week 2024.

On Wednesday, 19 June there was a celebration of art, music, poetry and diverse communities.

The day of activities in the town’s bandstand included a workshop, which brought together Aberystwyth University researchers and students and people with refugee backgrounds from a number of countries including Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Ukraine, as well as representatives from local government, NGOs and charities from Ceredigion, Cardiff and Swansea.

The aim of the workshop was to use creative, arts-based approaches to explore the priorities and concerns of refugee communities, and build connections and collaborations between these communities and researchers and practitioners.

Collage was used as a creative medium during a workshop which brought together academic researchers, students, people from refugee backgrounds, asylum support organisations, policy makers and members of the public
Collage was used as a creative medium during a workshop which brought together academic researchers, students, people from refugee backgrounds, asylum support organisations, policy makers and members of the public (Picture supplied)

Co-organiser Dr Naji Bakhti, from the university’s department of English and Creative Writing, said: “We designed this workshop to align with the Refugee Week 2024 theme of ‘home’, and we used a Maya Angelou quote, ‘The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.’, to inspire our discussions.

“Using collage as a creative medium, participants were invited to explore what makes us feel safe or ‘at home’. We then used these collages to prompt conversations about how and where people can find what they need to feel safe or ‘at home’, identifying areas where these needs are not being met and exploring how we can work together to create these in our communities.”

The collages will be displayed at Manchester Metropolitan University's ‘Innovative Methods in Migration Research Conference’.

Co-organiser Dr Katy Budge, a lecturer in the university’s department of International Politics, added: “People with lived experience of displacement are often marginalised from research and policy or practitioner interventions on migration and asylum issues. This event sought to challenge that dynamic by providing an event informed by conversations with members of the ‘refugee community’, and which engaged directly with those who are the subject of migration and asylum research and policy.

“We will now build on the connections and networks forged within and beyond academia this week to inform future community projects, research projects, funding proposals and knowledge exchange.”

Other activities included a networking lunch with food provided by the Syrian Dinner Project, a local business set up by refugees from Syria.

Members of the public were also invited to join open creative workshops with researchers, students and individuals with a refugee background. Again, collaborative collages and other arts-based interventions were used to explore key themes relating to displacement and forced migration, including home, exile, movement, sanctuary, solidarity and borders.

On Saturday 22 June, there will be a film screening at Aberystwyth Arts Centre of ‘Green Border’ followed by a discussion with Dr Budge on the EU’s border regime.

The Refugee Week event was funded by the university’s Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Strategy through its AberCollab programme, which helps researchers build and strengthen collaborations and share knowledge effectively to support research innovation and impact.

Dr Jen Wolowic, Principal Lead of the university’s Dialogue Centre, said: “It was great to see so many smiles and to connect research ideas to the lived experiences of members of our communities in Aberystwyth and beyond. It was also great to see the workshops use the Collage of Dialogue toolkit, which was launched at the Hay Festival in May 2024 by the Dialogue Centre and the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society at Aberystwyth University.”

Refugee Week is the world’s largest arts and culture festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Established in 1998 in the UK, this annual festival aligns with World Refugee Day, celebrated globally on 20 June.