Stories of despair

Writers helped tell the tales of asylum seekers, refugees and detainees at an event in Chingford, writes Rosie MacLeod

Refugee TalesA story enables a blur of hype, tension, and confusion, to assume the clarity of a human shape, like a silhouette that emerges from white noise.

Its words remodel clichés into a person’s voice. It becomes louder and more focussed than the barrage of background interference. The buzzwords recrystallize as pinnacles of the story they once clouded. They are now the sharp reality recounted by someone previously invisible, now so relatable.

Unsurprising, then, that the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group have been using stories in their ‘Refugee Tales’ campaign to end indefinite detentions for asylum seekers and exiles. The group proposes a cap of 28 days. The UK is currently the only European country that operates a system of holding arrivals without a limit. Last year alone, this policy affected 27,000 people, which equates to between 2,500 and 3,000 individuals at any one time.

As well as stories, the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group held a five-day walk from St Albans to Westminster, which allowed stories from detainees to be publicly recounted at each location en route. On the evening of Monday 9th July, that location was Mornington Hall in Chingford.

Narrative voices came from mouths once made very hungry against their will, and spoke only to give a name. Words were written by hands that recounted the time they were cuffed.

The stories had been read countless times, over and over again, by eyes that did not sleep for three days during the episode they would later proofread. Whole paragraphs strung together by displaced persons who never even held the pen during the events described. Their experiences have since smashed open the boxes on a form in which they, like their author, were locked inside by an officer. Metal bars, doors, keys and chains. Frequent imagery of chilling numbness punctuated each story, the closest you can get to pathetic fallacy when outdoors is out of bounds and remains so ‘indefinitely’.

It’s as if, like Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, the detainees’ stories are a coping mechanism, an attempt to preserve life, or at least salvage the dying embers of energy, after the draining experiences of detention.

Find out more about the work of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group: