Photo of Refugee Tales Walkers

Refugee Tales’ five-day walk for asylum seekers set to finish in Wandsworth

Refugee Tales is set to embark on its annual walk in solidarity with asylum seekers, migrants and refugees next week, finishing with an evening event in Wandsworth on July 9th.

Beginning on July 6th, the organisation’s supporters will walk from Edenbridge to Westminster and, on each evening, host an event where people with lived experiences of detention can share their tales, accompanied by live music.

A leading charity born out of its published four volume ‘tales’ about real asylum seekers and refugees, Refugee Tales seeks to amplify the struggles of people detained in the UK, advocating for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. 

Mary Barrett, a representation from Refugee Tales, said: “Immigration detention is a bit like a secret and people have no idea about detention. 

“There’s so much negativity around asylum seekers and refugees which is exactly why we do refugee tales’ events and these walks. 

“We try to make it personal and really help people understand the unfortunately harsh reality of the issue.”

Barret also spoke about the meaning of the act of walking in particular, with most refugees having walked when they left their country. 

A place for joy and reflection: Imagery from a previous Refugee Tales event. Credit: Refugee Tales.

Immigration detention is the practice by the government of locking people in detention centres whilst their immigration status is resolved.

There is no statutory time limit on immigration detention, but it is not lawfully possible to detain people indefinitely. 

According to data by the UK Home Office, 16,031 people entered immigration detention in the year ending March 2024, a 23% decrease than in the year ending March 2023. 

It was also estimated by Oxford’s Migration Conservatory that the cost of UK immigration detention in 2022 was at a record of £107 per person per day. 

The conditions and treatment for those in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) remain volatile and insufficient.

According to Detention Action, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) which has a capacity of 676 and therefore is the largest detention centre in Europe, has several wings comparable to a Category B (high security) prison. 

The latest inspection report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, published in April 2021, found the centre’s conditions and standards of treatment were well below accepted standards. 

UK Public opinion on immigration remains controversial.

The Migration Observatory found that, in April 2023, 32% thought immigration in the UK was a very bad or a bad thing.

52% also thought immigration numbers should be reduced. 

Immigration, alongside the controversial Rwanda scheme, also remains a topic that has been heavily discussed during the build-up to the UK General Election, with several major parties saying they would further tackle small boat arrivals and the asylum system. 

Despite social and political backlash surrounding immigration, Barrett has stressed that the feedback to Refugee Tales’ work has remained resoundingly positive. 

She said: “At first, I thought we might have some negativity but I can truthfully say that having done every single walk since 2015, we’ve had minimal opposition.

“If anything, people are really interested and want to learn more about what it is we do and about detention centres generally.”

Barrett also shared how the walks have become a safe space for people to connect and share their lived experiences of immigration, with Refugee Tales’ Walking Inquiry, published in July 2022, seeking to amplify their voices. 

Within this inquiry, one anonymous individual shared their own experiences of immigration detention at Brook House for a month upon arrival in the UK. 

They said: “It was very difficult and painful for me, I really felt like I was suffocating. 

“It was a horrible time, full of stress and fear – and time isn’t passing, time is frozen.”

Concerns have also been raised for the mental health of asylum seekers and, in particular, those in immigration detention.

The Refugee Council provides counselling, workshops and psychosocial groups to meet the mental health needs of refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.

More information on Refugee Tales’ annual walk, which all are welcome to join, alongside the £10 tickets for their evening event in Wandsworth on July 9th, can be found here

Featured Image Credit: Refugee Tales.

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