Refugee voices in the halls of power

IssueDecember 2017 - January 2018
Sanctuary of Song at Westminster (with faces blurred). Photo: Sanctuary of Song
News by April Griefsong


Sanctuary of Song at Westminster (with faces blurred). Photo: Sanctuary of Song

I sing with ‘Sanctuary of Song’ in Swansea, a singing group for women, forming bonds between local community and the marginalised ‘asylum-seeking’ and refugee community of Swansea.

Bright and early on 17 October we drove to London, en route practising the songs we’d sing in parliament that afternoon under the banner of Black History Month. A motorway services stop gave us a chance to practise ‘Siyahamba’. To our verses of ‘we are walking in the light of love’, ‘singing in the name of peace’, ‘needing a safe home to live’, we added a new solo verse from a young Cameroonian woman calling for an end to the arms trade and safety for the global family to live peacefully in its own homelands.

Walking through the vaulted halls, past paintings and stony ancestors engaged in some of the not-so-proud history of this land, I was present to the courage and trust of these women. They brought the colour and vibrancy of their voices, their traditional clothes, and the language of their hearts, to sing for freedom and safety for all at the stuffy, suited heart of the administrative process which is deciding whether they and their young families will be allowed a safe home in this country.

In the Jubilee room, previously host to Gandhi and Mandela, the women’s passion sang loud and true, summoning respectful silence from all gathered. I imagined our carefully-chosen songs spreading further into the corners and corridors, meeting historical murmurings of other women of courage and passion, leaving a lasting resonance in a place much in need of such diversity and harmony, scattering seeds of longings for global peace, gazing out to distant horizons and faraway shores, calling in freedom in all the languages we knew between us.

We were then treated to an example of how business is conducted here. A panel of experts (all white) discussed diversity and inclusivity, followed by a Q&A session.

Our young Cameroonian raised concerns over an absence of honest media coverage, and would it even be necessary for so many refugees to leave their homes if the British arms trade wasn’t so lucrative? Nods and smiles from the panel before moving on to the next question; a perfect example of the process at work – frustrating and unresolved.

However, perhaps these pertinent questions will resound longer and deeper, backed up by the songs of harmony and beauty from women brought together through traumatic, painful events unfolding in their lives and homelands.

Who can say what comes next? I am proud to raise my voice beside women of such courage and compassion, and to have the opportunity to leave the sound of our voices ringing in the halls of power.

Month by month, new women find us. Through this singing and shared kindness, lives are changed. And we need help to keep going. This group is a valuable healing village for these women, and gives a platform for their stories and songs to have lasting impact in the much-needed sense of ‘global village’ we all long for.

Topics: Refugees