June 7, 2018

Refugee Week at 20

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, co-ordinated by Counterpoints Arts with a range of national partners. It’s the biggest national festival celebrating the contributions, resilience and creativity of refugees to the UK.

Founded in 1998, Refugee Week has grown from a small community-led initiative to become one of the UK’s biggest participatory festivals, with hundreds of organisations and groups holding arts, cultural and education events each year that bring communities together, promote refugee voices and talents and help audiences and participants connect with refugee experiences.

Refugee Week is an open platform and its programme encompasses established artists and community arts projects, at venues ranging from national arts institutions to shopping centres.

The breadth and scope of Refugee Week is reflected in its 20th anniversary programme, which spans theatre, film, visual arts, dance, literature, spoken word and live art.

Here are just a few highlights from around 600 events taking place across the UK.

Festivals and Networks

As Refugee Week has grown, so local networks have built their capacity. Linking grassroots community arts activity with bigger mainstream organisations, festivals have developed in a range of locations including: Migration Matters (Sheffield), Bristol, Nottingham, Crossing Borders Festival (Brighton), Hull, Refugee Festival Scotland, Festival by the Lake (East Sussex), Norwich, Plymouth, Sunderland and Essex.

Each festival programmes a range of diverse artists and art-forms at both arts and non-arts venues so that they reach the widest possible audience.

They are testament to the way in which networks have developed around Refugee Week, linking all kinds of artists, organisations and venues. At Counterpoints Arts we are committed to developing these collaborations, linking them in with our Platforma network to build capacity and support diverse artists all year round.


Museums play a huge role in Refugee Week across the country. Their collections provide inspiration, their spaces offer performance opportunities, and they attract a wide audience who might not otherwise engage with diverse art.

At the V&A in London there is a wide-ranging programme across Refugee Week including “Gendering memories of Iraq,” a transformative performance orchestrated by Iraqi-born artist Hayv Kahraman and a Friday late featuring Dance for Refuge DJ night and Syrian singer Hamsa Mounif performing her ‘Breath of Damascus’ collection of songs.

Saturday 23rd June will see Dorking’s first Eye-to-Eye Experiment take place. Based on the success of a worldwide street campaign run in 2017 during the UN International Week of Peace, passers-by and visitors to the museum will be invited to share 1 minute of eye contact and explore ideas around human connection.

Other museums running Refugee Week programmes include the British Museum, National Maritime Museum, New Walk Museum (Leicester) and the City Museum (Leeds).


This June, for the first time, Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting new work for Refugee Week as part of it’s main programme. With workshops, readings and performances in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, it set to be a brilliant seven days.

National Theatre Wales’ are also staging new work, English – a co-production with Quarantine’s that invites its audience into a conversation about language with performer Jonny Cotsen inspired by the theatricality of language lessons, and discussions with migrants who learn English for all kinds of reasons.

Other notable theatrical performances for Refugee Week include Borderline, Dear Home Office and The Croydon Avengers (all touring), Ilé La Wà (Stratford Circus), Women Of Power (Leeds) and I Am Mehdi Ahmadi (Hull).

A number of theatre companies and community groups will be producing work from the UNHCR Moving Stories collection created by writers including David Edgar and Michelle Terry.


This year will see an incredible range of musical performances and collaborations across all genres. A common thread for many is collaboration, mixing artists from a wide range of backgrounds to present fresh and exciting new work.

At Koko (London) Lowkey, leading light of the UK hip hop scene and refugee rights activist, is supported by Mozambique born, London-based rapper Mohammed Yahya and Native Sun and presents a new collaboration with Palestinian rap duo EbsilJaz.

In Brighton, the Travels of Song explores both the itinerancy and universality of music, where a tune composed in one country could end up adopted by another, sometimes far away, and the compositions of musicians in exile. Peter Phillips and Richard Dering had to leave Elizabethan England because of their religion; Paul Hindemith left Germany in 1938 to avoid more trouble with the Nazis. The programme also includes two songs written by detainees of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.

At the Sage Gateshead, Nadine Shah headlines a superb gig, with support from the mighty multicultural collective that is Rafiki Jazz.

20 Years … and still growing

For the first time in 2018 there will be a special Refugee Week edition of the Live Art newsletter Performing Borders, featuring events such as the performance of When The Nest Falls. by Turkish-born artist Esna Su for the Sarabande Foundation

Counterpoints Arts will be presenting a full film programme in partnership with the BFI in London and there will be numerous screenings across the country including from our specially curated Moving Worlds programme.

At least four books will be launched at events during Refugee Week, including The Displaced (edited by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen), Boy 87 by Ele Fountain, Shaitla Stories from Peirene Press and A Country To Call Home (edited by Lucy Popescu).

Plus, along with a range of events across Australia, this year will see the first Refugee Week in Berlin featuring a wide range of events and exhibitions.

The enthusiasm for Refugee Week keeps on growing. We’re committed to helping this incredible festival reach more and more people every year.