Bristol festival launches to celebrate refugees and asylum seekers

The Bristol Refugee Festival launched at the Malcolm X Centre in Bristol last night (June 6).

More than one hundred people attended the start of the festival, where asylum seekers and refugees are invited to take part in many upcoming events.

At the launch, organisers outlined the three-week festival programme along with music, food and lots of activities for children.

The festival first launched in 2017 and each year it has grown. This year, the theme is 'healing through community' and seeks to encourage a deeper community understanding of what it means to be a refugee.

The Bristol Refugee Festival CIC was established in 2017. Credit: ITV West Country

The festival has been designed to suit all tastes and ages including peace feasts, dance workshops and theatre trips to a football tournament, craft drop-ins and a ceilidh dance.

M-Shed is also hosting an exhibition called Crossings: Community and Refugee and there will be a harbour boat tour with storytelling and music.

The Bristol Refugee Arts Collective (BRAC) join forces with UWE art students for an exhibition and workshops.

The festival aims to connect communities from across Bristol by sharing and celebrating their diversity. Credit: ITV West Country

Jules Olsen, the festival director, said: ”The theme of ‘healing’ connects us with the national Refugee Week theme, but in Bristol we wanted to emphasise the importance of community in that process.

"Last year, adapting our programme to covid restrictions, we learnt that smaller intimate spaces are ideal for nurturing connections, leading to more meaningful conversations and greater understanding.

"We are really excited that so many communities have been ready and willing to be involved in creating spaces of welcome and celebration with refugees and asylum seekers.” 

The festival launched at the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls on June 6. Credit: ITV West Country

Sherien Elsheikh, a volunteer festival ambassador, said: “The refugee festival shows a lot of support for refugees, makes them feel welcomed and like they belong.

"For my part, I wait for a celebration every year, to see the variety of cultures and their reflections on each other. Knowing different customs, tasting different foods, sharing and displaying popular clothes.

"Participating in all these things creates a beautiful spirit among people, increases their knowledge of each other and reduces their sense of alienation.

"It makes us closer and increases mutual respect. People get to know new people and the celebration brings them together in joy and pleasure.” 

Organisers are also expanding the citywide ‘Celebrating Sanctuary Local’ programme, after the success of last year’s smaller, community-run gatherings.

There are many more local community events this year - including events at Page Park, Eastville Park, The Greenway centre, a Tibetan day at St. Werburghs Community Centre, and a Latin-American party at St. Pauls Learning Centre.