If Refugees Like Me Don't Tell Our Stories, Who Will?

Everything we’ve learned, the struggles we’ve had, shape us and become a part of us. We’ll pass those forward to our sons and daughters, and our stories will help them grow their own futures, become the people they choose.

Everything we’ve learned, the struggles we’ve had – they have shaped us and they become a part of us.

We’ll pass it forward to our sons and daughters. Our stories will help them grow their own futures, become the people they choose.

They will know they are important. That no life is worth more than another. They will belong. They will be wanted.

Coming to the UK on my own as a child meant suddenly I had to talk about my life constantly – to social workers, Home Office officials, solicitors, GPs, teachers. They only ask you the questions they want or need to – and so they decide which are the most important parts of your life. This became my story.

When I’m onstage with my theatre company, Phosphoros Theatre, we tell our stories how we want to. We’ve made two plays before, both about our lived experience of coming to the UK on our own as children (known as unaccompanied minors) and navigating the various systems we have had to, including the care system, immigration, healthcare and education.

Most of our work is based on the actors in our company, but we use some of our own creativity too – we like to say ‘everything you see is true – or nearly true’. When we’re onstage it’s not up to the audience to judge whether we’re “credible” or not.

In our current show, Pizza Shop Heroes, we explore something new: fatherhood. We’re all young still, in our early twenties, so none of us are thinking about having kids any time soon, but we wanted to think about how we’ll look back on the journeys we’ve had. If our kids are born in the UK and have a nice life here, how will they ever understand what it meant for us to be refugees?

It took me eight months to get here. I was only a child and I survived near starvation, people smuggling, street homelessness and five months of illegal detention. I wasn’t old enough to experience something like that – no one is – so how will I tell this story to my own children? Which of my truths will they need to know?

Often people like me are described as “resilient” – like it’s something to be proud of. I became resilient because I had to be. Working with Phosphoros Theatre gives me a huge amount to be proud of. By the end of this year we will have performed around 100 times in total (since 2016), to hundreds and hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers as well as packed out theatres and a few schools.

If I have my future children in the UK I want them to understand what it means to be British, that no one chooses where they’re born, what passport they’re entitled to. My story of childhood forced migration formed part of me, so I hope I will be able to find the words to tell them about it. However, I want them to know about the contribution I’ve made to British culture as an artist and an activist. My passion for speaking up about these issues is why I’m a Refugee Week Ambassador this year. When I think about this year’s Refugee Week theme – ‘you, me and those who came before’ – I think about the lessons I learnt from my own father about strength, patience and generosity.

Working with Phosphoros Theatre didn’t give me a voice. I had a voice already with a thousand stories to tell. Now when I tell my story I’m the boss, and people listen.

For me, being a refugee isn’t about resilience, it’s about resistance.

Pizza Shop Heroes is being performed during Refugee Week in Sheffield, Nottingham, Rochester and London before going to the Edinburgh Fringe in August to perform at Summerhall. For more information, visit the website here.

Refugee Week is the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of people from refugee backgrounds. The theme for Refugee Week 2019, 17-23 June, is ‘You, me, and those who came before’, which will explore the lives of refugees and those who welcomed them throughout history in the UK.

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