Write to Life - refugees given freedom to express themselves in words
Though much of the distressingly inaccurate press they get would have you believe they were living charmed lives in the UK; Asylum-seekers can tell you some of the most heart-wrenching stories you will ever hear. But for every account of human suffering, there is a story of resilience, survival and strength. Freedom from Torture brings this two-fold experience to Edinburgh through the Human Rights and Wrongs photography exhibition, and readings of the work of refugees in Amnesty’s Imprisoned Writers Series at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
I blogged about the Human Rights and Wrongs exhibition earlier this year when it came to Glasgow’s Tramway Gallery. Photographer Angela Catlin and journalist Billy Briggs worked with a group of Freedom from Torture’s Glasgow clients to help them tell their stories.
What makes the accounts particularly poignant is the knowledge that these are the histories of people you see walking down the street. Asylum-seekers are tremendously resilient people, but Freedom from Torture is a much needed helping hand.
Begun in 1985 by Amnesty International as the Medical Foundation for the treatment of victims of torture, Freedom from Torture helps to rehabilitate torture victims who come to the UK as refugees. The organisation provides medico-legal reports on injuries to help clients through the asylum process as well as counselling and general support. However, refugees are also taking the initiative to confront their own struggles and re-build their lives through creative expression – as mentioned previously – a selection of this written work will be read by notable authors in Edinburgh next month.
Freedom from Torture holds regular writing groups where refugees can come to terms with their experiences and find comfort through expressing themselves in the written word. Last week, I visited the London Centre’s ‘Write to Life’ group, which draws people from miles around: one participant came all the way from Cambridge, and another cycles 15 miles to attend the fortnightly sessions. Writing is a powerful therapeutic tool for victims to gain control over situations in which they have been powerless. This is especially effective when they can share their writing with others.
One of the writers whose work will be read at the Book Festival is Aso Sebir, an Iraqi Kurdish refugee whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week. Among Aso’s recent literary achievements is a caption he wrote for Leon Kossoff’s painting Man in a Wheelchair on display at the Tate Modern in London (it’s on the third floor, if you get the chance to visit). Aso writes: “… I travel in a wheelchair in my dreams. I am just colours without a body. I dream inside my dream. I sleep with colours, dream with colours, fly with colours. They help me find continuity in this dream, in this life.”
Freedom from Torture’s Imprisoned Writers readings are a FREE Amnesty International event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 10 and 11 August from 5:30 to 6:15pm at Peppers Theatre, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh
There will be a FREE Imprisoned Writers reading every day throughout the Book Festival – see programme for details.
The Human Rights and Wrongs exhibition is on at the Edinburgh Film House until Saturday 3 August
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.