Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Celebrating World Refugee Day

It is World Refugee Day, and here at Bond Street Theatre we are taking the opportunity to commemorate the resilience, strength, and courage of millions of refugees all over the world. Today, we encourage you, our friends and colleagues, to educate yourselves on the very serious refugee crisis that continues to impact our world.

According to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), there are currently 65.6 million people who have been displaced worldwide. 22.5 million are refugees and 10 million are stateless. Refugees are defined as individuals that have been displaced and forced to leave their homes due to war, famine, persecution, or violence. Their ability to succeed in the face of everything is remarkable.

A citizen of any given country is guaranteed a set of basic human rights but, as a refugee, a person may lose access to these rights and protections. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, all refugees have the right to safe asylum, the right to not be forcibly returned to their country of origin, and the same rights as any foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, movement and freedom from torture.

However, in countries that did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are left vulnerable and they are often stripped of access to these rights. This is why we at Bond Street Theatre continue our commitment to working with refugees, and why we are bringing new refugee-centered projects to Malaysia in 2017.

Theatre creates the space for laughter, for critical thought, for expression, for mutual understanding, and so much more. At Bond Street Theatre, we challenge and call upon all artists to spread tolerance, especially towards people who are facing turmoil and persecution, and to seek out new opportunities to learn from others.

Below we share stories of those from the refugee communities that we have had the privilege of learning from:

1987: Montreal
In 1987, BST was invited to Montreal’s International Youth for Peace and Justice Program to address 60 teenagers from 45 war-torn nations on the power of theatre, and to teach them practical popular theatre techniques.

1999: Kosovo Refugee Camps - Macedonia
As an immediate response to the war in Kosovo, BST initiated a three-week program bringing laughter, joy, and creative play to more than 10,000 Kosovar children, many of whom had been traumatized by the war, in seven refugee camps located throughout Macedonia.

We staged shows in open areas before audiences of 1,000-2,000 people, and taught mime and theatre games to the children. When we returned to the camps later, we were pleased to find the children demonstrating what they had learned from days before. This project has clearly demonstrated to us the value of interactive theatre, and the healing power of all of the expressive arts.

2001: Afghan Refugee Camps - Pakistan
Following September 11, 2001, BST members traveled to Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan to bring joy and laughter to Afghan children, conduct workshops, and learn more about the conflict.

We returned in 2002 to refugee camps in Peshawar, where 10,000 Afghan boys and girls were reached with live performances new confidence-building skills and games. The company trained teachers from Plan International to use theatre-based educational activities for children, bringing this program to rural villages in Chakwal.

2003: Exile Theatre - Afghanistan
BST began a collaboration with Exile Theatre, aimed at bringing healing programs to refugee families that were pouring back into the country. With partner group Afghanistan-Schulen, Bond Street reached 25,000 children in the rural north, focusing especially on girls who were returning to school.

2007: India
Bond Street traveled to India to conduct mask-making and physical expression workshops with 30 children from the violence-ridden area of Bastar in central India. These refugee children had been traumatized by years of rebel uprisings, and our workshops moved from liberating games to image-making relating to their emotions.

2011-2012: Refugee Camps - Haiti
BST conducted training programs for FAVILEK, a theatre group of female sexual violence survivors in Haiti, with tours in refugee areas and tent camps in the post-earthquake areas.

2016: Borak Arts Series - Penang Malaysia
Bond Street Theatre's Artistic Director, Joanna Sherman, was a featured speaker at the Borak Arts Series in Penang, Malaysia. The series is designed to provide an international forum in which artists and activists from around the world can share information and ideas. Joanna spoke about the relationship between sustainable social development and performance, and demonstrated for the audience of artists, many of whom are working with migrants and refugees in the Malaysian region, some of the useful exercises and techniques they could use in their work.

Summer 2017: Malaysia
This summer we will be traveling back to Malaysia to embark upon a new theatre project. Bond Street will work with refugees, many of whom are currently living without access to basic rights, as Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. Many  do not have access to legal residences, education, or employment, let alone work permits. Because they are not recognized as refugees, they have very little protection from local law enforcement, often leading to brutality and corruption.

On World Refugee Day, we celebrate the lives and accomplishments of refugees all over the world. Refugees around the world are in need of assistance, so we encourage everyone to do what you can to help, whether it be donating, volunteering, or welcoming refugees into your home, community, or country!

Links to Learn More!