A cold coming we had of it
Just the worst time of year
For a journey …(TS Eliot: The journey of the Magi)
My name is Ali Ghaderi (Alighaderiuk), and I’m a refugee actor and activist from Iran. I’m also the founder of Babylon Project, which runs creative activities for, with and by people from refugee, asylum seeking and migrant backgrounds.
London snow brings back difficult memories
On 11 December, London experienced the most snow I have seen since arriving in the UK. I was with a group of friends, mainly other refugees and asylum seekers, and some of them had never seen snow like that before. Like anyone else, we were excited, and started playing in the snow.
But soon the snow brought back memories to me and my friend Amir of difficult times on our journeys to the UK, and stories we have heard from friends and relatives. People regularly freeze to death in European winters, not having the right clothing, not being used to the cold, and not having access to shelter. Last year, many refugees died in the forests on the border between Belarus and Poland. Borders can be brutal.
A fund-raising plan
When these memories came flooding back, Amir and I came up with a plan. We decided to run through London in the snow to show our solidarity with people who are suffering and even dying from cold on their journeys to safety, and to hopefully raise some money to support people this winter.
We ran over 10km, from Kentish Town to Parliament Square (with a short break on the Tube). We were very cold on the run, and people around us were pointing, laughing, honking their car horns – understandably. But they didn’t know why we were running. We felt we had to keep going, and we were determined to spread a message and raise awareness of the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers, who face so many dangers while trying to get to safe countries.
We ran without water and warm clothes, because that is how so many people make their journeys across Europe. As well as awareness, we wanted to use our run to raise money to support refugees and asylum seekers through the winter, in a few different ways.
Raising money for warm clothing and life-enhancing projects
At the moment, when asylum seekers arrive in the UK, their belongings, including their clothing, are confiscated. People who were held at Manston detention centre were recently sent around the country in clothing that was completely inappropriate for colder weather. Some of the money we raise will therefore go towards making sure asylum seekers have warm clothing for their first winter in the UK.
But we are also aware of people still making their journeys, and remember the challenges that cold weather presents during this hazardous time. We will therefore be sending some of the funds to Babylon members in Greece, so that they can provide warm clothing for refugees who are just at the start of their journey through Europe.
Finally, we are also raising money for the Babylon Project. Since we started in August, we have already run over 30 workshops for young people. We can see the difference it makes for young people with backgrounds just like ours to have opportunities to socialise and express themselves creatively. We aim to provide a space where young people feel they are welcome and belong.
A plea to connect and donate
We know from experience that life can feel cold for refugees and asylum seekers arriving in this country. And we know that people living here don’t always connect with stories like the terrible one from this week, when at least four people lost their lives in the Channel in freezing conditions. But we would love for everyone to see our humanity, and donate to Ali and Amir’s Christmas fundraiser to help us to give refugees and asylum seekers a bit of warmth this winter.