Friday, 12 November 2010

In Oxford, a travelling exhibition brings memories flooding back for refugee

Exterior of the Escape to Safety exhibit
Source: The Oxford Times

By Rhianne Pope

A Ugandan woman who was granted refuge in Britain said she was deeply moved by an exhibition highlighting the experiences of asylum seekers.

Filda Abelkec-Lukonyomoi visited ‘Escape to Safety’ which was launched in Bonn Square, Oxford.

The exhibition takes visitors through eight stages in the life of an imaginary asylum seeker.

Mrs Abelkec-Lukonyomoi escaped from Uganda in 1989 and came straight to Oxford, where she lives in Rose Hill.

She sought refuge after years of civil war in the African country, in which up to one million Ugandans are believed to have died.

She was showing her 10-year-old grandson Tyrhys Lukonyomoi around the exhibition and grew emotional as she was confronted with familiar scenes.

These included the image of an immigration officer’s office, which she said took her back to 1989.

She said: “As a person who has been through this, when I walked into one of the rooms and saw a desk, I had a flashback to when I arrived in Gatwick.

“I really felt like I went back so far through the years to when I was arriving in this country.”

She added: “Most people have been very kind to me, but children, who do not understand, have treated us badly in the past.

“They see things on the news which makes them angry, so I have had my windows broken several times.

“The council said they would move me, but there would be children wherever I go.”

The exhibition, which attempts to explain the reality of seeking sanctuary in the UK, was organised by voluntary groups, organisations and churches in Oxford.

Mrs Abelkec-Lukonyomoi said: “I hope it will make a difference and show others what people have to endure.

“People think asylum seekers just come to their country to take money, but for most, like me, it is about saving our lives.

“We already had lives back home but now we can wake up each day and think ‘we are alive’.”

Jody Bell, who helped organised the exhibition, said: “There is a misconception that sanctuary seekers have an easy time in the UK.”

In 2009, there were 24,485 new applications for asylum in the UK.

A total of 4,190 people were granted asylum.

About 30,000 people are detained each year in detention centres, including Campsfield House, Kidlington.

Amy Merone, spokesman for the Oxford City of Sanctuary movement, said: “It is very difficult for us to comprehend what people face in parts of the world and the reasons why people seek sanctuary in another country.

“We hope the exhibition will be a way of bringing that reality to life.”
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