Syrian musicians hold 'Concert for Hope' for refugees amid tightening UK asylum rules

Syrian musicians hold 'Concert for Hope' for refugees amid tightening UK asylum rules
Syrian musicians held a concert to keep hope alive amid worrying reports about the UK government's plans for handling asylum cases.
4 min read
24 March, 2021
The concert was held online on Tuesday night [Screenshot]
Syrian musicians came together on Tuesday to hold a "Concert for Hope" to mark ten years since the start of the Syrian uprising and raise awareness for how people can help resettle Syrian refugees in the UK.
The online concert, which was hosted by UK Welcomes Refugees, brought together renowned artists and masters representing Syria's rich musical tradition. Among those featured was the 'Queen of Qanun' Maya Youssef,
Rihab Azar - the first female oud player to perform  alongside the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, pianist Riyad Nicholas and violin virtuoso Mariela Shaker, among others.

Within minutes of the event kicking off, listeners were transported to the Levant with the mesmerising sound of Maya Youssef's 'Walk With Me' - a song played on the Qanun and written during the coronavirus lockdown.

It was followed by various tributes and odes to the artists' motherland.

Volunteers and refugees recounted their experiences in the last ten years, highlighting the importance of their continued effort. 

"The most important thing taught human beings need is hope," said guest speaker Lord Alf Dubs, a British Labour politician and campaigner who came to Britain as a child refugee in 1939.

"People can put up with very bad physical conditions if there is some hope. But where there is no hope there is nothing for people at all. Our job in this country, and other countries, is to give people hope."

'Like family'

UK Welcomes Refugees is a UK-based non-profit organisation which aims to help in the resettlement of those displaced by war and disaster through community action. The organisation has helped raise awareness of settling and assisting refugees in the UK.

Launched by the UK government in 2016, the UK-wide Community Sponsorship programme enables volunteers and local organisations and business to get hands-on involvement in assisting refugees by welcoming them at the airport and to their new neighbourhoods, raising funds and assisting in finding accommodation. 

During the concert, Community Sponsorship volunteer Major Nick Coke shared his heartwarming experience of the programme and how it had changed his life.

"In 2015, my wife and children and myself would sit and watch the evening news and became more aware of the suffering of the Syrian people due to the civil war," Coke, a London-based Salvation Army Church leader, told the audience on Tuesday night.

"We became convinced over time, that we couldn’t just sit here ad watch this, we had to do something, but what could we do?

"Fast forward 18 months, my wife and I are standing at the arrivals gate at Gatwick Airport with two other volunteers and an Iraqi interpreter waiting for a family of five Syrians to come through. We're testing out a few basic words in Arabic with the interpreter and trying to look as welcoming as possible," Coke said.

Four years on and after having assisted the family in settling, learning English and through their day-to-day activities, Coke said the experience has been truly enriching.

"Very quickly this dawned on me that this wasn’t a one-way relationship, every time I went to check in on them I would be on the receiving end of the famous Syrian hospitality. I began to gain in weight what I was gaining in friendship," Coke said.

"When we started outs thought it was us who would be . Today, I can honestly say, we are more than friends, we are family," he added.

Uncertain times

Ten years on from the beginning of Syria's war in 2011, the conflict has seen more than 388,000 killed and millions more displaced.

It is estimated that over 5.6 million Syrians fled abroad, while 6.7 million have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict.

A recently-concluded programme launched by the UK government in 2015 saw London settle around 20,000 Syrian refugees, however, the prospects for those still seeking asylum hangs in the balance.

Recent UK goveernment plans show London is considering processing asylum seekers in a manner similar to Australia's controversial model.

The scheme would see asylum seekers who reach British shores via unofficial means - such as crossing the English Channel in small boats - taken to another country where they would be housed and their claims processed. 

The perilous and often deadly cross-channel journey has been attempted by many thousands, including Syrian refugees.

"We are now in a position where the family reunion arrangements don’t apply anymore... the Home Secretary said refugees will be put on an island somewhere," Lord Dubs said.

"This must never happen, it must certainly must never happen for children. I find that pretty shocking but we have to see what the details are," he added.

Recent news about the UK government's plans echo previous reports that Home Secretary Priti Patel had been 
considering housing migrants on Ascension Island, a volcanic island in the South Atlantic, or St. Helena, another British overseas territory in these waters. 

"We can't take every refugee, but we can take some of them," Lord Dubs urged on Tuesday. "And we can do a lot better than we’ve done up until now."

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