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In her 2009 TedTalk, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned of the "danger of a single story", recounting how her perceptions of people in her life had been wrongly affected by the simple story she had told herself about them. In her speech, she advocated for a greater understanding of the complexities of people, saying that by only understanding a single story, one misinterprets people, their backgrounds, and their histories. Allowing for only a single story can be a dangerous venture.

It was surely with this thought in mind that Refugee Tales was born. An outreach project of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, it was inspired by the experiences of men held in immigration detention at Gatwick and the work of the Group in 20 years of visiting. Each year the project gathers people together to walk through the landscape of South East England and to listen to the stories of those who have been detained indefinitely within the immigration detention estate.

On an early July morning, I travelled from my home in South London to the start of the day's hike in Waltham Abbey. Joining walkers on the Day 3 of their 5-day walk from St. Albans to Westminster, I felt slightly feeble in my efforts, but I was looking forward to sharing the experience with fellow travellers and walking in solidarity with those unable to be with us, incarcerated indefinitely in the UK's detention estate. After a quick stretch and breakfast bite to eat, we set off – all 120 of us – on towards Chingford.

We secular pilgrims were joined on the walk by refugee and migrant friends with knowledge and lived experience of the UK's brutal detention system. Many of those attending this year's 5-day walk were visitors to those held in Gatwick's removal centres. It was very moving to see the great affections by which ex-detainees (now released) and their visitors held each other as they walked, arm in arm, through the countryside. En route we passed through villages and towns, crossed fields and pony paddocks, were welcomed for tea and biscuits in church parishes and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the beautiful interior of the ancient Epping Forest.

I talked with fellow traveller Ridy, who had come to live in the UK as a toddler from the Congo, and who is now in his thirties. Ridy shared with me his 10-year long battle with the Home Office and stories of his time inside and outside of detention. Recently Ridy's experiences (and his poignant artwork) were published as part of a report by GDWG called ''Don't dump me in a foreign land': Immigration Detention and Young Arrivers'.

At High Beach Church we heard Steve Collis recite two poems by John Clare, regailing the tragedy of the enclosures - when common lands were privatised, and the powerless had their rights taken from them by the powerful. At Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge we learnt more about the history of Epping Forest, about King Henry VIII and ancient trees.

When we finally all arrived at our day's destination in Chingford, I was certainly tired out. But after an incredible dinner of dhal, coconut curry, paneer and roti, we headed to Mornington Hall for the evening event hosted by Guardian Cultural Editor Claire Armitstead. There we heard a moving oration by rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg - a telling of 'the Erased Person's tale', a story entrusted to him by a scholar in languages, who was detained, and who watched Jonathan speak from the front row.

On the following two days, I saw videos on Ridy's instagram of the final day's walk from Chingford to Westminster, during which time walkers were joined by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Green Party leader Jonathan Bartley. At the evening event in Stoke Newington, Ridy passionately shared his own personal tale of injustice with those gathered to bear witness.

Thank you Refugee Tales for having me. I hope to be there with you again next year!


Refugee Tales will be hosting reunion walk on 15 September, so keep the date free. They are also crowdfunding a new project to bring stories told by those in detention to the wider public. 28 Tales for 28 Days is a new initiative to highlight the call for a time limit and to extend conversations about indefinite detention. Actors such as Jeremy Irons, Christopher Eccleston, Shobu Kapoor, Zoe Wanamaker and Niamh Cusack and writers such as Kamila Shamsie, Patience Agbabi and Neel Mukherjee will be filmed reading the tales of those who have experienced detention and those who have worked with them. Please donate here.

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