"There are so many skills that we would not have in this country if it weren't for histories of movement and migration."
Amber Buchart - Fashion historian & volunteer mentor at Kent Refugee Action Network
This story is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with the Kent Refugee Action Network [KRAN]. For this storytelling project, KRAN's youth ambassadors are sitting down with people in their county and asking them about their migration stories and experiences with prejudice. All of us, in one way or another, have a migration story - be it in recent years or hundreds of years ago - and all of us deserve equal opportunity and a safe place to live. Below is a conversation between Rishan, Daniel - both KRAN youth ambassadors and Balvinder Sopal - actor & supporter of KRAN.
WARNING: this conversation contains content that some readers may find distressing
Amber: One story that’s relevant for my line of work is looking at the Huguenots in France who were forced to leave France in the late 17th century due to religious persecution. England at the time was a Protestant country. Many came here, and it's where we get the word refugee from. They're known as the first refugees, the Huguenots. And many of them were incredibly skilled. They were really good at things like clockmaking, but also silk weaving. We didn't have a silk industry here before the Huguenots came. And so they brought all of these secrets with them of how to weave and finish this really beautiful, incredibly lustrous silk.
Gramalen: So you think refugees and asylum seekers bring skills? It's not just a body they bring.
Amber: Exactly. Definitely. Yes, definitely. There's so many skills that we would not have in this country if it weren't for histories of movement and migration. For whatever reason. It just added so much to the country.
Gramalen: My name is Gramalen. We are here at Ramsgate beach in Kent. Amber - can you please introduce yourself?
Amber: My name's Amber Butchart, and I'm a fashion historian, which is really sort of an umbrella term for all the things that I do that all involve researching history, researching clothes in the past, what we wore in the past, how those things were made, and how we can understand history through clothes.
Gramalen: Okay, tell us about your great-granddad who lived in Wales, and why did he leave?
Amber: So, I'm only just starting to find out more about the story of my great grandfather. That side of my family are from Wales, and he was working on the South Wales coalfield. So, he was a coal miner. In the very early 20th century, coal mining in that part of Wales was very, very prevalent, and very dangerous. So, the story is that he was made to leave Wales because he was trying to unionize the minors. And he was certainly very politically active. He had, I think, about eight or nine children, and he named many of them after prominent Socialists or Marxists, gave them names like Karl and Rosa. During the 1920s, there was a lot of agitation between unions and industrial bosses. And so, it's not beyond the realms of belief that that could be true, that he could have been made to leave Wales because of this political agitating, trying to unionize and organize the minors so that they were better protected. So the work that I do often touches on stories around immigration because I think if you're studying any kind of history, then the movement of people is always a factor.
Gramalen: Why did you decide to be a voluntary mentor with KRAN [Kent Refugee Action Network]?
Amber: I was in, Folkstone, a couple of years ago during the first year of the Pandemic, and I saw some of the border force boats in the harbour and it really upset me. I've talked about how much I love the beach. And the idea that the beach is not welcoming for everybody. I just found it really upsetting and really felt like I had to help somehow.
Gramalen: ... you make me cry...
Amber: ...sorry, me too, sorry...
Gramalen: How can you make a better life for refugees?
Amber: There's been a lot of anti-immigration rhetoric in this country for a long time now, stemming a lot from the financial crisis in 2008. If you look back into history, you always find that at moments of economic hardship people look to blame other people. They look to blame people who are different from them somehow. For example, in 1929 after the wall street crash, you see a big rise in like anti-immigration rhetoric in various Western countries and that's exactly what's happened here since 2008, since the financial crisis, which was caused by bankers, it was not caused by immigration or refugees. I also think the more people meet people from other places the more they realize that everybody has more in common than differences.
"The skills, the experience, the culture refugees bring with them is something priceless."
Mohamad - Youth Ambassador at the Kent Refugee Action Network
Amber: For millennia, people have moved in and out of the country. I don't understand the narrative of some people who are trying to rewrite the history of this country, claiming that there is somehow an authentically British or English person - that doesn't make sense. There's been centuries of migration in and out of this country, in and out of every country. Migration is human history.
Mohamad: Actually, I'm from Syria. Even in Syria, Syria hosted refugees from different countries - Palestine, Iraq... And we dealt with that and we lived together without drawing barriers between us. My best friends in school were from Palestine and I still in touch with them now. I think what people find difficult to understand that this is an issue that is not just in Europe, it's even in the middle east. There are migration and refugees in Syria, as a hosting country, people leave their country and migrate to neighbouring countries.... and I think of the skills, the experience, the culture they bring with them it's something priceless.