GEARING UP: Refugee Social Services is putting the final touches to its Forced to Flee festival which commemorates World Refugee Day on June 20. Pictured is the services director, Yasmin Rajah.

World Refugee Day on Friday will be commemorated over the next week in Durban and Pietermaritzburg with the Forced to Flee Festival.

Refugee Social Services are hosting the event, a mini-film festival and a series of activities, which will take place in the two city hubs. The events will marry film, photography, visual art, music, craft and discussions.

Yasmin Rajah, the director of Refugee Social Services, said their main aim is to create awareness around forced migration. “We’ve commemorated World Refugee Day over many years with different events. For this year, it has always been on our minds that when you want to raise awareness about issues, what better way to do it that through film and documentaries. It’s visual, it’s in your face,” she explained.

Rajah said it’s important to raise awareness about these issues.

“There always seems to be a misconception about why people come into our country. There’s an assumption that refugees come here for an economically better life. But people who are forced to flee leave not because they want to, but because of persecution.

“And sometimes people don’t understand the challenges the refugee communities have in the countries they go to. A lot of the refugees we work with had lives that were probably better in their countries than what they have here.

“But they lost their livelihoods, some of them are fairly well educated, some had businesses, but they were forced to leave because of the conflict or persecution,” she said.

In Durban the bulk of our refugee community come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Eastern DRC (bordering Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi) where there are ongoing wars and persecution. There are also some from Ethiopia, Eretria and Kenya.

All of the events for the festival are free of charge. The core event will take place at the Denis Hurley Hall, Diakonia Centre on World Refugee Day. Supporting events will take place at a number of venues in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. These include Alliance Française; Durban Holocaust Centre; Project Gateway in Pietermaritzburg and Archie’s Cafe (Diakonia Centre); as well as in the waiting rooms of the Home Affairs (Refugee Reception Centre at Che Guevara Road, which is not open to the public for security reasons); at the Refugee Social Services; Lawyers for Human Rights; and Refugee Pastoral Care.

Here’s a glance at some key events:

• The opening film, L’Escale (The Stop Over), will be screened at 11am on Friday at the Diakonia Centre. It is set in Athens. Amir, an Iranian immigrant, has a flat which has become a place of transit for migrants. But Greece is only a stop-over, all of them hope to reach other Western countries. (French/Persian with English subtitles). A second screening will take place at 11am on June 23 in Pietermaritzburg at Project Gateway. To complement the art and films, at Diakonia Centre, as part of the opening programme, French-Congolese singer Rene Tshiakanyi will perform.

• On June 23 at 6pm at the Alliance Française in Durban, there will be the screening of Illegal – a 2010 Belgian drama which follows Tania and her 13-year-old son Ivan: two illegals living in Belgium. They are separated and Tania is placed in a detention centre. She will do anything to be reunited with her son. (French with English subtitles).

• On June 24, at the Holocaust Centre, Playfair Rd on Durban’s beachfront, there will be a screening of Harbour of Love at 7pm. This 2011 documentary is billed as a heartbreaking but life-affirming documentary of love, hope and unsolved mysteries. (English and Swedish with English subtitles.)

• There will be two exhibitions: Dialogue Among Civilisation, an initiative by Art for Humanity which involves a collaboration between artists and poets who were invited to create work on the theme of identity, land, object and belief. Elements of the exhibition can be seen at Diakonia; the Durban Holocaust Centre; Durban Refugee Reception Centre and Alliance Française.

• The second exhibition features 15 photographs of Living Spaces of Refugees and Migrants (including South Africans) in a photographic training project supported by Oxfam Australia.

• For more information, call 031 310 3578.