Crossings Music United

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Bank Holiday Monday at The Holy Biscuit Arts Centre in Shieldfield in Newcastle and we are sitting in a circle with the open group of Crossings Music United.

Crossings’ aims to promote the arts for the benefit of refugees, asylum seekers and the general public. They encourage the development of their members’ skills and confidence, which in turn promotes their inclusion in the wider community. The members’ increased capacity to contribute more fully to the local community in turn promotes racial harmony, equality, diversity and human rights.

They build bridges across racial and cultural divides through music. Their project creates a welcoming space where asylum seekers and refugees come together with local and international musicians, to collaborate on the development and performance of  music.

On Monday night I was there with the group. I am hoping that I can persuade them to get involved in the theatre piece Searching for a City of Sanctuary

We sat in a circle and the workshop leader, Fred, asked us to remember a song that meant something to us. We went round the circle hearing songs from childhood and youth from China, UK, Tanzania, Iran, Ireland, Armenia and other countries. The man from Armenia had news to tell us – he had been given leave to stay in the UK. He was very happy – he asks for the drums to be brought from the cupboard and as they started to play  he was on his feet dancing – the circle was clapping. We were happy.

I wish there were no borders. I wish people to come and go as they pleased. I wish we were more tolerant of people who are different to us. I wish that immigration was not a problem and that people could travel where ever they wanted. I wish that politicians could articulate the benefits of migration and not demonise either migrants or their impact. I wish things were different.

Yesterday a man was not allowed into Britain because he could not give finger prints. The man had no arms. He was the artist Karipbek Kuyukov who had planned to attend an anti-nuclear conference in Edinburgh.

Other Artists who have been refused entry into the UK include:

At  a Womad Festival Kasai Allstars, a Congolese band; the Pakistani Sufi master, Asif Ali Khan, a protégé of the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, an Indian troupe, the Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan were refused entry

Russian classical pianist Grigory Sokolov has had two high-profile concerts cancelled in the UK including a show at the Barbican because of the necessity for the new biometric visa.

M P Landis, the Brooklyn-based painter, was unable to take up an artist’s residency at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland last summer because he was refused a visa through the new points-based system.

Three internationally renowned poets, Dorothea Rosa Herliany from Indonesia and Hassan Najmi and Widad Benmoussa of Morocco, invited to last July’s Ledbury Poetry Festival, were denied entry to the UK.

The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami experienced difficulties acquiring a visa to travel to Britain for the opening of his exhibition at Purdy Hicks, London, and the inauguration of his production of Cosi fan Tutte at ENO. He spoke of “disgraceful treatment … by the officials from the British Embassy in Tehran”.

The first comprehensive exhibition of contemporary art from Iraq since the first Gulf War, with a guest list including the Iraqi ambassador, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband MP and five of the war-torn country’s most promising artists  were to be flown over for the occasion.

Less than a month before “Contemporary Art Iraq” was to open at Manchester’s Cornerhouse Art Gallery the UK Border Agency had denied all the artists exhibiting entry into the country.

At my meeting at Crossings on Bank Holiday Monday we did not think about these things because we were relieved that a man who had suffered in his own country was safe in this one.

Today I saw him again as he was cycling into town. We waved at each other and his broad beautiful smile shone out to me from across the road. I felt, in that moment,  that the world was a good place.