Everyone has an opinion about refugees.
But what about refugees themselves? Shouldn’t they have a voice too? What of their experiences, hopes and fears?
This week, Audiovisability releases The Unheard World – a unique British Sign Language (BSL) video about six-year-old deaf asylum seeker Lawand Hamadamin.
It features a heart-wrenching poem by 11-year old British deaf girl Layla Fitzgerald-Woolfe of Lawand’s traumatic journey from Iraq to the infamous Dunkirk refugee camp in France.
After six weeks in makeshift tents and waterlogged fields with only scraps of food to live on, Lawand and his family were rescued by Deaf Kidz International volunteers and bought into the UK.
Lawand now lives temporarily in Derby, so he can attend the Royal School for Deaf Children and – crucially – acquire the language skills he desperately needs to express himself. By finding a new home in Derby’s deaf community, Lawand has made dramatic progress.
However, the family’s relief didn’t last long: the Hamadamins were given blunt notice by the Home Office that they are to be deported to Germany.
The decision makes no human sense: Lawand’s education would go back to square one. German and German Sign Language are completely different to English and British Sign Language (BSL). At a stroke, a year’s progress would be wiped out.
At the eleventh hour, a judge suspended Lawand’s deportation until the High Court considers their case to remain.
Last summer, Lawand was befriended by Layla Fitzgerald-Woolfe who spent a day conversing with him in BSL about his experiences. The result is unique: a British deaf child using BSL poetry to give a voice to an Iraqi deaf child. Telling his story, as he told it to her.
The video soundtrack was composed by deaf flautist Ruth Montgomery who uses minor keys and Arabic tones to express the BSL rhythms and to capture the story’s evolving moods. The music is performed by Syrian oud player, Rihab Azar.
To complete a deaf-led project, Stephen Iliffe’s photographs form a subtle backdrop to Layla’s sign language.