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Oxford's 20th Human Rights Festival

There’s always something happening in Oxford, and this week the 20th annual Oxford Human Rights festival is taking place (11th-20th March). The theme for this year is movement, and it focuses on the experiences of those who have been displaced as a result of conflict, climate change, wars or natural disasters. The festival raises awareness about the human rights violations and injustices that millions of people are subjected to, and does so through a range of creative mediums such as art, music and exhibitions, alongside workshops and seminars.

The festival offers a diverse choice of events to attend, which can be experienced in person rather than the screens Covid made us so accustomed to! If you are unable to attend the in-person events, however, there are a variety of online events to choose from.

The event is student-led, and was founded in 2003 by postgraduates and staff from Brookes University's Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP), which is part of the Brookes School of Architecture. This year, the festival is being launched by the inspiring Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan's first female architect. Yasmeen was a Brookes student who has since received numerous awards for her humanitarian work and is also renowned for building the world’s largest zero carbon shelters programme. Lari will be delivering an online talk on the 18th March Saving Humanity, Saving the Planet: Low Tech, Low Impact Architecture for the Other 99 percent.

The Festival So Far

This year's festival kicked off with a guided 5km walk across Oxford, representing the distance walked daily by many women in Africa and Asia to collect water for themselves or family. This event created a more intimate experience in the sense that it enabled those who joined to physically feel what would otherwise be information on a page.

On the second day of the festival, we attended a pop-up art exhibition and poetry performance given by the Women's Service Group from Refugee Resource in Oxford, where they showcased their creative work around the theme of movement and human rights. Many of the women whose poetry we heard had been forced to flee their homes, friends and families in search of safety, so it was heartwarming to see how the group has become like a second family, acting as a space to form friendships, and exchange experiences and cultures. The poems draw on these women's lived experiences to give us an extremely personal and touching insight into their feelings and emotions felt in the aftermath of such hardship. What struck me was the positivity of the poetry, which is a testament to the strength of these women in that even after they have been through so much, they are able to transform their pain into positivity and find meaning in suffering.

What’s on?

There are plenty more events being held over the coming week, all listed on the festival's website. Here are a few highlights:

Rethinking the border in times of crisis - Wednesday 16th March, 6:30 - 7:30pm
A challenging talk delivered by professor Ruben Andersson discussing border politics and what they mean in the twenty-first century.

Limbo film screening - Thursday 17th March, 6:30 - 8:30pm
Screening of Ben Sharrock's two time BAFTA nominated Limbo, a cross-cultural satirical observation of the refugee experience set on a fictional remote Scottish island where a group of new arrivals awaits the results of their asylum claims.

VR experience & short film Queer in the time of forced migration - 19th & 20th March, 10am - 4pm.
Experience this animated transmedia series, following stories of LGBTQ refugees from different continents and cultures across the Middle eastern and North african regions. Includes a hybrid animated documentary alongside a virtual reality experience.

How can you help?

Want to get involved yourself to support those affected by human rights injustices? Here are some local organisations offering opportunities to play your part, whether it be through donating money or your time.

Asylum Welcome: Offers lots of different campaigns to get involved in, as well as information on how to help with fundraising and also volunteer work to help out asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants living in Oxfordshire.

Refugee Resource: Have various different volunteer role opportunities with their mentoring service, women's service, social inclusion and also in marketing and fundraising.

Oxford University Ukrainian Society: Keep an eye out on Oxford University Ukrainian societies twitter for regularly posted information on how you can help out those affected by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

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