Climate change is rapidly becoming a primary reason for forced migration, be it indirectly, as a result of conflict over resources, or directly, as a result of an unlivable environment. On the receiving end of these refugee flows, artists and activists have the power to help alleviate the social exclusion experienced by refugees in Europe. This is what The Yellow Days founder Nina Alonso realised while volunteering in the Pikpa refugee camp on the Greek island of Leros.
For the refugees, such “hotspot” camps are little more than open air prisons. With no means of leaving the location where they first touch Greek soil, life is lived in limbo. Faced by an increasingly hostile political climate and a seemingly endless mire of bureaucratic red tape, the situation for many in the camps is desperate.
Nina returned to London from the 28 square-mile island with a plan – to build a cultural event with the refugee community and the locals of Leros. With the help of a growing group of fellow activists and artists, the Yellow Days came to life. In the summer of 2017, after a year of frenzied fundraising, Nina was back with the cash and the crew to throw the first Yellow Days festival – four days of food, art and culture, shared by hundreds of attendees from dozens of nationalities.
The central belief of the festival is that human beings have a fundamental need to share culture with others. Dealing with traumatic experiences and uncertain futures, refugees’ mental wellbeing is largely overlooked. While physical aid such as medicine and food is often available, the Yellow Days aims to deliver much-needed “aid for the soul” – a chance for refugees to relax, celebrate, share their experiences, and express themselves creatively in the company of hundreds of diverse individuals.
Beyond sending a strong message of solidarity, the festival forged lasting networks on the island, and demonstrated to refugee participants that they are valued. For four days, the festival created one community.
Following the festival, Ayman Alabood, a Syrian refugee, said:
“I was so sad in these times and The Yellow Days gave me hope to think about it again, to think about the world again. I come from Syria where we have people from everywhere killing us and each other as well, and on the other side I have seen The Yellow Days Festival, where people from everywhere help each other, respect each other, love each other like one heart and one family.”
Conscious of looming climate change and how this will intensify refugee and migration flows, the festival is designed to be environmentally sustainable. All artwork and decorations are made from recycled materials, participants are offered one free vegetarian meal per day, and workshops promote a more holistic relationship to the world around us. The organisers believe that respect for fellow human beings and the environment are intimately connected.
As future ecological catastrophes such as floods, droughts and water scarcity are anticipated to drive right-wing populism, resource wars and all-out conflict, the connection between Europe’s fraught refugee ‘debate’ and the global response to the climate catastrophe are intimately linked.
The Yellow Days proposes an alternative – a community-based and inherently sustainable festival. Its organisers believe that challenges as vast as political division and the climate crisis must be confronted not as individuals, but as a collective.
The festival’s organisers aim to create an economy based on solidarity – all the festival’s costs are raised through donations, and fundraising events in London and beyond. The money raised at the festival is then in turn donated to other grassroots organisations – the Leros Solidarity Group and Steps, who work providing food and shelter to those in need.
Fuelled by the success of the first festival, the Yellow Days is coming to Athens from the 27th to the 29th of September. Enduring anti-refugee narratives and an ever-worsening climate emergency have driven the festival’s organisers to create an even more ambitious, inclusive and sustainable event.
Since Greece’s right-wing New Democracy party took power in July, the situation of refugees in Athens and beyond has become even more dire. Overcrowded camps, the closure of the Greek land border, and reported violence by border guards against asylum-seekers have forced many refugees onto the streets of Athens. The anarchist-dominated district of Exarchia, which opened its doors to many such refugees, has come under fire from government forces. Squats in which refugees and anarchists live are being forcibly evicted by armed police – once again putting many back on the streets shortly before winter. Escalating tensions in the neighbourhood has seen an outbreak of violence between state police and the Rouvikonas anarchist group.
State and neo-fascist violence against refugees has been well-documented in Greece over recent years. Reported hate crimes motivated by race, religion or skin colour tripled from 48 in 2016 to 133 in 2017, according to Greek police statistics. In the same year, overall hate crimes doubled from 84 to 184.
The refugee crisis rarely makes headlines now – but the continued dehumanisation of those fleeing war is as dangerous as ever, for all of us. With Europe’s growing far-right movement capitalising on a polarised political mainstream that treats refugees as a symbolic bargaining chip rather than human beings, the Yellow Days festival and its message of connection and respect is more urgent than ever.
You can help the festival in many ways – but within four weeks of its opening, the primary need is funding. Your donations – big or small – help the festival to provide meals, translators, and free transport for refugees to and from the festival.
To donate and find out more about the Yellow Projects, click here.
Keep up with our Yellow Diary on YouTube to see how we make the 2019 festival a reality.