Refugees experience Northumberland countryside thanks to new initiative

Refugees and asylum seekers were given the rare chance of an organised trip to experience the beauty of Northumberland’s countryside in a visit to Hadrian’s Wall.

Monday, 9th August 2021, 1:47 pm
Some of the refugees and asylum seekers on the walk along Hadrian's Wall.
Some of the refugees and asylum seekers on the walk along Hadrian's Wall.

And Colin Adsley, chair of the Northumberland branch of CPRE, the countryside charity, hailed the visit as “one of the single most important events the Northumberland branch has been part of”.

The pioneering initiative was the idea of Finnish artist Dr Henna Asikainen and was backed by Newcastle University and CPRE (formerly the Campaign to Protect Rural England).

In total, 20 refugees, who are being housed in Newcastle, joined Henna for a five-mile circular around the Crag Lough section of the Roman wall having been bussed up by Newcastle University. They were led by CPRE’s Jeff Wild, a National Park guide.

The refugees and asylum seekers, being housed in Newcastle, joined Finnish artist Dr Henna Asikainen and CPRE members for the walk along Hadrian's Wall. They are pictured at Sycamore Gap.

The ancient wall, which celebrates its 1,900th birthday next year, was famously a meeting point for many different nationalities and cultures during its construction and occupation.

So there was something of a throwback to the past as a mix of visitors, including asylum seekers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Rwanda, Russia, Ukraine, and the Ivory Coast, cast eyes on the Unesco World Heritage site for the first time.

Independent artist, Henna, has a track record of organising participatory walks, including bringing refugees to National Trust properties and introducing them to different parts of the English countryside.

Her current work ‘Between Two Shores’ brings together different themes of migration, climate change, and human rights, with her work documented here: www.hennaasikainen.com.

The refugees and asylum seekers on the walk along Hadrian's Wall.

Henna said: “When asylum seekers arrive in their new country, this is often just the start of their journey.

“They want to adapt to and become part of their new home and that can often be very difficult when language and culture can leave them isolated and with so few resources at their disposal that they are unable to travel beyond their immediate surroundings.

“The trip to Hadrian’s Wall was meant to give them an experience of nature again, to positively contribute to good mental health, and to generate a sense of community, understanding, connection, and goodwill. And I think it did exactly that.”

In light of the trip’s overwhelming success as an event, more are now being planned for the future with Henna working in collaboration with Newcastle University, the National Park, and CPRE.

The refugees and asylum seekers stop for a picnic during the walk along Hadrian's Wall.

Colin said: “In all my years associated with CPRE, I think this may have been one of the single most important events the Northumberland branch has been part of.

“CPRE’s founding purpose was to promote a thriving and beautiful countryside enjoyed and valued by all and this trip goes to the heart of what modern CPRE is all about.

“Yes, we want to protect and preserve our priceless countryside but we also want it to be open for all to enjoy and the feedback from this event – both from the asylum seekers, organisers, and those who simply came along for the walk – has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Henna added: “We hope this is just the start for many of our participants who are interested in exploring access to the countryside but we need to understand the barriers that face certain groups, including refugees.”

The refugees and asylum seekers joined Finnish artist Dr Henna Asikainen and CPRE members for the walk along Hadrian's Wall.

Plans are now being made to make the organised events a regular occurrence in the wake of the success of the inaugural walk.