The Refugee Songbook

This project began in January 2017 when I started volunteering at the Fedasil Petit-Chateau Klein Kasteeljte refugee asylum center. It was on my first visit to the center that a staff person introduced me to another volunteer who had been offering poetry sessions for the residents for several years. This volunteer, Sarah Reader Harris, welcomed the idea of incorporating music into the creative process. We began working together and have continued ever since.

The Refugee Songbook form of songwriting is not simply a documentation of the events and emotional toll of people’s migration experiences but a profound exchange of life stories, struggles, language, and culture. There is much conflict surrounding immigration around the world, and there is pressure for immigrants to let go of their language and customs in order to assimilate into their new home country. We believe that it is through the celebration of our diversity that we come to an understanding of our solidarity and similarity.

We write songs in all languages because we have found that the familiarity of hearing and seeing a person’s mother tongue helps bring relief, kinship, and the feeling of being welcomed to a foreign land. Especially in a foreign land where the language and customs are new, it can be soothing to see your language written and to hear it spoken. I also know from experience that it is difficult to truly express yourself in a new language. It is a gesture of solidarity and camaraderie as well. Sarah created a poetry wall with blank pages for people to write upon, as well as poems from many different countries. People have come up to wall, recognized their language, and made personal connections to the words. One man pointed to a poem in his native language and told Sarah that the poem communicated his own experience.

Even with modern technology to video chat, text, and call “home,” the people we have met are suffering. They are in foreign land without familiar faces, and they wait, sometimes for years, without control over their destiny. Giving voice to their experiences in song is one way to take back control and to express the powerful, debilitating emotions that course through them at any given time.

I have listed the songs in linear order. Many are finished, but there are some that are in the beginning stages. We meet for two hours every Monday afternoon. Some songs reveal themselves in one session, while others take longer to come into being.

Click on each song for photos, audio, and a description of the creation process.

  1. Never give up
  2. The mountain and me
  3. I’ll meet you there
  4. Side by Side [We are alive]
  5. I want a peaceful life
  6. Zindgi Sakhta (Life is Hard)
  7. Live free [Live in Liberty]
  8. The sun will come again
  9. Let’s dance in the rain
  10. Laugh at life, and Life laughs back
  11. I am the change [We are the change]
  12. Love
  13. Break the code [The best is yet to come]
  14. I am a word
  15. Free again
  16. Remember Rose
  17. The Domes of Damascus [Hebek Habibi, I love you]
  18. Who you love is who you are
  19. If only we hope
  20. Don’t wait, create
  21. A song for Mohanad [We wish you well]
  22. There is a day
  23. Free [Nobody asking me]
  24. Natareya [Let’s Change]
  25. The Pigeon Song
  26. My lovely, my lovely [Habibi, habibi]
  27. Soyons unis [Ce n’est que la vie]
  28. When the whole world is gone
  29. Just be happy [The meaning of life]
  30. I could be you, you could be me
  31. Thank you for coming
  32. [Shhh] Let the silence speak
  33. We want to live in peace
  34. The hand that hurts can also heal
  35. I want to live

Our work has been highlighted by the House of European History, The Bulletin, and Fedasil Klein Kasteeltje and Fedasil Newsbrief.