Refugee Pop Idol

24-06-2005

The very first refugee entered Czechoslovakia shortly after the Velvet Revolution fifteen years ago. Since then many more have applied for asylum. Having fled their countries now they deal with boredom and loneliness in refugee camps and with the mistrust and prejudice of people around them. To raise awareness and tolerance, a new project called "Under One Sun" has been set up, organized by the refugee camp authorities themselves. They try to bring together both refugees and Czechs at cultural events, literary and also singing competitions. Jarka Halkova went along to the final of the Refugee Superstar contest in Prague's Archa Theatre.

The local rounds were followed by the Prague finals, bringing together refugees from four Czech camps.

"I have lived in Prague for nearly four years. Now we live in another camp with my brothers and parents,"

says one little girl from Palestine in very good Czech.

"The Czech Republic is great because I can do what I want to and here is peace."

Songs in a variety of languages, including Czech, Arabic, Armenian and Russian could be heard in the competition. Both children and adults took part, ranging from 4 to 66 years old. The audience was entertained by everything from Czech children's songs to a trumpet solo and a lambada. The overall winner was a young Palestinian woman who sang two songs in Arabic.

The competition was followed by a theatrical performance, called "Journey towards the Sun" with refugees playing alongside professionals, enacting their daily routine in the camps.

"Mum whispered into my ear that the war had begun and that we have to pack our suitcases. So we did, and went to the airport, but I was hungry. My dad found a restaurant and I ate a sausage. We finally arrived in America and I saw the Statue of Liberty. Then we lived happily ever after."

These are the words of a little boy recounting his dream in the performance.

The director is Jana Svobodova.

"The whole performance is done as an adventure trip, because refugee camps are mostly somewhere out in the country, deep in a forest. So we decided to bring the audience to the camp itself in buses, some of them come by car. We gather them in front of the main gate. We give red cards to women and blue cards to men, because the main theme of the performance is to show how people who love each other are divided.

"It used to be an army barracks. The audience walk through the wood and see some houses but they are separated. They disappear and can't see each other. We know from our audiences so far that it makes them nervous. At the end of course everybody meets."

But in the real world of the camps not all the refugees are reunited with their loved ones in the end. While waiting, they pass the long hours and days in a variety of ways, some even by rapping, as was the case of one of the finalists in the Archa Theatre.

24-06-2005