Good Causes

Aref’s long journey from a refugee camp to Glastonbury Festival

When Aref Hussaini tells his friends he is going to perform on the Avalon Stage at the 2022 Glastonbury Festival they struggle to believe him. A typical response is, “wow, we can’t even get tickets! How is it possible you are performing there?”

Aref, 24, can’t quite believe it either. He said, “I’ve never been to the festival. I have some idea of what it’s like from watching videos and looking at photos. But when I tell people I’m going they’re just amazed.”

The Glastonbury performance is part of what is shaping up as an extraordinary summer for Aref, an Afghani refugee who fled Pakistan in 2013 to escape violent attacks on members of his minority ethnic community.

On 4th June 2022, he was one of the members of the Citizens of the World Choir – a National Lottery supported project featuring refugees and asylum seekers from almost 30 countries – who performed a song with the rock group Elbow in front of Buckingham Palace. The rendition of One Day Like This was one of the highlights of a concert featuring stars such as Rod Stewart, Queen and Alicia Keys.

Aref said, “It was phenomenal. I’ve never seen this scale of production before, so to be involved was a dream.”

Was he nervous standing in front of a live audience of 22,000 people and millions more watching at home? Aref said, “I was a little nervous when I went on stage. But it went away and I just enjoyed myself.”

His extraordinary journey from Pakistan to the gates of Buckingham Palace began in 2013. Attacks by extremist groups on The Hazaras – an Afghani ethnic group with a long history of persecution - had reached a peak. About 2500 Hazaras – including several of Aref’s classmates – were killed during a 3-year spate of shootings and suicide bombings.

Fearing for their lives, Aref and his elder brother decided to flee. Their decision was made all the more difficult because their mother, their elderly grandmother and 3 siblings decided to remain in Pakistan.

Aref travelled to Iran and Turkey before spending about 3 years living in a small tent in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He finally arrived in the UK in 2020 and has been granted refugee status.

He misses his family of course. But singing with the Citizens of the World Choir has enabled him to make close friends with people who fully understand his extraordinary journey. Aref has also secured work with the choir as a team assistant and associate photographer and he’s awaiting the results of English and Maths GCSEs.

He laughs when asked if he has always been a singer. Aref said, “No. I still don’t consider myself a singer. I just say ‘if you like singing and you feel shy you have to join a choir’. You can be in a crowd, but still enjoy singing.”

His plans for the future are straightforward. He said, “I just want to build a normal life. If it’s possible to bring my mum and siblings here that would be wonderful, but if not I will build a simple life for myself.” And keep singing with the choir, of course.

21st June 2022

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