From deserts to prisons, refugee actors recall 'heroic' journeys to UK

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 9 November 2018 09:00 GMT

Tewodros Aregawe (second L) and other members of Phosphoros Theatre are pictured during rehearsals at a London theatre for "Pizza Shop Heroes", a play about refugee journeys. Photo taken October 13, 2018. Photo courtesy Phosphoros Theatre/Charlie Ensor

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"Some people have a negative attitude. They have to know how hard the journey was. If they knew that, they would at least treat refugees in a nice way."

By Emma Batha

LONDON, Nov 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a teenager, Eritrean refugee Tewodros Aregawe journeyed across the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea where he saw friends die, leaving him so traumatised by the time he reached Britain that even the sight of water could trigger flashbacks.

On Friday, Aregawe - who arrived in 2015 with little English - will take to the stage in London with other young refugees and asylum seekers to recall their epic journeys in a play aimed at overturning perceptions of refugees as victims.

Now 21, Aregawe is a member of Phosphoros Theatre which is believed to be one of only two refugee theatre groups in Britain, and the only one comprised of refugees who arrived as unaccompanied minors.

Playwright Dawn Harrison, a scriptwriter on some of Britain's most popular television shows, founded the company in 2015 with her daughter Kate Duffy, a former refugee caseworker.

In "Pizza Shop Heroes", four young men working a shift in a food outlet discuss how they ended up in Britain, what they have learnt along the way and their future hopes.

While the pizza shop is fictitious, the stories the actors tell are their own.

They all made their journeys as children. One was detained in Libya, another in Greece, and three spent time in the Calais Jungle, a vast camp in the north of France disbanded in 2016.

The play covers Europe's colonial past, the current refugee and migrant crisis and the protracted asylum process in Britain.

"Every refugee has a reason to leave their own country - no one would be here if their country was safe," Aregawe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of Friday's opening night in London.

"Some people have a negative attitude. They have to know how hard the journey was. If they knew that, they would at least treat refugees in a nice way."

Aregawe, who works in construction but hopes to become a professional actor and playwright, said telling his story on stage was cathartic.

"I have lost so many friends on the sea next to me so I have really bad flashbacks ... (but) if I keep my pain inside it's going to be for the rest of my life," he said.

"The play is a great platform to express my feelings. (But) we don't want the audience to feel sorry for us. Refugees are normal people. The point is we all are human at the end of the day."

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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