The hidden voices of migrants and refugees are to be heard in a ground-breaking new radio play developed by one of Scotland’s largest universities.  

Launched today on World Refugee Day, the play takes audiences on an unpredictable creative journey into the lives of people fleeing persecution or seeking a better life, and delves into the inequalities they face. 

‘Afamba apota’ - which means the journey is unpredictable in the Zimbabwean language Shona –has been created by the innovative minds of University of Glasgow researchers to bring to life key findings from the UK's Migration for Development and Equality (MIDEQ) Hub, and the research of the University’s UNESCO Chair on Refugee Integration through Education, Language and Arts team. 

But rather than dry research, listeners hear from a colourful cast of characters populating the ‘migration corridor’ under the direction of documentary maker Paul Lamont. 

The corridor isn’t a place, but an imaginative construct to describe the statelessness, displacement and disassociation inhabited by migrants across the world as they make their way from one refuge to another.  

Migrants arrive on British shoresMigrants arrive on British shores (Image: PA)

Written by the University’s artist in resident and UNESCO RILA researcher Tawona Sitholé, the play uses soundscapes and overlapping voices and narratives, which struggle to escape the format devised by the documentary maker.  

Evocative soundscapes immerse audiences in thought-provoking stories that illuminate human realities often obscured by statistics and policies. 

But despite the unusual format and experimental take on the traditional play, listeners have been enthralled and found the stories to be endlessly quotable.  

Tawona Sitholé, who is a poet, playwright, mbira musician and educator, said: "We are rethinking what constitutes research and education by drawing on the creative arts like poetry, music and theatre.” 

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He added: “When the word ‘education is mentioned, what comes to mind? Research, academia or University? What place to the creative arts – poerty, music, dance – have in the space of education?  

“In recognition of World Refugee week, I’m excited to share out new radio play ‘Afamba Apota’, meaning ‘the journey is unpredictable’ in the Zimbabwean language Shona. 

“Side-stepping traditional formats to explore migration through a multi-sensory experience, listeners meet a colourful cast of characters populating the ‘migration corridor’.  

“Co-directed by myself, writer and producer Mariem Omari and award-winning sound designer Kevin Murray, this radio play allows us to share important lessons about migration in an engaging way that is accessible to all.” 

The radio drama features the voices of MIDEQ researchers as well as artists, poets and migrants sharing their perspectives. 

Professor Alison Phipps, Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies and the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, said: “Through creative works like Afamba apota, we can bring research to life.  

“The play is memorable. People quote lines to each other because its funny, and because it’s true. This is how art – and especially performance - has the power to change the stale and often stuck-in-the-mud ways research and policy-making talks bout migration. 

“Instead, as Tawona’s play shows, migration is a multilingual, often hilarious adventure into known, unknown, absurd and beautiful ways of finding humanity.  

“The work with the Migration, Inequality and Development Hub – MiDEQ – has enabled over 100 researchers to begin to use the arts to understand, animate and augment the way they research migration and to bring their stories to life.” 

Many arriving in the UK face an uncertain future Many arriving in the UK face an uncertain future (Image: PA)

Rachel Sandison, the University of Glasgow’s Sanctury Champion and Deputy Vice Chancellor for External Engagement, said: “The University of Glasgow is proud to launch this incredibly impactful and significant play on World Refugee Day. As a University of Sanctuary, we are committed to being an inclusive and welcoming institution which supports those who have been displaced from their homes. 

“Through world-leading research by colleagues, including our UNESCO Rila team, we are finding innovate ways, like Tawona Sitholé’s Afamba apota play, to bring to life the human stories and realities behind migration that are often obscured by statistics and policies.  

“We hope that this radio play will inspire empathy, understanding, and simple acts of kindness towards those seeking sanctuary, who are trying to rebuild their lives in a new home.” 

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The radio play is launched as the University of Glasgow confirmed this week that the UNESCO RILA Chair has been renewed.  

The Chair, initially established in 2016 as the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, has been expanded to encompass education, reflecting Professor Alison Phipps and her team’s vital role in educating on the issues faced by refugees and migrants.  

The renewed Chair will now be officially known as the UNESCO Chair on Refugee Integration through Education, Language, and Arts, while retaining its popular acronym RILA.