Refugee picnic a 'celebration of diversity'

The refugee picnic was held at Ulidia playing fields in Belfast
The Great Refugee Week Picnic has been running since 2017 [BBC]

A picnic has been held in south Belfast to welcome refugees and asylum seekers as part of Refugee Week.

The Great Refugee Week Picnic has been running since 2017.

It was organised by Belfast City of Sanctuary.

The group was set up to make Belfast a welcoming environment for refugees, asylum-seekers and new communities.

This year's theme was about home and Belfast and Northern Ireland being "home".

Refugees gathered in the Ulidia playing fields to celebrate and showcase their culture through music and food.

'A city of sanctuary'

Man smiling with crowds of people behind
Mehrshad Esfandiari said the event was a "celebration of diversity" [BBC]

Mehrshad Esfandiari is chairperson of Belfast City of Sanctuary and has been involved with the group since 2018.

He said the picnic was a "celebration of diversity".

Mehrshad said he came to Belfast as a refugee but found it to be a "city of sanctuary".

He said he found the people in Belfast and Northern Ireland "lovely and welcoming".

"We just wanted that for newcomers to feel that and to to see how nice people are here," he said.

'Every tribe and culture is unique'

Tiwa Olatunbosun is a volunteer at City of Sanctuary.

She is originally from Nigeria and came to Belfast four years ago.

It is the third year she has attended the event and said it was getting "bigger and bigger" every year.

"I really enjoy being part of the community, giving back to the community and also getting to meet new people from different communities as well.

Tiwa Olatunbosun smiling at camera
Tiwa Olatunbosun is originally from Nigeria and came to Belfast four years ago [BBC]

"It feels really amazing because it feels like going to different countries, I get to have a taste of different meals from different countries, I get to meet different people and I see things that are different to mine."

She added: "Every tribe and culture is unique."

Tiwa arrived with her family to Belfast during lockdown so did not get a chance to meet with people face-to-face and her interactions were limited to zoom calls.

"As soon as the country opened up I was glad to be a part of the community. It's been amazing."

She said the only downside to living in Belfast was "four weathers in a day".

"It took some getting used to the cold but I'm getting there," she joked.

Simaz Ali and Romav Ali
Simaz Ali and Romav Ali both recently became volunteers for City of Sanctuary [BBC]

Romav Ali and Simaz Ali have both attended the refugee picnic for many years and recently became volunteers for City of Sanctuary.

Romaz said she was originally from Syria.

"I'm Syrian-Kurdish and I moved here in 2016," she said.

"I love attending the picnics and I noticed the volunteers helping out and doing good and I felt it was part of me and I had to do it.

"When I first came here I felt I was going to be the only refugee in my school, in my class but as more people started coming here, it's really amazing to see all the diversity and the different nationalities. "

Wide view of the playing grounds where refugee picnic held
The event has been running for a number of years [BBC]

Simaz Ali said the event was a chance for those attending to experience food from around the world.

"We have a bakery business and we wanted to share the sweets and deserts that we have from our own culture so we brought baklava, many different types," she said.

"When you go to Turkey for vacation, you can see many different types. We brought it here to share with all the different people here, to show them and teach them about our culture and our diversity.

"As an immigrant I think it's really useful to learn about other peoples' culture and background."