Dance For Refuge: uniting DJs and dancers in London to support the migrant crisis

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Last month, the United Nations published figures estimating that the number of refugees worldwide had reached an all-time high of 65 million. The current refugee crisis is one of the worst humanitarian disasters since the end of the Second World War and, in Europe, while the response from political leaders has been largely underwhelming, there has been an encouragingly large movement of people desperate to help those fleeing violence and destruction. One such collective is Dance For Refuge (DFR), who aim to raise awareness and funds for those in need by galvanising London DJs, dancers and music heads. We spoke to co-founders Max Sztyber and Tim Hinson to find out more about the worthy cause.

With summer dwindling back in 2015, as the need for food, tents, and warm clothes in the Calais ‘Jungle’ seemed more desperate than ever, the front pages were awash with images and stories of the lives the Mediterranean Sea had claimed. In the first 100 days of their rescue operations in the region, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rescued and treated over 11,000 people at risk of drowning.

K15 and Andrew Ashong at Dance For Refuge, Sep 2015)

K15 and Andrew Ashong at Dance For Refuge, Sep 2015

The narrative in the press had changed from one of scepticism to sympathy, and this had a knock-on effect with many in the UK who felt compelled to help. Sztyber looks back on that time as the catalyst to setting up DFR. It was a “truly desperate situation”, he recalls, and after seeing a number of friends helping out in Calais and on the beaches of Greece, “we asked ourselves what we could do to help”.

After enlisting a few friends, DFR was born in September 2015. Initially planned as a one-off fundraiser and donation drop, Laszlo Dancehall (Leon Vynehall and A1B), Dark Sky, K15 and Alexander Nut all came down to Peckham’s Bussey Building, and helped raise over £2,500 for MSF. “We were shocked by the reception”, co-founder Tim Hinson recalls, not just by the money raised, but by the fact that countless sleeping bags, supplies and clothes were donated to send over to Calais. Considering the lineup was “cobbled together” using links to artists and agents, it was an impressive feat.

Nearly a year on, the crisis has progressed but not improved. Libya continues to be crippled by civil war and the mass forced migration shows no sign of subsiding. The EU-Turkey deal has stemmed the flow of refugees across the Aegean Sea but, just last week, 880 refugees and migrants died off the Libyan coast attempting to reach Europe. While sea crossings are becoming rarer, the alternative route by land isn’t much safer. With many European countries suffering terrorist attacks and political crises of their own, anti-immigration agendas and nationalistic sentiments have been gathering momentum, with borders closing and refugees becoming old news.

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Laszlo Dancehall at Dance For Refuge, Sep 2015

This was the main driving force for DFR to continue after their initial success. Rather than getting too carried away though, the plan was one of consolidation, “building from the ground up into a more sustainable platform”, as Hinson explained. For their second party, DFR moves to Deptford for an all day party at Wünderlust this Saturday. As with the first, the music policy “revolves around eclecticism”, indicative of how an open-minded attitude isn’t just refined to their charitable intentions. As Sztyber explains, DFR aims to serve as an “open and inclusive forum”, as well as a fundraiser. While stopping short of having an official stance, they hope their efforts help the crisis “stay on the table, even if its visibility continues to diminish”.

With much of Britain’s media focused on domestic political concerns in recent weeks, the plight of refugees has not doubt dropped down – or even off – the agenda compared to just six months ago. Now though, as another harsh winter beckons, the need for discussion, forward-planning and pre-emptive action is greater than ever. Dance For Refuge may not be solving the refugee crisis, but if it maintains awareness in a city full of distractions, it can only be a good thing.

Dance For Refuge takes place on 23rd July, joined by Medlar, DJ Sonikku, Z Lovecraf, Stamp The Wax DJs, No Bad Days and many more. Entry is free but donations are very welcome and go straight to Help Refugees.

Co-written by Hugo Realfonzo.

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