The Monthly interviews Darren Ferguson CEO of Beyond Skin about the organisation’s work in Afghanistan

What is the project you are working on with women and girls in Afghanistan?

The project we were working on was with young girls in Northern Ireland paired with afghan women who were part of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra. That was part of the Afghan National Institute of Music which is based in Kabul. We had produced a few music videos through that project, they were collaborations between the young women here and in Afghanistan, and we were nominated for a National Lottery Project of the Year Award.

That was a difficult project even before the present situation. There were all sorts of difficulties regarding the laws in Afghanistan. Two days after International Women’s Day there was a new law banning women and girls from singing, and it was unclear whether or not women and girls could be part of our music programme. But the girls from Norther Ireland decided to make sure the project and the song associated with it would go ahead.

What impact that might have was of great concern, and we had to check with the people we were working with in Kabul regarding whether there would be situations arise where women and girls who had participated in the project might become targets for the Taliban.

The video was produced and that video played a role in having the ban lifted. That tells you that the actions of some teenage girls in Northern Ireland can make a huge difference in people’s lives elsewhere.

What is the situation now?

Since the fall of Kabul and the takeover by the Taliban of Afghanistan, things have shifted dramatically. Our focus is now a campaign to protect Afghan Musicians and the implementation of a Musicians/Artists at Risk Resettlement Scheme in Northern Ireland. The Taliban want to outlaw music and they are targeting musicians. We are lobbying to bring a number of musicians and their families to Northern Ireland.

We have already had a situation where a number of musicians from the Afghan National Institute of Music had got on buses to go to Kabul Airport, about 250 people, they were kept at the airport for 72 hours. It was a very stressful and difficult experience, where they were surrounded by the Taliban military, and even though the people could see the plane, and they were close to leaving, at the very last minute the Taliban refused them the right to leave. Very recently though welcomed good news as over 100 student musicians have made it to Portugal to be resettled there.

The International Coordination for Afghan Musicians, which we are a part of are doing great work regarding identifying musicians/artists at risk, lobbying Governments for action and resettlement plans. We are also trying to help with keeping people safe, provide what we can to meet emergency needs until we find a way to allow them to leave. Beyond Skin have also partnered with Trillion Impact / Fundsurfer to set up the Consortium for Afghan Refugee Displacement (CARP). Sharing of on the ground resources and safety plans for routes to resettlement.

You are aiming to get musicians brought here to Northern Ireland?

We have had great support from all the political parties locally, right across the board, and we think that a resettlement scheme should be able to be implemented. There are a number of good reasons for the scheme, that these musicians could find work in our growing arts and culture sector, particularly in the Creative Industries. We are asking organisations/businesses to contact us if interested in hosting a placement/scholarship/apprenticeship for Afghan Musician/Artist. Many have excellent skills is digital production.  Their arrival would also be part of alleviating anti-immigrant sentiment, part of shifting ideas regarding racism. The game changer will be on arrival in Northern Ireland from Afghanistan musicians/artists and immediate families will be hosted hosted by families/individuals as they open up their homes for a short period as part of the first phase. We think the sentiment is there to help Afghan refugees generally and these musicians in particular.

The devolved institutions look like they have the power to actually make decisions regarding bringing the families here. It is also important that we have a particular attitude towards music and culture here as part of our peace process

So at this point we are very hopeful that we can facilitate a campaign that will get people out of Afghanistan and brought to Northern Ireland. There is a tremendous amount of work going on and I think we have a real chance of success.

There are a lot of technical things still to be done, and Beyond Skin is able to help with that as well, so we will see how this process works out, but we are, as I have said, very hopeful.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.