Basel Zaraa is a Palestinian artist, who was born in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria. He came to the UK in 2010 to join his then new English wife, whom he had married in Yarmouk. He is a spoken word and stencil graffiti artist and a musician who has collaborated with international artists, such as Akala, Palestinian hip-hop group Katibeh Khamseh and Tania El Khoury.
Basel’s collaborations with Tania El Khoury in the ‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’ project, and its second iteration ‘As Far As Isolation Goes’, focused on single audience participation, whereby themes of exile, the journey of refugees and the mental and physical health of refugees in the UK were explored through the fusion of intimate touch, music and performance. The projects were performed internationally at over 30 arts festivals and major cultural institutions.
Basel was a musician in PsycheDELIGHT’s ‘Borderline’ satire about the Calaiscamp and is a member of Alleyway Radical Theatre, which creates work on social justice themes combining shadow theatre and hip hop.
He was commissioned by Counterpoints Arts to collaborate with another Palestinian hip hop musician Tarreq Jazzar, Mozambican rapper Mohammed Yahya, producer Kensaye and the eminent British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey. The artists produced an original track ‘Escape From Yarl’s Wood’ which was based on real life experiences of women detainees in the notorious detention centre Yarl’s Wood. The track was performed as part of Refugee Week 2018 programme and to support ‘These Walls Must Fall’ anti-detention movement.
Before the outbreak of the protracted Syrian civil war in 2011, the Yarmouk camp was home to around 160,000 Palestinian refugees. By 2014, the government siege had left the refugee camp with no piped water, no electricity for months and no access to food. By 2018, shelling and the impacts of the siege had dwindled the population of Yarmouk to a mere 6000 and UNRWA had been unable to provide any assistance to the camp since 2015. Intensified fighting in the region displaced a further 5000 Palestinians in a matter of days in 2018; leaving only 1200 residents inside Yarmouk.
During the 2010 General Election campaign, the Conservative government pledged to bring ‘net migration’ down from ‘the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands’. This ‘hostile environment’ introduced stricter policies for admitting non-EU students, family members and workers. Since then, eligibility criteria for work and family visas have become more selective and students work rights have been constrained further. An analysis of 20 daily and Sunday newspapers over 2010-2012 found that, by far the most common descriptor of immigrants across all newspaper types was illegal’ and the most common description of asylum seekers was ‘failed’ (Migration Observatory, 2013).