October 16, 2017

"When you tell an individual story, the story of one refugee, people respond"

Melissa Fleming of UNHCR with Syrian refugee Doaa Al Zamel, whose story she has told in a new book

Photo credit: UNHCR / Michael Schoeppl

In an episode of her Better Angels podcast focusing on refugees, Theirworld President Sarah Brown talks to Lord Alf Dubs, Gulwali Passarlay, Melissa Fleming and David Morrissey.

Everyone wants a better life. It's human nature. 

So why are refugees - many of whom have made perilous journeys not just to escape from poverty but from terrible danger - often feared rather than welcomed?

In the latest episode of the Better Angels podcast series, Theirworld President Sarah Brown and her guests look at the courage and humanity of the individuals behind the headlines.

She talks to Lord Alf Dubs, Gulwali Passarlay, Melissa Fleming and David Morrissey about the representation of refugees, in the first of several episodes that will focus on aspects of the refugee experience.

Listen to the full episode here

Melissa Fleming is head of communications at the UN refugee agency UNHCR. She is also the author of A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea, the story of Syrian refugee Doaa Al Zamel, who in 2015 set sail for Europe in a fishing boat. It is now being made into a film by Steven Spielberg.

She says: “There is a saying that statistics are human beings with the tears dried off - and I really believe that.

"When you tell an individual story - the story of one - people respond. Most people when they hear what refugees go through, they ask the question: how did they survive that and how are they picking up the pieces of their lives?

“Storytelling that is personal is important.”

Gulwali Passarlay and his brother fled from Afghanistan to Europe

Photo credit: Gulwali Passarlay

Gulwali Passarlay arrived in Britain as an Afghan child refugee after a 12-month journey. He tells Sarah about his mother sending him away when the Taliban wanted to recruit him and adds: “She saved my life but she also lost me.”

Now campaigning on behalf of other refugees, he talks about people dying while making similar journeys to Europe.

“To me they are not numbers, they are human beings with dreams and ideas, hopes and ambitions. I was one of those people,” he says.

Gulwali says he is grateful for what the UK has done for him - but insists that more could be done to help other refugees fleeing from violence and persecution.

David Morrissey visits Za'atari refugee camp in Lebanon

Photo credit: UNHCR / Lathigra

David Morrissey is an actor, director and producer and an ambassador for UNHCR. He uses his high profile from TV shows like The Walking Dead to support refugees and other marginalised communities.

“People are overwhelmed by the task in front of us all," he says. 

"But you see great humanity - people who have come through terrible circumstances, you see them as individuals not just as a mass of people. You connect with them and empathise with them."

Lord Alf Dubs says young refugees need to feel part of the community they join

Photo credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

Lord Dubs is a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. Last year he sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Act to offer unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain. 

At the age of six he made a similar journey - leaving his home in Prague and coming to Britain with other Jewish children taken to safety from the Nazis.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have arrived in Europe from conflict-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan.

“They’ve come on long and dangerous journeys," said Lord Dubs. "They are young, they are frightened and they’re hoping for better lives.

“They need to feel part of the community they have joined... It’s important when people come here that we give them the opportunities and harness the potential. 

“I don’t want to live in a world where we neglect our vulnerable fellow human beings.”

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