An inspiration for those who want to change the world with photography and storytelling, starting right in your own backyard.
Since mid-2015, war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have forced record numbers to flee their homes, fueling Europe’s largest refugee and migrant crisis since World War II. In these turbulent times, dehumanization of strangers and xenophobic attitudes are on the rise. I am not a refugee, a citizen project in Luxembourg, is reminding us that being a refugee is just a status, not an identity.
Text: Frédérique Buck (I am not a refugee – Luxembourg – founder) | Photos: Frédérique Buck and Mike Zenari
In the last two years, approximately 1.5 million people originating from the Middle East and Africa have headed to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea, triggering disputes between countries over how to handle this influx of immigrants. Populist groups across Europe have repeatedly abused the crisis to weaken the EU and inflame tensions against immigrants. Like many citizens in Europe, I am appalled by the “fortress approach” of some European countries. Despite extreme (and occasionally inhumane) measures, migration has not stopped. In 2016, at least 3,800 refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe, making 2016 the deadliest year on record, according to the UN refugee agency. Today, 1 in every 113 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. This number will grow. We have to face this reality.
Considering migration as an anomaly or a threat will not bring us anywhere. Migration is what we make out of it. We have to get used to the idea that more people will want to enter Europe – and it is in our best interest to find a human way to deal with it.
Launched in May 2016, I am not a refugee is a digital platform, an awareness-raising media campaign and a citizen initiative combining storytelling, journalistic research, interviews, photography and design. I am not a refugee intends to humanise the discussions about refugees; to allow refugees to speak for themselves; and to fight growing populism, fears, stereotypes and prejudice.
A lot has been said and written about the refugees. Still, today refugees are millions of anonymous people. It’s as though the word refugee had wiped out all their identity and previous life. Being a refugee is a status, not an identity. The aim of the website is to connect the refugees to the local population.
How? By sharing stories. Humans connect with humans wherever they are from when stories get personal, intimate. After all, we’re all just humans. Local residents are given the possibility to meet the refugees, contact them by mail, open their world to them, help them to integrate, find work, a place to stay and support them to write a new story in a new country. Amazing things happen when people connect.
Policy and administration processes address refugees as a homogenized group. Refugees, however, are individuals with their own complex stories.
In Luxembourg there has been a strong solidarity from some of the local population to welcome the refugees that have been taken in. Now we need to integrate the refugees and that requires more than offering clothes or donating money to charities. In our rich countries, people are used to solve their “issues” by spending money. But this attitude will not be enough for a solid, healthy integration on long term. We Europeans will have to get out of our comfort zone and personally connect to the refugees.
We believe new technologies and media have a role to play in that process. This project aims to promote awareness and understanding of refugees by showing them in a different, a personal light. We think people power is key to tackle many social and environmental issues. We hope locals will contact and meet the refugees.
To make sure it happens in the right way, we have to triumph over the general apathy, become indignant, refuse to take no for an answer, be agile and be ready for a change.