It’s shamefully easy to forget that refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq are regular people with jobs, ambitions, toys and gadgets, love interests, favourite musicians, date nights – everyday things, the majority of which are now out of reach.
In Europe, refugees, on the whole, are seen through a particular lens. A lens that says they’re “flooding” the continent, accompanied by images of a “tide” of humans thousands of miles deep into a journey with no guarantees. A lens that dehumanises.
The British Red Cross identifies this as one of the problems for refugees who find themselves in Britain and is hoping to change that through a music project, The Long Road. It sees real stories being told by a host of musicians – including Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin – and they’ve commissioned a mural in Camden to go along with it.
The mural, created by street artist Pang, features the face and story of Ayman Hirh, a Syrian refugee who was helped by the Red Cross.
Ayman, who was a successful businessman in Syria before having to flee with his wife and two young sons, said: “It has been great to meet Pang and share my story through this street art mural and to be involved in the project as a whole.
“I hope that my experience and the album will encourage people to think about the reasons people like me are forced to leave home before they judge us.”
His story, which following the widespread killing of civilians – including many of his friends – resulted in him being granted leave to remain in the UK for five years, also became the subject a track by vocalist-prodicer Kindness.
Pang seemed to perceive the same problems as the Red Cross, saying: “I hope that it spreads the message that refugees are all individuals, like you and me, who have no choice other than to seek sanctuary in the country that they arrive.
“By reading about people’s individual stories, we can learn something about the collective experience of being a refugee. It’s more important now than ever that the British people are accommodating to refugees as their numbers increase over the years to come.”
Since the breakout of civil war in March 2011, an estimated nine million Syrians have fled their homes – the majority to neighbouring countries in the Middle East and North Africa, or within Syria itself.
Despite the fact it is countries experiencing their own internal problems taking in the majority of refugees, many in Europe feel the continent is being engulfed – a misconception aided by misleading articles, preconceived prejudices and a huge focus on the consequences of the Syrian conflict, by both the media and governments, instead of the reasons for it.
Just above 10% of those who’ve been forced from Syria have sought shelter in Europe, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the response to a call from the organisation for 130,000 resettlement spots for refugees between 2013 and 2016 has been largely indifferent.
If the governments of Europe do fulfil their various promises to help, more projects like this one from the Red Cross may become necessary.