By Alex Ririe, Managing Partner - Strategic Development at Coley Porter Bell.
The 18th December is International Migrants Day. Organised by the UN’s International Organization for Migration, it aims to bring the international community together to remember the refugees and migrants who have tragically lost their lives this year, and to try to reframe the narrative from one of statistics to stories of real people: Each person has a name, a story and left their homelands seeking better opportunities and safety for themselves and their families - aspirations that all of us strive for.
Similarly, when Coley Porter Bell worked with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) earlier this year on its ‘I Am A Refugee’ campaign, the objective was to bring real refugee stories to life and to try to counter some of the rhetoric and misinformation about migrants. The campaign aimed to show the positive impact refugees in particular can have on the host countries that grant them refuge.
Taking inspiration from something very ‘establishment’ and British – the iconic blue English Heritage plaques that recognise historically important people that have lived in Britain – Coley Porter Bell ‘twisted’ the concept to surprise and challenge assumptions about refugees and Britishness. For example, there is nothing more British than Marks & Spencer, yet it was founded by a refugee.
A number of these heritage-style plaques were erected on places of significance for influential refugees who settled and have contributed to life in the UK including Rita Ora, Judith Kerr (author of Mog) and Dame Stephanie Shirley (computer pioneer and philanthropist). St. Paul's Cathedral served as a space for a pop-up exhibition featuring many more ‘ordinary’ refugees who have settled in Britain.
Coley Porter Bell also created an educational website http://www.iamarefugee.net/ which allows you to show your support for refugees by creating your own ‘I Support Refugees’ virtual plaque, as well as highlighting individual stories. Take Gulwali Passarlay for example, he was an unaccompanied child refugee fleeing Afghanistan and was smuggled to Britain when he was just 12 years old – he’s now an author and public speaker whose credits include TEDx . Or actor Andrew Sachs, famous for his much-loved character Manuel in Fawlty Towers. His family fled Nazi Germany in 1938. Or social entrepreneur Melody Hossaini whose family fled Iran when she was just three years old. Theirs are just some of the stories that demonstrate both the hardships that migrants and refugees have to endure, but also the incredible contributions that they can make to society when given the opportunity.
So on International Migrants Day when the world remembers those who have lost their lives striving for more for themselves and their families, why not take 30 seconds to create your own ‘I Support Refugees’ plaque? At a time when compassion and empathy seem to be in short supply, it’s a small but significant gesture. Don’t we all deserve the chance to build a safer, better life?