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Care to share your #refugenes? Open in fullscreen

Robert Cusack

Care to share your #refugenes?

A grassroots charity is trying to make a 'badge of honour' of being a refugee

Date of publication: 5 September, 2016

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A new social campaign to change the public perception of refugees has gone viral in the UK, on the back of a new celebrity video discussing refugee backgrounds.
An inspiring campaign has been launched to help change people's perspectives on refugees.

UK charity, Help Refugees, released a video on Sunday showcasing twelve celebrities discussing their own families' stories of refugee status.

The video quickly attracted attention on social media, with many adding their own stories of families fleeing persecution.

Speaking about the campaign, Lliana Bird, co-founder of Help Refugees, told The New Arab: "We wanted to change people's preconditioned ideas about who refugees are.

"All sorts of different people have come forward to talk about their refugenes and we want people to wear that title as a badge of honour."

The term 'refugenes', a fusion of the words 'refugee' and 'genes', came when Lliana told her friend about her grandmother's flight from Russia aged 11, to which her friend replied "So, you've got refugenes".

From this conversation, Lliana started to ask others to share their families' refugee stories and the idea snow-balled.

"I started reaching out to a number of celebrities and they were all eager to get on board, it was a wonderful surprise," Lliana said.

"The video took nine months of my life since its first inception but it's been so wonderful seeing the hashtag take hold."

The video features twelve celebrities from a number of different backgrounds, including Jamie Cullum, Rita Ora, Ben Elton, Neil Gaiman, and architect of the Millenium Dome, Richard Rogers. Other contributors include Bella Freud, Shappi Khorsandi, Elisa Sednaoui-Dellal, Harry Jacobi and Naomi Shimada.

As a result of the video, many different people have joined in on the conversation, sharing their own family experiences as refugees:

Some commenters had a more distant experience:

While others had experienced refugee status in their own lifetime:

The background work

Help Refugees came out of a group of individuals who wanted to deliver food and aid to the 'Jungle', the make-shift, informal refugee camp located near the French port in Calais.

"My friends intended to get together a van to go to Calais, filled with donations from people we knew," Lliana said.

"When we got there though, we realised there was no help being given out from NGOs or the government – so we stayed and set up an informal warehouse.

"We received thousands of pounds of aid every day – huge donations, honestly – and we ended up spiralling out as an organisation into 
27 different camps across Europe and the Middle East."

Most recently, Help Refugees has been helping to support the White Helmets – a group of volunteers who carry out search and rescue operations inside rebel-held bombarded territories in Syria – having sent over two ambulances in February 2016. One of these ambulances was destroyed in an airstrike in August, however the team are currently working to deliver a new ambulance soon.

What's next?

"We want the hashtag to take on a life of its own," said Lliana.

"I hope that people can share their own comments or videos online – whether by YouTube, Instagram or whatever – in order to help create a shift in consciousness.

"Just because someone is a refugee, it doesn't mean they don’t have something to offer British society.

"Most refugees are desperate to work. We want people to think of refugees as less as a burden and more of an asset to society."

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