International Migrants’ Day: Diverse stories of refugees' struggle captured in one image

Image aims to ‘reshape narrative and counter negative rhetoric’

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi, fourth from left, and 10 other inspirational refugees who have joined forces with charity Migrant Help to reframe public perceptions as the world marks International Migrants' Day. PA
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One is a DJ from Ethiopia, another a graffiti artist and chef from Afghanistan. They sit alongside a budding baker from Ukraine and a female comedian from Iran.

In conjunction with International Migrants’ Day, the photograph was unveiled to highlight their struggles and to shift the narrative surrounding refugees.

The image, central to the "Refugees Reframed" campaign, features 11 refugees including comedian Shappi Khorsandi.

It highlights the diverse journeys and resilience of those forced to flee their homelands.

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Among those who appeared in the photo is a Pakistani immigrant who arrived in the UK in 2007. Usman Khalid is the founder of Haven Coffee, launched in 2019 to bring pop-up coffee shops to London's workspaces and events.

Overcoming significant challenges, including detention, Mr Khalid now uses his business to help refugees in gaining employment and community integration.

DJ Yordi, originally from Eritrea and raised in Ethiopia, has supported stars such as Rihanna and Drake.

His journey to Northern Ireland involved crossing several countries, and since his arrival, he has received support from the local community and Migrant Help.

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Ilir Hoti is the Head of Operations at Clear Voice, a role he has held since 2014. Before joining Clear Voice, Hoti worked in asylum services and was an interpreter.

Madhavi Vadera, who was forced to leave Uganda in the 1970s, is now the chairwoman of the board of trustees at Migrant Help. Her family's journey began with her grandfather migrating from India to Uganda, where they established a successful business.

However, the expulsion of Indians under Idi Amin's regime in 1973 led her family to move to the UK and then to India. Ms Madhavi's dedication to education and overcoming adversity led her to a successful career in accounting.

Inspired by her personal experiences and her son's challenges with dyspraxia, she became involved in charitable work, including setting up the Lifelines foundation and retraining as a psychotherapist specialising in child psychotherapy for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.

Iranian comedian takes part in the campaign

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi shared her personal experience as a refugee, emphasising its involuntary nature. “No one chooses to be a refugee,” she said.

She recalled the emotional and practical challenges faced by her family as they adjusted to life in the UK, struggling with language barriers and cultural differences.

Her father Hadi Khorsandi is an esteemed Iranian satirist and poet.

His satirical work, which critiqued the political and social climate of Iran, became particularly contentious during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The revolution resulted in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of the Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Due to his critical stance against the new regime, Mr Khorsandi faced threats to his life, which led him to seek refuge in the UK with his family, including his daughter Shappi, who was a child at the time.

The experience of being exiles has influenced much of Shappi Khorsandi's own work as a comedian and writer, as she addresses themes of displacement and cultural identity.

Describing her involvement in the photograph as a “privilege”, Ms Khorsandi expressed hope that the image would contribute to “rewriting the refugee story”.

Her goal is to foster a world that recognises the courage and contributions of all people rebuilding their lives in new lands and languages.

Ms Vadera, chair of the board of trustees at Migrant Help, added her perspective, having sought asylum in the UK.

“As someone who sought asylum in the UK from Uganda as a child, this image is a personal testament to the strength that emerges from adversity," she said.

“At Migrant Help, we believe this photograph serves as a powerful reminder that refugees are not mere statistics but people with dreams, talents and the resilience to rebuild their stolen lives.”

Updated: December 19, 2023, 5:46 AM