Written by Smrti Krishnanunni
Early this year, Migration and Asylum Project (MAP), a Delhi-based refugee law centre that works for forced migrants and refugees, organised an exhibition in Delhi, called “Passage to Asylum”, that presented an immersive experience of what a refugee faces in a new country. It not only left one unsettled, but drove home the idea of loss, confusion and uncertainty. With the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), MAP is back to raise awareness on World Refugee Day that falls on June 20.
“An exhibition of Refugee Art and Photographs” will be showcased at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi. “The photographs, taken by students and amateurs, present the daily life of refugees in India. You’ll see children and mothers, people working, studying, walking the streets. The idea is to humanise them because often they are perceived as strangers. We want to show that they are people like you and me,” says Ipshita Sengupta of UNHCR.
The photographs of refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, Iraq and Africa tell of their untold journeys, of sexual and gender violence, of being separated from parents and children, of death and extreme trauma. “We have seen single mothers travel with their children, often unable to support themselves in new environments. Then there are also instances when qualified professionals such as doctors, activists, engineers come to the country and can’t find jobs that are at par with their expertise. They have to work as daily wage earners or waiters and that results in a loss of dignity for them,” says Sengupta.
On June 15, UNHCR had organised an awareness programme at Lodhi Garden, Delhi, as part of the their “2 Billion Kilometers to Safety” campaign to show solidarity with families torn apart by war and violence and to honour the experiences and resilience of refugees. The campaign urged people to walk, run or cycle to achieve a cumulative total of two billion kilometres, the distance that refugees are forced to flee every year from their homes to reach the first point of safety, according to UNHCR’s estimates.
“The choice of Lodhi Garden as a place of historicity has served our purpose well considering the number of people who saw our campaign. Such initiatives help address misconceptions about refugees and propagate the idea of aid in any form, through donation or empathy,” says Sengupta.
The refugee crisis is one of the most pertinent situations, with nearly 68.5 million people displaced from their homes. Over half of them women and children, according to the Global Trends report published by UNHCR in June 2018. The lack of refugee laws in the country and a clear system in place denies asylum seekers the access to basic amenities such as health and education. Besides that, they carry the burden of trauma without any psycho-social assistance.
This exhibition over two days will also feature crafts by Afghani women, and food from Palestine, Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia. “There is hope. Some of the asylum seekers have never experienced freedom in their own countries. Coming to India has given them an opportunity to explore their skills and use it to support themselves and contribute to the economy,” says Sengupta.