Art Seen

Child Refugees And Asylum Seekers In The U.K. Create Art As An Expression Of Their Struggles

"Unaccompanied child refugees seldom get the opportunity to speak for themselves.”

At times, seeing things through a children's eyes can bring more clarity. Their innocence can get to the heart of issues that jaded adults cannot.

More than 80 young people ranging in age from 15 to 19 have used art to express the lives they lead as refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in the UK.

In honor of Refugee Week, the British Red Cross launched the art exhibition All I Left Behind, All I Will Discover, which includes pieces by teens hailing from countries such as Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Albania.

The majority of these young artists fled conflict or persecution at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, while others made treacherous journeys through the Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea before arriving in the U.K.

It's hard to imagine all the things they've had to endure during their young lives, but through art, they are able to reveal some of their stories, which include memories of their homeland, the paths they had to take to find safety, and how they continue dreaming of a better future.

"The refugee crisis has led to a huge outpouring of solidarity with unaccompanied child refugees, but they seldom get the opportunity to speak for themselves," Alex Fraser, director of Refugee Support at the British Red Cross, said in a statement provided to A Plus.

"This exhibition, the result of months of hard work and dedication, offers these young people a unique platform to share their experiences with the communities they are not part of," Fraser added. "We hope it will provide a rare glimpse of what it is to be a child refugee and the pain, trauma and extraordinary resilience which characterizes so many of their stories."

The free exhibition will be held at gallery@oxo in London from June 21-25.


Check out some of the art created by the young refugees, and hear their stories to further understand what their lives are really like:

1. "A Journey By Boat"

"This drawing shows a young female refugee's experience of crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a small and overcrowded boat. She can name every single person in the picture. A large group of people huddles closely together on the deck of a ship. Most, but not all, are wearing life jackets. More than 5,000 refugees lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. The boats in which they attempt to cross are often not sea-worthy and overcrowded. Some die of exposure and dehydration during the crossing. Others suffer burns or poisoning from sitting too close to the boat's' diesel engine."

2. "Hallo Frieden"

"'Hallo Frieden' is a print inspired by the kanga, a colorful textile worn in East Africa that often has proverbs and other phrases written on it. This piece has "peace' written in languages including English, German, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, and Tigrinya, the main language spoken in Eritrea, and was created by a group of young refugees and asylum seekers who attend a British Red Cross project in Lewisham."

3. "Home"

"'Home' was created by four young refugees from Eritrea, inspired by the ceramics of Grayson Perry. It features their memories of home, including a family holding hands, and a market stall full of fruit and vegetables. Camels, mountains, a school, and a traditional Eritrean coffee ceremony are also pictured. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Eritrea in recent years due to human rights concerns, including many young people at risk of military conscription."

4. "Inshallah"

"The Mediterranean Sea crossing to Italy is often the last stage in a journey where people have endured horrific violence, discrimination, and exploitation for months, sometimes years. Most young people who have made this journey know someone who has been kidnapped, tortured, or drowned on this journey. This piece is based on one young artist's experience of traveling through the Libyan desert. It shows an overcrowded pickup truck moving through a vast and empty landscape with mountains in the background. During the journey, a young boy fell from the truck. When his fellow travelers asked the driver to stop and pick him up, the driver merely responded "Inshallah," which is Arabic for "If God wills it." The truck did not stop."

5. Life Jacket

"'Life Jacket' contains approximately thirty different patches sewn onto a life vest and was created by a group of young people now living in Kent. Each patch represents a theme that they consider important in life, such as health, dignity, family, a future, education, safety, and coexisting, and British Red Cross fundamental principles such as independence and humanity."

6. "Not Welcome"

"'Not Welcome' is a play on a doormat, a token of domesticity which is often found in homes, suggesting acceptance and welcome. This stencil was created by a young refugee from Eritrea who now lives in Gravesend, to symbolize how refugees and asylum seekers are often the subjects of negative press in the U.K. Hate crimes has also risen since the Brexit vote. This April a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Iran, who like the artist is an unaccompanied minor, was left fighting for his life after being attacked in Croydon."

7. "One Country. One World. One Planet. One Future."

"This acrylic painting is another representation of the journeys that a group of young artists living in London took to find safety in the U.K. The ladders are inspired by snakes and ladders, the board game, and illustrate an interconnected world," in which some 65 million people are thought to be displaced.

8. "Past, Present, Future"

"'Past, Present, Future' is another collaboration between a group of young refugees in London. The first is a scene that represents conflict, including buildings destroyed by shelling and cars under a helicopter. The figure in the center wears a backpack on his journey to find safety and the image on the right represents the group's hopes for the future, focussing on education — a desire shared by many of the young artists. In the absence of safe and legal routes to claim asylum, most young people who arrive in the U.K having fled conflict or persecution have taken extremely dangerous journeys. The British Red Cross has called for the government to expand schemes such as the Dubs child refugee scheme, which was halted earlier this year."

9. "Peace"

"'Peace' was also created by a group of young refugees in London, to show their hope for a world with peace, love, and no racism."

10. "Sudan"

"'Sudan" is by a young Sudanese refugee now living in Kent, showing a tree, symbolizing family and a house, symbolizing home."


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