More than 40 high profile UNHCR supporters rallied over the past week to spread awareness around the globe about World Refugee Day and the plight of the forcibly displaced.
Inspired by the “Stories” theme of World Refugee Day, they shared personal testimony, family stories and special messages to highlight the challenges faced by refugees, but also their courage and resilience.
In the week that UNHCR reported that global forced displacement had passed the 50 million mark for the first time since World War II, celebrities shone a spotlight on the individual stories behind the statistics, using traditional and social media to spread the World Refugee Day message.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie marked WRD by visiting the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in northern Thailand. Goodwill ambassadors (GWA) Alek Wek and Khaled Hosseini, both former refugees, shared their personal reflections and stories of refugees they had met in the field. Joining them were other members of the GWA family: Yao Chen, Osvaldo Laport, George Dalaras, Aidos Sagat and Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks.
Thirty-three high profile UNHCR supporters, hailing from 20 countries, recorded public service announcements calling on people to heed this “most urgent story of our times.” They included Peruvian Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa, singer Juanes from Colombia, footballers John Obi Mikel and James Rodrigues, the cast of the hit TV series “The Vampire Diaries,” Chinese actress Yao Chen, Thai musician Cherman Boonyasak, Canadian songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk and South Korean Jung Woo Sung. They reached out to millions.
Celebrities also shared moving and inspiring personal stories and testimony, including British actress Emma Thompson and her adopted son Tindy Agaba, a former refugee from Rwanda. Joining her were Pakistani human right activist Malala Yousafzai as well as European screen stars Diane Kruger, David Morrissey, Romola Garai and Ewan McGregor, United States film director Wes Anderson, singer-songwriter Maher Zain, UK broadcasters Emma Freud and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, footballer Saido Berahino, award-winning architect Sir Richard Rogers, athletes Lopez Lomong and Guor Maker, and acclaimed authors Henning Mankell, Neil Gaiman, Esther Freud, Marina Lewycka and Judith Kerr.
The celebrities generated media coverage worldwide. Yao Chen released a powerful documentary in China, featuring her recent visit to Lebanon to meet Syrian refugees. The British writer Gaiman was featured in an exclusive interview on Yahoo; GWA Wek shared her thoughts with Marie Claire magazine, actress Kat Graham spoke passionately on US television, and Goodwill Ambassador Hosseini was interviewed by Al Jazeera.
Wek said: “Just like you, refugees have families, routines, they want education and jobs for their children, they look like us, they hope like us . . . I’d like to ask all of you to find out a bit more about refugees this World Refugee Day and maybe challenge some stereotypes.”
A social media buzz was also driven by high profile supporters. Their promotion of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day Thunderclap helped it to achieve an audience reach of more than 11 million, whilst tweets and posts from the likes of Laport, Stephen Fry, Paulo Coelho, Livia Firth, Ed Norton, Coldplay, Juanes, and many others achieved social media impressions of more than 150 million.
On World Refugee Day (June 20), Kat Graham took part in a WRD concert at the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and witnessed a naturalization ceremony for refugees in Atlanta. Across the Atlantic, in Africa, Malian musician Rokia Traoré sang and danced with refugees at Goudoubo Refugee Camp in Burkina Faso.
“High profile supporters enabled us to engage audiences right across the world on this most important day,” said Alison Tilbe, who heads UNHCR’s goodwill ambassador programme. “Celebrities play a key role in helping keep refugees in public hearts and minds, engaging their fans to become new supporters of UNHCR, and for that we are deeply grateful,” she added.
To see celebrity messages, click here.