Painting the Portraits of Refugees

There are 65.3 million people across the globe who have been forced to flee their homes. 

Too often, we lose sight of the people affected by this global crisis. Hidden behind the statistics and the political debate are people who, a few years ago, had lives that looked a lot like yours or mine.

To mark World Refugee Day this year, One Young World sponsored my art exhibition, The Divine Image: For Mercy Has A Human Heart, in The Crypt Gallery in London.

This exhibition collected portrait paintings of refugees I’ve met in refugee camps in Calais and Jordan, where I partnered with UNHCR and Relief International to organise art projects for Syrian refugees.

Through painting these portraits, I hope to humanise the individuals forced to flee their homes, whose personal stories are otherwise shrouded by statistics.
I have had the privilege of hearing some of their stories.

Whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Calais, I met Abdul. Abdul lost his whole family in an air strike in Syria. He made the dangerous journey to the Calais ‘Jungle’ alone and vulnerable. No fifteen year-old should ever have to endure this.

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I met this brother and sister in Jordan. They took part in one of my art projects for Syrian children, painting their experiences of war. They drew tanks, soldiers, dead bodies and destroyed homes: only a small glimpse of the traumas they have faced.

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This is a portrait of a Syrian woman I met in Za’atari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan home to 80,000 refugees.

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There is no simple solution to a crisis of such geographical, political, economic, and religious complexity. However, the first step is to recognise and come face-to-face with some of the individual people suffering from the fallout of war.