The term “refugee” has become heavily politicized over the past several years as major crises rock the world and countries tighten their borders to newcomers.
As this unfolds, the specific stories of millions of people tend to get blotted out by geopolitical maneuvering. Countries bargain over refugee quotas and surveillance operations, while families and individuals languish in legal limbos.
UK-based photographer Aubrey Wade thinks this politicizing is an added tragedy to the many tragedies that have led to what has become the largest refugee crisis ever recorded.
Single mother and librarian, Linnea Tell, hosts Alqumit Alhamad. Alhamad is Syrian, Muslim, and gay. He arrived in Sweden in February 2016 with a small backpack containing a change of clothes, art tools and CDs of Lady Gaga, Bjork, and Barbra Streisand.
Single mother and librarian, Linnea Tell, hosts Alqumit Alhamad. Alhamad is Syrian, Muslim, and gay. He arrived in Sweden on a snowy day in February 2016 with a small backpack containing a change of clothes, art tools and CDs of Lady Gaga, Bjork, and Barbra Streisand.
He also doesn’t think it reflects how ordinary people feel, especially all the people who have had real-life experience with refugees.
In a multi-country exhibit called No Stranger Place, Wade documents the lives of families in the UK, Germany, Sweden, France, and Austria who are hosting refugees in their homes.
“A lot of media reporting focuses on the horrors [refugees] leave behind,” he told Global Citizen. “Refugees are painted as victims, and that puts them in a narrow focus.”
“In many countries, you’ll find many people who are open and positive,” he said. “And also people who are frustrated by the actions of their governments trying to set up obstacles and barriers to refugees who come and start new lives.”
Wade’s photographs show mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends, and whole families arrayed around a person from Syria or Sudan or Eritrea or elsewhere whom they’ve essentially adopted as one of their own.
Every Friday evening, the Jellinek family gathers for Shabbat dinner in their Berlin home. This year, their weekly tradition includes 28 year old Kinan, a Syrian Muslim refugee from Damascus, who's been living with the Jellineks since November 2015. He joins them most Fridays and often cooks Syrian meals that he has learned on YouTube.
The photos exude a casual warmth and show the bonds that take root when people who were once strangers separated by cultural and linguistic barriers get to know each other.
And they provide a stark contrast to the strident messages of politicians who call for restrictions on refugees.
“The photographs show very clearly what’s possible when people and communities react with openness and curiosity to others, to people who are estranged to them,” he said.
“[When you] show a willingness to form a relationship with someone who’s a stranger, that person becomes someone whose familiar and trusted,” he added.
Wade worked with the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, on the exhibit and he plans to expand it to other countries.
He said that when people welcome refugees into their homes, it can bring about change within whole communities.
“These relationships don’t just stay in the living rooms and kitchens of the families, there’s a community effect,” he said. “They allow many others within the broader community to also form a relationship with the refugee.”
Read More: 15 Ways You Can Help Syrian Refugees NOW
He hopes that the photos inspire other people to think about their preconceptions and whether or not they can help out, either by hosting people or volunteering in some other capacity.
“I think it would be awesome if people said, ‘hey I want to host, too,’” he said. “The benefits of this are long-lasting and go far beyond the immediacy of is this person gonna sleep on the street tonight or not.”
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Australian social worker Emily Reynolds and her Dutch boyfriend Gijs Van Amelsvoort are hosting Areej, a refugee from Sudan, in West London. The three spend time together watching movies and sharing meals.
Australian social worker Emily Reynolds and her Dutch boyfriend Gijs Van Amelsvoort are hosting Areej, a refugee from Sudan, in West London. The three spend time together watching movies and sharing meals. Areej, 30, knows all too well how difficult it is to start a new life in a new country. She has a master's degree from Nottingham University in environmental management but spends most of her time volunteering as an interpreter for asylum seekers in shelters and as an English language tutor. "It's almost harder being a refugee because as an asylum seeker you get housing and three meals a day but as a refugee you are completely on your own after 28 days."
The ongoing series was developed by Wade in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, with stories written by Nadine Alfa and Clémentine Baron (available on request).
An exhibition of the series is now on show at St Martin-in-the-Fields at London's Trafalgar Square until 16 March 2018. The show launches the UK chapter “Great British Welcome", with portraits and stories from around the UK shown alongside work from Germany, Austria, Sweden and France