Telling a refugee story in 15 minutes

Making a Difference, 2 July 2010

© UNHCR/V.Pico
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, actor Osvaldo Laport and Sané during the filming of the Argentinian telenovela "Alguien que me quiera".

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina July 2 (UNHCR) Whether it was art imitating life or another example of Andy Warhol's prediction of every one being famous for 15 minutes, but Sané a refugee from Senegal who has lived for 10 years in Argentina, recently found himself playing a part in one of the country's most popular soap operas cast as a refugee in Argentina.

As part of its efforts to raise awareness of refugee issues in southern Latin America, the UNHCR office in Argentina worked with actor and UN refugee agency Goodwill Ambassador Osvaldo Laport, to include the story of a refugee into one of the country's leading soap-operas, or telenovelas.

Sané, who had never acted before was put forward to the show's director by UNHCR to play the role of a refugee who has arrived in Argentina after a long voyage at sea and is seeking to be reunited with his family. "Some part of me is in peace now, far from the conflict and persecution. But another, is still suffering and won't stop until my family is here with me," says the character played by Sané.

The special edition of the series "Alguien que me quiera" (Someone to love me') explored the issue of discrimination. Osvaldo Laport's character stresses that at a time when many people distrust newcomers to their countries, it is important to highlight that refugees have been forced to flee their homes, and yet have much to contribute to the countries that receive them. "I believe people discriminate out of fear of things they don't know or don't understand," said Laport. "Stories like Sané's help to put a voice and a face to the many stories like his around the world"

The special episode attracted more than 1.3 million viewers in Argentina alone, the highest ratings for the programme so far this season.

There are almost 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees in Argentina and they have arrived here from more than 70 countries. The majority of the refugees come from Colombia and other Latin American countries, though in recent years a growing number of asylum applications have been from nationals of African countries. The number of people applying for asylum in Argentina has nearly doubled in the last three years.

Sané's 15 minutes TV fame has not gone unnoticed by neighbours and co-workers. He has received several dinner invitations and some colleagues at the wallpaper factory where he works have even asked for his autograph. But he is taking the attention in his stride. "When you come to a new country as a refugee you leave your old life behind," he said. "So taking on a new role, making a new life, is not new to me."

By Carolina Podestá in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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