In photos: Douglas Booth meets refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos
UNHCR High Profile Supporter Douglas Booth travelled to Greece in May 2015 to learn more about the experiences of refugees and their journeys fleeing from conflict and persecution. Reflecting on his time in Lesvos, Douglas said:
"There seems to be so much confusion amongst us about the difference between economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Populist views would have us believe that boat-loads of people are invading Europe with the sole purpose of taking our jobs, exploiting our welfare systems, and making money. I'm concerned that it's an opinion born out of misunderstanding and fear-mongering and it isn't a fair reflection of the reality.
The fact is that the vast majority of people crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean are escaping persecution and conflict. They are refugees. The people I met on the island of Lesvos – who had arrived on overcrowded, barely sea-worthy boats only a few hours before - had no option but to flee their homes. It wasn't a choice for them – stay and likely die, or leave behind everything they have ever known and loved in order to survive.
No one chooses to be a refugee. No one hopes for conflict to find them, for friends and family to die, for their home to be destroyed, their education and plans for their future to be interrupted so brutally. No one wants to flee their country, scrabble together enough money from their life savings, selling possessions, borrowing from anywhere they can, to pay unscrupulous smugglers to abuse and exploit them and send them across troubled waters where thousands before them have drowned making the very same high risk journey.
The people I met have endured terrible suffering, loss, heartbreak and fear. They look to Europe for protection. They look to Europe for safety. Yet they are too often met by prejudice, ill-will, hostility, intolerance and anger. I urge people to take some time – even just 5 minutes – to look beyond the headlines and get to know one of the millions of people around the world who have been forced to flee their home. Read or watch a short film of a refugee story here, talk to a refugee in your community. Take time to understand where these people – people just like you and me - have come from, the horrors they have escaped, the journey they have undertaken, the life they have to rebuild from scratch, the hopes they have for the future. I know, like me, you will recognise yourself and your family in them, and understand that refugees are not 'other' – they are ordinary people going through an extraordinary hardship."