Model and photographer Helena Christensen has supported UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency since 2015 and was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador in June 2019.
As well as being one of the world’s most recognisable faces, Helena has also carved out a respected and distinguished international career in photography. In her work with UNHCR, Helena uses her creativity to tell refugee stories, strengthen the voices and platforms of the forcibly displaced and advocate for their rights.
In January 2020, Helena Christensen visited Azraq camp in Jordan to meet with refugees from Syria, Iraq and Somalia. She tried on the dress of a Syrian tailor, who created the dress out of recycled materials and painted it with symbolic images to tell the story of Amman.
Helena's engagement over the years
Helena travelled with UNHCR to Rwanda in October 2018, meeting refugees who recently fled violence and persecution in Burundi. Through widespread photography and written features, she supported UNHCR’s call for vital funds to deliver shelter, food and basic necessities for one of the world's most forgotten and underfunded refugee crises.
In March 2017 Helena travelled with UNHCR to Ukraine to capture some of the stories of the near one million people internally displaced by conflict in the east of the country, over 500, 000 of whom are vulnerable and elderly. Here Helena met Oleg, a true superhero who risks his life to help those forced to flee as a result of the conflict. Helena shared her reflections on the visit in the international media and through social media.
Ahead of World Refugee Day 2015, Helena travelled with us to Colombia to document internally displaced women living in rural and urban environments, including the slums on the outskirts of Bogota. Helena said: “I wanted to use my skills to create a platform for these women’s stories which are both shocking and inspiring".
Helena has travelled out to Colombia to document and photograph internally displaced women in both a rural and an urban environment. She photographed Maribeth in Altos de La Florida, Soacha which is an illegal settlement just outside of Bogota. Maribeth is a single mum and she says her children 'are the most important thing in my life. Until I had the children I was not happy - now they give me a reason to work and live'. Maribeth was displaced from the department of Choco, on the pacific coast when she was 7 years old when armed guards shot and killed her mother and sister. She fled and has never returned to her home town - 'I am too afraid and it has been too long'. UNHCR is working to have the settlements legalised which will mean the municipality will have to provide services to the community including water, education and health services. © UNHCR/Hector Perez
23-year-old Eugenie Manirafasha is a refugee from DRC, but has lived almost all her life in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Rwanda.
She is soon to graduate from Kepler University, UNHCRs partner in Rwanda, providing higher education to local and refugee youth, with a degree in business and communication. She dreams of being able to help artisans, seamstresses and designers in the refugee camps sell their products outside the camps.
"I feel that this education will have a big impact in my life, and my hope is that it will allow me to become a great person, who can help myself, my family and even the community."
Helena met Eugenie in Kigali, Rwanda. Together, they toured the local market in Kigali, looking at local fabrics, clothes and artisanal products. © UNHCR/Hector Perez
The Makaguan indigenous tribe are almost physically and culturally extinct now having been forced to flee from their reservations many times. They currently live close to a military base which is a target for guerilla groups making them very vulnerable to attack. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Helena captures a basketball match in Mahama refugee camp where both boys and girls are playing together. © UNHCR/Hector Perez
Helena Christensen photographs the urban environment in Sloviansk, which is still heavily damaged following the recent conflict in Ukraine. © UNHCR/Hector Perez
Helena travelled with UNHCR to Rwanda to meet Burundian refugees and learn more about one of the world's most underfunded refugee crises. This is one of a series of images Helena captured of the individuals inhabiting and environments of Mahama refugee camp. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Maria has had a truly remarkable life. She was displaced during World War II at only 16 years old and spent three years in Germany. She moved to the house she still lives in now in 1964, near the village she was born. Her husband worked for the government and was offered an apartment but they insisted on buying the house. Half of her house was destroyed by shelling in 2014 as she hid in the basement. When someone suggested she would have to move out, she replied, "No, I'm sorry. This is my choice. This is where I want to live." She didn't have the means to do any repairs but UNHCR has fixed the roof, exterior, windows and insulated her home. She is very happy. She says she has been a good person all her life so she hopes the world can be a better place. She lives with her daughter Olga, 60, and grandson Dimitri, 31 (and cat Markiz). © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
One of a series of portraits taken by Helena whilst visiting internally displaced persons in Colombia © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Maribeth Palacios 41 works and lives in the barrio of Altos de La Florida, Soacha as a cook and a traditional dance teacher. She has four children 19, 8, 8 and 6. Marilyn 8 studies in the local school. She also helps her mum with the cooking as her mother sells tamales traditional choco food. Maribeth loves to dance traditional choco dance and she teaches it in the barrio. She says it makes her happy 'my spirit is free when I dance and am in another world'. Maribeth dreams of opening her own traditional choco restaurant in Bogota and running more dance classes. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Vera lives alone in the home she bought with her husband in 1969. He died 5 years ago. He was the love of her life and she has happy memories of their life together in the house with their sons. When her house was shelled during fighting in 2014, she had an extremely lucky escape as her bedroom was completely destroyed moments after she got up from bed. She is extremely grateful to UNHCR for repairing her home – she couldn't imagine what she would have done otherwise. When she saw the damage the shelling caused she cried for a long time. But to be able to live here again is one of the happiest times in her life – this home means everything to her. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Helena Christensen travelled with UNHCR to Rwanda to meet Burundian refugees and learn more about one of the world's most underfunded refugee crises. This is one of a series of portraits Helena captured of the individuals she met in Mahama refugee camp.
Leatitia, Elvira and Giselle (from left to right) are all models with Top Family Models Agency and they were walking in a fashion show in Mahama Camp alongside UNHCR's High Profile Supporter Helena Christensen. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Helena Christensen travelled with UNHCR to Rwanda to meet Burundian refugees and learn more about one of the world's most underfunded refugee crises. This is one of a series of portraits Helena captured of the individuals she met in Mahama refugee camp. © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
"I met with the inspiring 15 year old Soreli Martinez. Soreli told me she did not want to marry, but she wanted to train to become a nurse and that she wanted to help sick people. 'Many of my community get sick, as there are mosquitoes and diseases. I want to help and have the freedom to be in charge of my own life'. My heart goes to Soreli and her brave ambitions. In spite of a sea of machismo and violence, she wants to make a difference – this was the predominant feeling shared by all the women I spoke to. Despite such great hardship, the glimmer of hope and of a better life for them and their children still shone through." © UNHCR/Helena Christensen
Recent support and field visits