At Davos, Cate Blanchett urges leaders to see refugees afresh

Accepting an award at the World Economic Forum, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador calls on leaders to engage "face to face" with refugees.

Actor Shah Rukh Khan, Schwab Foundation co-founder Hilde Schwab, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, and Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, pose for the media at the Annual Meeting 2018 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 22, 2018.
© World Economic Forum/Jakob Polacsek

DAVOS, Switzerland –  Accepting an award at the World Economic Forum, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett urged world leaders to “disrupt” thinking painting refugees as an “economic burden or terrorist threat” and instead engage with them “face to face” as human beings.

Blanchett made the call as she accepted a Crystal Award at the annual gathering in Davos, which this year is meeting around the theme of “shared solutions in a fractured world.”

“Nowhere is the fractured world more humanly embodied than in the refugee – a person uprooted from all they hold dear, forced to flee, often resented and reviled in the country where they settle, labelled as an economic burden or terrorist threat. And this is the narrative that we truly need to disrupt,” she said.

The two-time Oscar winner received a Crystal Award in recognition of her dedication to refugees.

“It’s very easy to turn our backs on the abstraction of the enormous numbers of those in need, on ‘the others.’ But standing face to face with one human being, staring them in the eye, hearing their story, experiencing our common humanity, it’s much harder to do nothing. Once you have born witness you cannot turn away."

The Crystal Awards celebrate the achievements of artists who are role models for all leaders of society.

Blanchett has visited refugees in Jordan and Lebanon since becoming a Goodwill Ambassador in 2016. She told the forum about Shadi, a Syrian refugee who had left behind hopes of becoming a scientist, and channeled his energies to teach refugee children in Jordan.

“If we can drop the loaded label 'refugee' for a moment to see the person behind it - Shadi, the aspirational, technically gifted, resilient and generous man – father, husband, teacher, we can begin to move him from 'them' to ‘us.’”