David Morrissey: 'This winter, spare a thought for refugees'
On a recent trip to Egypt with UNHCR David Morrissey meets a family preparing to rebuild their lives in the UK
We’ve all seen stories on the news about refugees. They speak of devastation, unthinkable journeys and horrifying loss.
I’m an actor, so my job is to imagine other people’s lives - but sometimes even I have to ask myself: if this was me, how would I cope? The plight of many of the refugees I meet is simply unimaginable to me.
In the past few years, I’ve also worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. I’ve met people who crossed the sea to Greece in leaky dinghies, or got trapped in limbo in refugee camps in Jordan. In Lebanon some ended up living in underground shelters, many with new born babies and elderly grandparents.
At the end of last year, I travelled to Egypt, where I met refugees from Syria. Across the region, UNHCR estimates that a staggering 3.12 million displaced Syrians need urgent support this winter. Camps in Iraq see temperatures plunge, while many settlements in Lebanon face snowstorms and flooding. These storms and high winds can be terrifying for families huddling together in tents and shelters.
In Cairo, I met Mohammed and his wife Muna who fled Syria. Muna lost a leg when a shell hit their house in Damascus in 2015. Shrapnel wounded Mohammed in the back.
They both live with pain and can no longer work. So their son Omran, who is 14, has spent the last four years supporting them. He works as a delivery boy in Cairo, pulling 11-hour shifts six days a week.
That’s what war can do: rob a wife of a limb, a husband of his livelihood and a son of his childhood.
But there is hope. The family has been given a second chance – helped by UNHCR to resettle in the UK with support from the British government. In January, they will start a new life in Ayrshire.
It won’t be easy. Their English is limited and they will need to start over without the support of friends or extended family. But I’ve seen first hand how welcoming we Brits can be and how eager refugees are to give back in return. Many open their own businesses, creating valuable local employment.
There are over 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world and that number has surged in the last few years due to conflict, instability and climate change. That’s why we need to keep taking action to help. Every one of us has a role to play, a voice to raise. So, this new year, make your resolution to take action, no matter how small.
This Winter, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has launched the BelowZero campaign to help displaced families survive bitterly cold conditions in camps and settlements.
Public support will help families access essential relief items such as high-thermal blankets, plastic sheets and warm clothing, as well as kits to help with repairing and waterproofing refugee shelters.
To support UNHCR’s Winter Appeal for refugees, visit www.unhcr.org/belowzero
This article was orignally published in The Liverpool Echo.