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Performers with refugee backgrounds take Eurovision by storm


Performers with refugee backgrounds take Eurovision by storm

Singers with refugee backgrounds are representing Sweden and Russia at this year's contest, while a ballet dancer, based in the Netherlands, performed during an interval.
21 May 2021 Also available in:
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Manizha rehearses ahead of her performance at the 2021 Eurovision song contest. 12 May 2021

As her performance at the 2021 Eurovision semi-final reached its triumphant climax on Tuesday, Manizha, a former refugee from Tajikistan and a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, thrust her arm in the air and shouted:

“Are you ready for change, because we are. We are the change!”

The audience roared its approval.

Manizha, who wore a red boiler suit, stood on stage smiling and soaking in the applause.

She was representing Russia with her song “Russian Woman”, which she will take to the Grand Final on Saturday.

“I'm really proud to represent Russia,” she said in an interview before the semi-final.

"Behind me are many years of struggle."

“I was born in Tajikistan, we had a horrible war there and had to move. Russia became our new home. Behind me are many years of struggling. Now I can be on the stage with my refugee experience and tell people not to be ashamed of who they are,” she said.

She fled Tajikistan in 1994 and now sees her music and celebrity as a platform to speak out on behalf of refugees everywhere.

Manizha is one of two performers with refugee backgrounds who are representing their countries at this year’s Eurovision.

The other is Tousin “Tusse” Chiza, a 19-year-old musician and singer who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but is representing Sweden, where he has lived since the age of eight.

Tusse was granted asylum in Sweden after becoming separated from his parents and living for three years in a refugee camp in Uganda. He has shared his experiences of overcoming the challenges of settling in and adapting to new situations, helping empower young people facing similar difficulties.

"Can you hear a million voices."

“Can you hear a million voices coming out in the rain,” Tusse sang in his semi-final performance of the song “Million Voices”. “You know we’ve got a million choices, so go get out and let it rain.”

On Thursday, Ahmad Joudeh, a ballet dancer with a refugee background, danced during the interval at the second semi-final. The performance was titled “Close Encounters of a Special Kind” and was about humanity’s natural desire for connection and mutual understanding.

Back in 2016, recognizing his talent and extraordinary passion for dance, the Dutch National Ballet invited Ahmad to pursue his studies and career in the Netherlands. A professional dancer and choreographer, Ahmad is passionate about giving voice to refugees and stateless people around the world.

This year’s Eurovision highlights the theme “Open Up” and for all three artists with refugee backgrounds, their performances are an opportunity to promote messages of inclusion and unity.

Manizha appeared on stage on Tuesday wearing a voluminous dress, which she emerged from mid-way through her performance.

“This dress is the symbol of moving forward, forgetting the stereotypes and giving the stage to real people with their real lives,” she explained. “That's why I'm going out, I'm opening up.”