Sudanese-American slam poet Emi Mahmoud has supported the work of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency since 2016 and was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in June 2018 after giving the opening performance at TEDxKakumaCamp, the first ever TEDx event held in a refugee camp.
Born in Khartoum, Sudan, before later moving to the United States, Emi has used her talents to raise awareness around the refugee cause. Emi and UNHCR have collaborated on works including How am I to Celebrate? which shines light on the millions of refugees marking Ramadan away from their homes and loved ones; Boy in the Sand, dedicated to Alan Kurdi on the first anniversary of his death; Head over Heels, written in August 2017 to mark the announcement of the millionth South Sudanese refugee entering Uganda; and A Procession of Misfits which speaks to themes of home and belonging. For World Refugee Day 2020, Emi wrote a special poem entitled "The Seven Stages of Grief During Coronavirus".
Emi has visited UNHCR frontline work in Jordan, Uganda - where Emi led poetry workshops - and Lesvos, Greece. After meeting with Syrian refugees who had survived the perilous sea crossing from Turkey, she wrote ‘Bird Watching on Lesvos Island’ and performed it at UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award ceremony in 2016.
Emi has represented UNHCR at high profile global events, ranging from the World Economic Forum at Davos to The Youth Strategy 2030 launch at the UN General Assembly. She has performed her poetry on stages across the world, from Google Zeitgeist in the US and UK, to the 2019 Sziget music festival in Hungary, where she gave a powerhouse performance of her world championship winning poem, Mama.
In 2021, Emi used her voice to highlight the devastating impacts of climate change on refugees. “Di Baladna”, meaning “Our Land” in Arabic, was inspired by consultations with refugees in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, Minawoo Camp in Cameroon, and Azraq Camp in Jordan – where she also travelled to meet Syrian refugees involved in a solar power project. Emi took this powerful spoken word piece up to COP26, performing her poem and taking part in a series of panels and events, including the New York Times Climate Hub, and OneUNevent. The powerful video was published by Reuters, and syndicated globally. Emi also took part in interviews with CNN, BBC World, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, New York Times and Now This Earth.