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British Hollywood actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw was announced as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in February 2021.
She is a dedicated supporter of UNHCR’s work, using her voice and platform to amplify the needs of refugees worldwide.
Earlier this year, Gugu visited the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva and supported the launch of UNHCR’s 2023 Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Gugu is passionate about advocating for the rights of displaced women and girls. In January 2023, Gugu spoke to NowThis about the rise in gender and sexual-based violence in times of crisis. Just one month earlier, Gugu published an article in Elle Magazine on the devastating impacts of sexual assault on displaced women in the DRC.
Gugu’s writing on her experiences with UNHCR has been published extensively, including in Vogue, Refinery29, and MADE51, an initiative that empowers refugee artisans by bringing their products to a global market.
These girls need food, education, and perhaps most importantly, a door you can lock from the inside.
Missions to DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda
In 2022, Gugu visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she witnessed the devastating impact of underfunding on displaced people – and the heartbreaking choices they are forced to make.
During her visit, Gugu met and was deeply moved by a young displaced woman, Amelie and her 18-month-old daughter. Amelie shared with Gugu the trauma of being kidnapped and held hostage for two and a half months, taken on the day her family was murdered.
The situation for women and girls in DRC is particularly horrific, and Gugu said: “These girls need food, education, and perhaps most importantly, a door you can lock from the inside”.
On her mission to Uganda, Gugu spent time with refugee women who had survived sexual violence and a youth settlement community living with albinism. When Gugu met her, Françoise believed her parents had been killed in the DRC. She later discovered they were alive and living in the Netherlands, where Françoise eventually resettled in July 2022.
Gugu travelled to the Netherlands to check on how Françoise was settling in and hear the story of their family’s reunion.
“It’s one thing to hear about UNHCR’s work, and another to witness it first-hand. It has been eye-opening to meet the refugees who have fled unimaginable violence and suffering and to hear their stories. I met a woman, Rehema, who had just arrived from Burundi – she was nine months pregnant and with her two-year-old daughter Josephine. Her husband had been killed, and she fled, desperate for help with a baby about to be born. Seeing how quickly the UNHCR team and partners worked to get her settled and give her special assistance was incredibly impressive”.
It’s one thing to hear about UNHCR’s work, and another to witness it first-hand. It has been eye-opening to meet the refugees who have fled unimaginable violence and suffering, and to hear their stories.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gugu used her platform to promote global vaccine equity. In 2020, she contributed to the UNHCR’s COVID-19 awareness appeal and, in collaboration with IMBD, shared with us her three Films of Hope to highlight the need for kindness, global solidarity, and action to fight the pandemic. In November 2021, Gugu co-authored an editorial piece with Anuradha Gupta, deputy CEO of The Global Vaccine Alliance, which emphasised the need for the global vaccination roll-out to include refugees.
In November 2021, Gugu co-authored an editorial piece with Anuradha Gupta, deputy CEO of The Global Vaccine Alliance, which emphasised the need for the global vaccination launch to include refugees.
Fundraising and campaigns
Gugu has taken an active role in UNHCR fundraising, supporting global campaigns and projects across the globe.
In August 2020, Gugu supported UNHCR’s Families Together campaign alongside fellow UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors David Morrissey and Neil Gaiman. Gugu signed an open letter calling on the UK government to allow more refugee families to be reunited without the need to make dangerous, often life-threatening journeys.
In 2019, Gugu took part in the Everyone Counts Campaign, appearing alongside other UNHCR high-profile supporters in a powerful multi-voice video challenging xenophobia.