Published on June 20, 2024

How refugees transform and enhance our societies

The Reality of Global Displacement

Today is World Refugee Day. A sobering reminder of the immense challenges faced by millions of refugees and displaced people around the world. It is shocking to think that one in every 69 people was forcibly displaced in 2023, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, and more.

Since October 2023, over 75% of the population has been displaced within the Gaza Strip, with some having been forced to flee multiple times. The numbers don’t lie.  The number of displaced people has been increasing every year, for the last 12 consecutive years.

New conflicts, like the one in Sudan, have caused major new displacement crises, with over 6 million Sudanese now internally displaced. What’s more, 3 out of 4 of displaced people are living in countries highly exposed to climate hazards like droughts and floods. The increasing frequency of natural disasters and environmental degradation will likely create more displaced persons. By 2030 it is also estimated that 80% of the world’s poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected states. 

Despite needing to overcome insurmountable challenges, refugees who do find safety bring with them a wealth of experiences, skills, and perspectives that enrich our societies in countless ways. Their journeys are marked by resilience, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to building a better future. Today, we celebrate the amazing contributions of refugees to our culture and communities.

Creating Vibrant Local Economies

Refugees arrive in their new homes with a strong desire to contribute and succeed. Many of them have a wealth of professional experience and knowledge, which they leverage to forge new careers or even pioneer new industries. Accepting, protecting and empowering refugees is a win-win, for both refugees themselves and their new home country.

These people bring with them a different set of skills which enables them to be entrepreneurs and innovators, often starting businesses that not only support their families but also create jobs and stimulate local economies.

These businesses add to the cultural fabric of their communities, offering new flavors, services and experiences. Take Mez from Eritrea, for example, who opened an ‘International Food Center’ in Tonbridge, which provides the only halal meat in the area.

Mez, Eritrea

My name is Mez, and I’m originally from a country called Eritrea. Not many people know about Eritrea and what’s happening there, but people are living under a dictatorship and have no freedom. It’s the country where most people are displaced from in the whole of Africa. I left because I wanted to go to school and continue my education, not join the army as is compulsory in my country.  I made it to the UK when I was very young, after a long and difficult journey… but when that chapter of my life was finally over, a new one started! I’ve lived here nearly ten years now, I went to school, learnt English and did my exams.

I worked hard during my studies and afterwards, doing food deliveries, to send money back to my family who continue to live in difficult conditions. A year and a half ago I saw an opportunity to own my own business and I opened a shop with my foster brother from Sudan. It’s called the ‘International Food Centre’ in Tonbridge and we want it to provide people with the special foods that remind them of home. Ingredients and memories that are not easy to access elsewhere. I learnt how to be a butcher and we also provide the only halal meat in the area. The shop has become more than a little supermarket, but a hub for the international community in our town, and I’m very proud of that.

Enriching Cultural Landscapes

Refugees bring diverse cultural traditions that enrich the social and cultural landscapes of their new homes. Through music, art, literature, and more, they can share their heritage with different communities.

Hiba shares her experience growing up as a trans woman in Pakistan and how she uses filmmaking as a tool to give a voice to her community.

Hiba, Pakistan

My name is Hiba Nour and I’m from Pakistan. Being trans and born in Pakistan is a sin. I will never forget the first time I learnt this. I was five years old. In Pakistan we have a tradition before going to school, that we go for religious education in the mosque. Here we read the Holy Book and learn Arabic. When I went to the Mosque that first day, I saw two rows, one row for female children and one row for males. I was confused, not knowing where to sit. I sat down with the girls. Suddenly I felt a searing pain in my back. The Iman had thrown a huge, heavy book at me. He grabbed me, shouting at me, asking me who had given me permission to sit with the girl when I was a boy. He beat me until I was unconscious. That incident set the scene for the rest of my life.

I’m now proudly the first opening trans filmmaker of the Muslim world, and in the history of Pakistan. I live in London where I have been granted asylum. I feel a responsibility to represent my people and to be a voice for my community. We are not criminals. We are the way we were born. I didn’t come to London for delicious food or beautiful weather. I didn’t come for fish and chips. I came to live my life as I deserve to. To be free. I know why I’m here.

Driving Social Change

Welcoming refugees can help foster cross-cultural understanding – something that is desperately needed in our increasingly insular international community. By forming multicultural societies, we can challenge archaic norms, promote tolerance and foster social cohesion.

Giel, from South Sudan, shares how being a refugee has transformed his perspective on life and enriched his understanding of the world.

Giel, South Sudan

My experience as a refugee has been life changing to me as an individual, and on another hand, it change how I see the world in a lens that has completely been changed by the people that I met in the places that I live and the cultures that I learnt as a result of demographic changes; this is quite a privilege that only a traveller, a reader and refugee have to live.

We humans deserve to live wherever we want and whenever we want, but our living away from home should not be a result of displacement by conflicts and wars because these factors reduce our humanity to zero. Refugees deserve to be treated with dignity and respect wherever they are because no one choose to be displaced nor targeted ethnically, instead it happens as situation which defines their fate.

Honoring the Impact of Refugees on Our Communities

The contributions of refugees to our societies are vast and varied. They are doctors, entrepreneurs, community leaders, artists, and more. Their stories of resilience and innovation remind us of the incredible potential that each person carries.

As we reflect on the reality of the millions of forcibly displaced people around the world, we are reminded of the urgent need to support these populations. Let us recognize the profound impact that refugees have on the world. Their experiences enrich our lives, and their contributions make our communities stronger and more vibrant.

For more stories from forcibly displaced people, check out Asylum Speakers on Instagram.