Imagine Margot Robbie sitting against a red wall backdrop, the light of the room cast on her face. “There’s so many things we’re missing out living here in the camp.” She says. “We built this camp ourselves—it gets so dusty, we had to get used to having no furniture and sitting on the floor all the time, but that’s okay.” Her eyes are teary. “It is having no education that is very hard for me.” There’s a disconnect between the words Margot speak and the identity she has as a famous actress, but this goes with reason. As Margot completes the story of someone whose aspirations to be a female lawyer are weighed down by her home’s war-torn state, the screen fades to black and text appears: “These are the words of a law student fleeing danger. Margot speaks them in hopes you might hear her.”
The video features Margot Robbie who is one of several celebrities in a project dubbed ‘I Hear You’, launched by aid and development confederation Oxfam on December 6. The video series sees a number of Hollywood stars, including Star Trek’s John Cho and Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp, provide their voices to amplify the experiences of refugees whose lives were changed when violence or persecution struck their homeland and forced them to flee. The stories shared are first-person narratives of actual people, and they shed new light on an inarguably destructive humanitarian issue that’s happening right now.
Glimpses of the refugee crisis shown in the media are terrifying, and the statistics behind it are equally alarming: UNHCR states that we are ‘witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record’ with over 65.3 million people forcibly displaced and 21.3 million seeking refuge (more than half of whom are no older than 18). On average, 24 people were forced to flee per minute. And though the number of refugee arrivals this year in Europe dropped from over a million to 350,000, the rates of drowning hit a record with a reported death toll of 4,812 people in the Mediterranean. As a whole, 7,189 migrants and asylum seekers have died this year.
It’s becoming increasingly easy to grow numb or detached from the records, but as Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said, “These are not just numbers. These are people with individual stories just like every one of us.” Minnie Driver, one of the artists involved in the campaign, also echoed the sentiment, stating, “I don’t believe we can become so anesthetized to so many people’s suffering in the world, when there is stuff we can do. We can share. We can be available to people to help. It feels like we’ve forgotten that.” It does; prejudice, oppression and hate crime are nothing foreign to those who seek better lives in countries other than their own. The way things are, refugees are rendered nameless people who are isolated from society, and even sympathy, as the ongoing crisis turns into nothing but normalcy and something pinned on the news.
That is why the ‘I Hear You’ campaign can serve as a wake-up call for everyone. In a way, it gives refugees a platform to share about the things they aspire for, the things and people they love, the fears that wrench their gut. In turn, by knowing day-to-day human moments in their lives, we’re reminded that what’s happening right now is real and affects real people. Just as another contributing artist, Ari Graynor, said, “Behind all of the stories on the news, that we can become numb to, there are individual stories of people’s full lives.” She admires the refugee she spoke on behalf of, how ‘beautifully accomplished, strong, and loving’ the person is and how she ‘can feel that life force from her, and it is so strong.’ In a similar vein, Margot Robbie says in another life she would probably be friends with the aspiring lawyer she represented. ‘I Hear You’ can help us feel empathetic towards refugees, their lives and their plight, and drive us to help. It may be rather a long shot, but it could also shift the negative rhetoric of refugees, from people who are seen as ‘other’, as threats, into a more positive understanding that they’re really just people who are rightfully escaping danger and trying to live.
The creator of the campaign, acclaimed director Julie Anne Robinson, stated, “We all have the same hopes, dreams, ambitions for our families, and desires. I was hoping that culturally that this would communicate across the continents.” She traveled to Lebanon and Tanzania, and collected stories from people in Syria, Burundi and Congo in order to achieve that. In the process, she was hosted with kindness by families in tents and shelters, who were willing to share abundantly of laughs, wonder, grief and food with her. “In nine cases out of 10 people were unbroken and unbowed.” Julie Anne said.
“You’re just one person and you think, ‘there is nothing I can do.’ You get overwhelmed by a sense of frustration and the feeling that you can’t make any difference,” Julie Anne stated, “And yet I’m hoping that this [campaign] might make a difference.” We could actively take part in it too; we could donate to support refugees or take an oath to change crucial policies that influence refugees.
As for the young girl Margot spoke in behalf of, there’s no certainty to what the future holds for her. She says, “It’s still my dream to go back to Syria, and I can only say insya Allah (‘God willing’). And I hope. I cannot lose hope. It’s been four years now.” When asked of her identity, she spoke, “Who am I? I want you to know that I am very brave and courageous, and I hope one day the world will see me as a lawyer.”