World Refugee Day and the Importance of Storytelling and Art

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Written By Samuel Laurie

“This not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

 Societies flourish when they have a diverse population. New ideas, sharing experiences and cultures can only help people realise the humanity all people share. A key way in which understanding can be brought about between different groups is through art and storytelling.


Treehouse Theatre is an organisation that mentors young refugees to tell their stories. This program also has therapeutic effects and allows them to connect with others with similar life experiences as well as older people who have been in their shoes. 

In high school, we saw a Treehouse Theatre performance and we all left touched and having gained a greater insight into another person’s world and experiences than the news could ever give us. It opened our hearts and mind and is a must see.


Artists are often there when you look to humanise an event experienced on a large scale. From musicians to anonymous graffitists to famous artists, many have used their platforms to comment on and draw attention to issues faced by refugees. The pair of anonymous German graffiti artists who painted a train car red and wrote ‘Welcome’ in Arabic told a local newspaper, “We are committed to ensuring that refugees are welcomed here.” Ai Weiwei has done a range of works, from bringing a piano to a pianist in a refugee camp to covering a museum in hundreds of orange life vests. Hassan Jarbou created The Syrian Mona Lisa (cover image) out of materials found at a refugee camp.

Anonymous Welcome 2015


Public conversations, such as Ben Quilty and Malek Jandali’s conversation Recovering Humanity, allow everyday people to hear from those who have been able to glimpse inside refugee camps and war. It helps to humanise an experience that can often be dehumanised by traditional media and politicians.

 “Before I went there I had no concept, I really had failed to humanise the events,” Quilty said. “Without humans, it doesn’t exist. The children particularly – it is impossible not to be moved.” By bringing conversations about Refugees and their humanity into the public eye it is impossible not to feel compassionate towards a group of people who have had to flee.

Ben Quilty High Tide Mark  2016

Social Media

In the age of social media, news and experiences can be shared around the world from anywhere in the world; including Manus Island. Behrouz Boochani is a journalist and writer imprisoned on Manus Island after fleeing Iran who tweets from inside the prison. He has also written and published articles, poems and created a documentary from inside the detention centre. His use of social media to tell the world about the conditions faced by Asylum Seekers while in detention is important in hopefully bringing about changes in policy to end of shore detention. Social media is playing an important role in sharing news from places traditional journalists cannot get to, especially in areas relating to human rights.

If you like your personal stories accompanied by reliable facts, the UN website has some powerful stories and messages around World Refugee Day, as well as facts – such as that every minute 20 people escape war, persecution, and terror and leave everything behind.