To celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, Switzerland for UNHCR, UNHCR’s national partner in Switzerland, invited members of the refugee and host community to participate in an Inside Out activity, in collaboration with the Hospice général, the main public welfare office of the canton of Geneva. Inside Out is a participative project created by the internationally-renown French artist JR, and since its creation in 2011, 500,000 people had their portraits taken and pasted in symbolic locations across the world. In Geneva, residents of the Centre Rigot, an asylum-seeker and refugee hosting facility, were invited to have their portraits taken in the iconic photobooth-van and pasted afterward on the building’s walls, together with portraits of the host community. This was done to send out a clear message: we are all part of the same community.
A day filled with positivity and smiles
The van, parked at UNHCR’s Headquarters, across the street from the pasting location at Centre Rigot attracted a lot of attention throughout the day. People from the host community, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, entered the photobooth to have their portraits taken, printed immediately, and pasted on the walls. ‘’Is this really me? I feel like a star!’’ was heard a few times during the day. Individuals were amazed to see their faces printed in large format and smiled even wider afterward when seeing their face up on the building’s façade. These reactions were precisely why the event took place on this special day: for communities who are usually unnoticed to be for once noticed, for the faces of often marginalised communities to be put under the spotlight. Many passers-by were also intrigued and were seen stopping to ask about the purpose of the activity, and ended up applauding the initiative. After the event, local Genevans, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, joined the celebration organised on site by the Hospice général, where food prepared by refugee chefs was shared and music played by musicians from the Centre was enjoyed.
Hope away from home
By convening asylum-seekers, refugees, and people from the host community alike to be portrayed together on the façade of a building, this activity inscribes itself within the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day: Hope away from home- a world where refugees are always included. During his short public address opening the celebration, Patrick Eba, Deputy Director for Protection at UNHCR, underlined the importance of such actions:
Asylum only makes sense if it leads to inclusion. This inclusion is achieved through access to education, health, employment and means of subsistence. The key to inclusion is to be visible, to exist as a full member of the community.
The location of the wall in question, just opposite UNHCR’s headquarters, adds to the symbolism of the activity.
Why is it an important day to celebrate?
World Refugee Day falls each year on the 20th of June and is dedicated to refugees around the globe. It was held globally for the first time on 20 June 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
This special day shines a light on the rights, needs, and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilise political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive. While it is important to protect and improve the lives of refugees every single day, international days like World Refugee Day help to focus global attention on the plight of those fleeing conflict or persecution.