With Europeans fearing rising numbers of refugees will increase the risk of attacks in their country, one group of refugees living in Britain hope telling their stories through a photo exhibition will help change public perceptions.
A survey by Washington-based Pew Research Centre this week found more than half of the people in eight of 10 European nations believed refugees “increase the likelihood of terrorism in our country” with 52 percent of Britons of that view.
But Matthew Powell, chief executive of refugee employment charity Breaking Barriers, said the recent migrant crisis in Europe and arrival of thousands of Syrians had sparked a wave of fear about refugees that was unfounded.
He hoped the exhibition, “Freedom From Fear”, in an east London gallery, featuring refugees from Iran, Somalia, Bangladesh, and other countries would highlight the positive contribution that refugees have made to society for decades.
Britain is home to 126,000 refugees, according to the British Red Cross, and received nearly 40,000 asylum applications last year of which 45 percent were approved. The largest numbers were from Eritrea, Pakistan, then Syria.
Powell said the exhibition was timely as Britain’s campaign and then vote to leave the European Union had led to violence against refugee and migrant groups in the country.
“Over the last weeks there has been more generalized issues of intolerance in our society and any exhibition that portrays marginalized groups in a positive way can only increase tolerance,” Powell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The exhibition coincided with reports that a Syrian refugee family asked to leave Britain after being housed in an area in Stoke-on-Trent in central England dominated by supporters of the far right British National Party who rally against immigration.
Local vicar Sally Smith, who runs a refugee charity, took the family in at her house until alternative accommodation was found, telling the Stoke Sentinel newspaper “the family were shaking and crying and even asked to be taken back to Syria”.
Charles, 47, a doctor from Senegal, is one of the 12 refugees featured in the exhibition by photojournalists Caroline Irby and Veronique Mistiaen in which they recount the first time they felt free, or safe, in Britain and efforts to fit in.
Giving only his first name for security reasons, Charles said he came under attack in Senegal for his work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, forcing him to flee the west African country in 2011.
Charles is now training again at a London hospital where he recently performed his first medical procedure after 10 years.
“My dream is to help the asylum seekers who don’t have access to the healthcare system,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “This is the contribution I want to make to this country.”