THE BLOG

An Election Campaign With a Difference - The Billboards Celebrating Migrants and Refugees

01/05/2015 16:04 BST | Updated 01/05/2016 10:12 BST

In recent weeks, commuters across Britain will have spotted a very different kind of poster on their way to work. The 'I Am An Immigrant' posters have appeared at 400 tube stations in London and 550 railway stations across the UK.

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Snapped by Vogue photographer Philip Volkers, their subjects are the migrants and refugees who have made a positive contribution to their adopted nation, such as refugee Farasat Ahmed. At the age of 18, Farasat fled Pakistan with his family and they have since been granted asylum in the UK. Farasat is now a student and works as an ambassador for the Prince's Trust, inspiring other young people who find themselves excluded from work or education to rebuild their lives.

The posters' other stars include a firefighter from Poland, a Kenyan deputy head teacher and a mental health nurse from Trinidad and Tobago. One of the country's leading human rights barristers, Sri Lankan-born S Chelvan, also features. Together with UNHCR, he helped bring about a landmark ruling in 2010,allowing two gay men from Iran and Cameroon the right to asylum in the UK.

The innovative campaign has been organised by the Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX), a network of over a hundred organisations, faith groups and individuals, with the joint aim of detoxifying the debate that surrounds immigration in the UK and championing the vital contribution of migrants and refugees.

In the run up to next week's general election, immigration has been at the forefront of campaigning, with the main national political parties all promising to tighten borders and control immigration. The recent tragedies in the Mediterranean have also sadly pushed migration further to the centre stage. The posters are a powerful way of countering the predominantly negative rhetoric that characterises much of the political debate, demonstrating that migrants and refugees are a valuable and contributing part of the fabric of British society.

The 'I Am An Immigrant' ads are unique not just for being the first ever national campaign to celebrate immigration prior to an election, but also because they have been funded by the British public. An appeal put out on Crowdfunder was met with an extraordinary response, and has so far registered more than £54,000. There are even plans to roll the posters out across countries in Europe if more donations are received.

Habib Rahman, head of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants which coordinates MAX, said: 'The extraordinary support we have received from ordinary people shows how fed up many are with the hostility and scapegoating experienced by immigrants. Thousands are saying they reject intolerance and want to celebrate our diverse and inclusive society.'