THE BLOG

Celebrating Refugees' Gifts

20/05/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 20/07/2014 10:59 BST

Segen is a confident, promising student and a champion figure skater. One day, she hopes to represent Team GB on the ice at the Winter Olympics.

Segen came to the UK from Eritrea when she was two years old. She'd never seen snow or ice before arriving here, but she demonstrated a natural aptitude for skating when she discovered it in later years. She tells us that she spent much of her first time at the ice rink on her bum, constantly falling over, but she didn't give up.

Segen is a refugee, but doesn't think of herself as one. She's grown up here, has an English accent, and she guesses most of her classmates would be surprised to hear that her family were forced to leave flee their home.

Segen is currently one of the stars of a striking new photo exhibition the Refugee Council is holding at the prestigious St Martin-in-the-fields, London, to celebrate Refugee Week. She is a prime example of the rich contributions refugees can make to British life, given the chance.

The exhibition, The Refugee's Gift, opens on 27 May and will run during Refugee Week which takes place between 16-22 June 2014.

It features 40 photographs taken by our longstanding supporter Bill Knight, which highlight the contribution refugees have made to life in the United Kingdom. It features a variety of people, including those who have arrived recently from conflicts in Syria, Eritrea, or Somalia, or sought safety decades ago from Hitler's Germany.

Other subjects of the exhibition include the award winning journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who came to the UK from Uganda in 1972, Paul Sathianesan, the first refugee Mayor of a London borough and Bob Hepple, who was a banned person in his native South Africa for 27 years after he acted as Nelson Mandela's legal adviser in his trial for incitement in 1962.

All the people photographed for this exhibition have benefited from Britain's long and proud tradition of providing protection to refugees. Most arrived with few material possessions, and many were traumatised by their experience of forced exile, but all were given the chance to build new and fulfilling lives.

As their stories demonstrate so compellingly, refugees contribute hugely to the lives of everyone in the UK, by enriching our culture, our commerce and our communities, and by showing us that compassion is a hallmark of a strong and open society.

In Segen's words: "Just because people are refugees doesn't mean they don't deserve a chance to make something of themselves, or that they won't amount to anything. Refugees are really just the same as everyone else, except they've had to leave their country. It's important we welcome them to the UK."

I couldn't have put it better. Our duty is to provide safety to refugees. Our responsibility is to enable them to flourish.