UNHCR celebrates resilience through literature and drama event, calling for more solidarity and hope
15 May 2023
15 May 2023 Beijing - UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, hosted an arts event titled “The Power of Hope” in Beijing yesterday. The performance invited the audience to experience the peril and trauma of refugees’ journeys, as well as perseverance and survival through a 30-minute dramatized adaptation of the book A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, authored by Melissa Fleming. The book recounts the true story of a young girl named Doaa Al Zamel who fled the Syrian civil war.
Melissa Fleming, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and author of the book said via video message, “Stories like Doaa’s can help us cut through that desensitization and reach out to others across time and distance, uniting people around the world in empathy to seek solutions to the challenges we face. And while conflict, hate and racism threaten dialogue, art and literature can bring us together, to help us empathize with our fellow human beings, and rediscover our common humanity.”
During his official visit to China to meet with Chinese Government counterparts and other key partners on regional refugee issues, the Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Indrika Ratwatte, said at the event: “China has an exceptionally rich culture and history of artistic skill appreciated around the world. Art from around the world is highly appreciated in modern China. Literature, painting, dance and music go beyond language and numbers to communicate across borders and cultures, creating solidarity and shared understanding.”
The show was created and delivered by a talented team of Chinese artists. Under the overall art direction of renowned director Mr. Yin Li, the performance was directed by Mr. Zhao Ningyu, dramatized by Ms. Ou Jiayi and performed by five actors and musicians including Ms. Lai Jiayue, Mr. Guo Qi, Mr. Hu Yixiao, Mr. Zhu Jinliang and Mr. Qu Hongchen.
The performance ended powerfully with a video message by Doaa Al Zamel, whose story is featured in the book, saying, “We are human beings just like you, seeking the rights and peace that everyone deserves.” Doaa also thanked Chinese audiences for their support.
Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China, highlighted the urgency to act to address forced displacement: “The clock is ticking to achieve our shared ambitions, the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030 and to ensure that no one – including refugees – is left behind. As the UN Secretary General has stressed, humanity is headed for catastrophe if we do not act and act now. Who can help feeling overwhelmed, panicked and paralyzed in the situation we are facing? Hope is the antidote to helplessness.”
In her speech, UNHCR High Profile Supporter Olympic Gold Medalist Yang Yang acknowledged the connection between sports, arts and humanitarianism: “I think sport, art, and humanitarianism have something in common: they all have the power to inspire hope through creativity and action. Refugee stories are not only about loss, they are also about survival, healing and contributing skills and talents to the communities who welcome people forced to flee.”
Twenty twenty-two marked a sobering milestone of over 100 million people forced to flee their homes. In 2023, the situation is sadly getting worse with new emergencies and natural disasters compounding protracted crises. The plight of Syrian refugees topped headlines again following the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria in February this year, drawing public attention to the crisis 12 years on, as well as forced displacement beyond Syria. As the crisis continues, refugees and people displaced within their own countries are struggling beyond their means and assistance is limited.
With events like this communicating real refugee stories through literature and arts, UNHCR hopes to bring Chinese audiences greater understanding and connection with the human dimension of the refugee experience. Stories like Doaa’s remind us that no one chooses to be a refugee and that with hope and support people forced to flee can rebuild their lives and thrive.