I Am Not Your Refugee: Podcast aims to change narrative about people seeking refuge

I Am Not Your Refugee: Podcast aims to change narrative about people seeking refuge

Bairbre Flood talking to Omar Barakdar who says: "I don't support the idea of refugee artist." Picture: Bairbre Flood

Hina Khan’s recent exhibition, ‘No Serahdain’ (‘No Borders’) drew on her family history of forced migration from Pakistan and her own deeply personal ideas around borders and nationalism.

Khan said: "Ireland is a second home for me and I feel Irish Pakistani, Pakistani Irish. I am working on the topic of migration and I'm really connecting this migration toward my grandparents' migration when India and Pakistan were being made. So I'm really interested in how people form the borders and how they divide humanity."

Many of Khan’s paintings are of re-imagined maps. "There is water, there is earth, there is mountains, there is a different visual vocabulary, which symbolises the Earth, but there is no borders." Khan isn’t keen on the label ‘refugee artist’ and prefers to let the work speak for itself. 

Something also important to Omar Barakdar, the Syrian artist, photographer and founder of Arthereistanbul, an art centre and community space in Istanbul.

"I don't support the idea of refugee artist. People who know us know it. But in a normal day, people passing by or checking for us, they will come to see art. Because, for me, when you give the artists this description 'he's a refugee artist', it takes something from him. It can move at one point to charity, in a way." 

While Barakdar highly appreciates the motive behind people wanting to help, he says it can be difficult for artists if they’re seen as ‘refugee artists’. 

"For the people who keep being cornered in the refugee place, it's hard for them. So they prefer not to be seen as refugee artists…You see the practice, maybe you see something different.. Then it's like, we try to escape this ‘cage of refugee’ for artists." 

For Syrian artist and illustrator, Haya Halaw (who created our podcast artwork), there’s also a reluctance to market herself as a refugee artist. 

Not your refugee artwork by Haya Halaw.
Not your refugee artwork by Haya Halaw.

"I think in the art community, there's a lot of people that look at it as someone claiming that crisis, like we're using this, this thing, to become more famous, to climb on the trend. But you can always see the genuine work." 

Halaw was exhibiting her paintings, ‘Of Home And Land’ at Jacaranda Gallery, Amman, Jordan - just one of the places I visited over the two months travelling in Turkey, Greece and Jordan talking to the many organisations and individuals working to build networks of solidarity and understanding.

I Am Not Your Refugee connects with some of the refugee-led projects who are working so hard to change the narrative about seeking refuge, including: 

  • a Syrian activist group in Athens, 
  • a photography project in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, 
  • an LGBTQ+ refugee network in Turkey, 
  • an Afghan volunteer in a Greek camp, 
  • and the first Spanish magazine set up by refugees, Baynana.

It’s presented by Mahmoud Hassino, who set up Syria’s first LGBT magazine, Mawaleh, and was part of ‘Mr Gay Syria’ (2017) a groundbreaking documentary drama which celebrated the lives of gay refugees in Turkey. 

Now living in Germany, he worked with Schwulenberatung Berlin to help open the first major refugee center exclusively for LGBT+ people. The first episode features interviews with community organisers in Greece and Turkey, and with Mavis Ramazani of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland).

"Ireland is rich to have all of us here, you know, there's so much diversity, there's so much richness, individuals who are now part of Ireland," said Ramazani who works on the abolition of Direct Provision and other MASI campaigns.

"I was an asylum seeker. And experiencing the inhumane conditions where I was, it made me realise that I needed to be my own voice, I needed to talk about what is happening. And also to build a community.

"We can change together a lot of things in our community that are not benefiting our community, that are bringing harm into our community. Whichever way we came in Ireland, once you have a community, you are strong, you are better. Bridges keep building." 

Whether it’s through direct campaigning, community networking or art, we can learn a lot from listening to those who’ve got first-hand knowledge of seeking refuge and by exploring ideas which challenge stereotypes around migration. 

For artists like Hina Khan, this means working on visualising the world in different ways, and refusing to limit people or artists as refugee/non-refugee.

"Art is universal and artists try to create connectivity with the people. It's not about putting the people into boundaries and categories," Khan says. 

"We cannot put people into categories because we are all human…Like at the end, after 100 years, people will see the artwork, they don't see the categories." 

I Am Not Your Refugee 

This podcast series was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center.


Theme music by Omar Alkilani. Artwork by Haya Halaw. Presented by Mahmoud Hassino and produced by Bairbre Flood.

Mahmoud Hassino set up Syria’s first LGBT magazine, Mawaleh, and presented and produced a podcast series before he was forced to leave in 2011. He was part of ‘Mr Gay Syria’ (2017) a groundbreaking documentary drama which celebrated the lives of gay refugees in Turkey. Now living in Germany, he worked with Schwulenberatung Berlin, to help open the first major refugee center exclusively for LGBT people.

Bairbre Flood is an Irish freelance journalist who has produced radio documentaries for BBC World Service, Newstalk and community radio stations. She’s created several podcasts, including ‘Wander’, an Arts Council-funded series with writers living in refugee camps in Greece, Jordan, Bangladesh and Malawi. She has a special interest in migration and the stories of people who are seeking refuge, and how journalists can work together to challenge some of the current narratives around this.

Episode 1 - Nothing Without Us

With a title inspired by James Baldwin, this podcast offers resistance and support in the face of closed camps and isolation, Frontex and loneliness, violent pushbacks and marginalisation. As policies across Europe become increasingly harsh, refugees are organising themselves to challenge stereotypes around migration and create pockets of solidarity and practical support. 

'I Am Not Your Refugee' is produced by a network of Afghan, Syrian, Pakistani, Irish and Egyptian journalists, artists and activists who are passionate about changing the narrative about the lives of people who are seeking refuge.

Bairbre Flood talks to three community organisers across three countries: Anas Al Natour in Tukiye, Safdar Salmani in Greece, and Mavis Ramazani in Ireland. We explore why it’s so important refugees themselves have ownership of their organisations and support - and see how different communities who experienced forced migration help to organise themselves.

Anas Al Natour is the community liaison officer with Small Projects Istanbul, Safdar Salmani is a community volunteers who works with One Happy Family and Wave of Hope for the Future in Greece (with thanks to Fionn McArthur who interprets the conversation) and Mavis Ramazani works with MASI (the Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland).

Episode 2 - Media & Migration 

A look at migration and the media with journalists Osama Gaweesh, Nasruddin Nizami and Mohamad Shabat.

Osama Gaweesh is an Egyptian journalist who joined the Refugee Journalism Project in the UK. He explains how the project works, and why it’s so important - not just for individual journalists, but for the quality of news and media overall. His podcast, Untold Stories is available wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Nasruddin Nizami, from Afghanistan, is co-founder of the online magazine Solomon, in Athens and Mohamad Shabat set up the first magazine by refugees in Spain, Baynana (which is Arabic for ‘between us’).

Episode 3 - Ana Surie 

Zaatari refugee camp is home to just over 80,000 people who were forced to leave Syria during the war. More than half the camp’s residents are children.

Mohamad Khalf has been teaching photography in Zaatari for many years - instilling a love of learning and creative expression in his students Ali and Mohammed Nour Al-Babisi.

They talk to Bairbre Flood about the photography exhibition Mohmamad Khalf organised in the camp, called ‘Ana Surie’ ‘I Am Syrian’ and why they are Syrian first, not refugees.

Nour Al-Hariri shares her rap music and explains why she writes about early marriage, child labour, and other issues - and how the many talented and creative women in the camp should be supported more. Watch some of the short films created by Al-Balbisi.

Episode 4 - ArtHere 

Focusing on art and migration in Turkiye, Jordan and Ireland.

Arthereistanbul is a community space, an art gallery and place where artists can create in peace. Founder Omar Berakdar and artist and curator Sherin Zeraaty talk to Bairbre Flood.

In Jordan, Bairbre meets Syrian illustrator and painter, Haya Halaw who’s having her first solo exhibition show in Jacaranda Gallery in Amman.

And finally we head to Cork, Ireland and meet artist Hina Khan whose exhibition, ‘No Seradain’ (‘No Borders’) draws on her family history of forced migration from Pakistan and her own deeply personal ideas around borders and nationalism.

Episode 5 - From All Over: LGBT Turkiye 

Two LGBT refugees in Yalova, Turkiye, Mehdi and Nihal, are setting up their own group, From All Over. Bairbre Flood met them at their home to see why they need this group, and what life is like for LGBT refugees outside of Istanbul.

Presenter Mahmoud Hassino also shares some of his personal experiences helping to organise a Mr Gay Syria event which was documented in a film by Turkish director Ayse Toprak.

Episode 6 - Activism, Art, Athens 

Wael Habbal started the Syrian Greek Youth Forum (SGYF), in 2018 to advocate for human rights, to connect people together, to break stereotypes around migration, and to create their own opportunities in Athens.

He sits down with another member of SGYF - Kareem Al Kabbani - and our reporter Bairbre Flood to talk about how activism, creativity and active citizenship intersect.

You can listen to some of their work on Movement Radio part of Onassis Stegi.

Episode 7 - Coffee, Comedy, Music 

Usman Khalid wanted to set up a coffee shop with a difference - HAVEN Coffee is a social enterprise, a cafe with a mission of breaking false narratives around migration. Their Laff-Uccino comedy gigs are regular events in London, with comedians of refugee or migrant background and Kryzsia, one of the comedians involved, talks comedy, migration and accents.

From comedy in London to music on a Greek island, we head to Mythinini, Lesvos where Bairbre meets Ramozmontana, a Saudi Arabian/Somali artist on the island, and Farhad, an Iranian musician.

This is the last episode in this series and we’d like to thank the Pulitzer Center for their funding and support, and all the people who shared their experiences and observations with us.

Thanks also to our team Caroline Dipanda, Osama Gaweesh, Wael Habbal and Reza Nouri for all their work on this series. Omar Alkilani who wrote and performed the theme music and Haya Halaw who designed the artwork.

From producer Bairbre Flood and presenter Mahmoud Hassino, thanks for listening!

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