Posted by Aiko Shigeta

避難民の悲劇 (Tragedy of the Refugees). The Refugee Crisis. These are common phrases that appear in the headlines of news articles. Whatever you read, you end up with the same reaction: poor refugees. We need to change this. In reality, there is much more that needs to be brought to light, that is, that refugees bring substantial power and inspiration to the human spirit.


On July 7th 2015, RIJ, together with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Japan Fellows’ Network (RSA JFN), hosted an awareness raising event in Aoyama. This event aimed to raise awareness and acknowledge refugees worldwide for their effort in trying to rebuild their lives and normality which they lost due to wars and conflicts. During the event, the guests became storytellers through 4 different stories from Uganda, Colombia, Burma (Myanmar), and Pakistan. They shared real stories by refugees, describing how their lives were destroyed, but how they were able to turn their lives around and start again after going through various training programs offered by numerous organizations.

The comments by the guests were astounding. Before the event, I was worried that few people would participate in the discussions as it is difficult to put oneself in the shoes of refugees. However, I was wrong. The majority of the guests, especially the Japanese guests, commented that they were shocked about the stories; and how it is crucial to provide mental support in the long term as the refugees’ true desire is to regain normality and human dignity. A Japanese guest commented that he knew nothing about the refugee crisis, but after reading the stories, he was highly inspired and would like to support them in any way possible.

Our main aim of this event was to send out a positive message of hope and dignity, which I believe was a success. At the end of the event, everyone seemed satisfied. This event was a good opportunity to go beyond what is exposed on the media, and grasp the true reality that is often ignored or unknown by the public. It is important for us to understand that our support is not an obligation, but a means of connecting to individual refugees who are just like us.

“After all what do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?” (Helen, Ugandan beneficiary)