British writer Neil Gaiman has launched a new video campaign with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to help raise funds for Syrian refugees, as part of the commission’s Winter Appeal.
Gaiman, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador since 2017, released the video, featuring him reading a poem he wrote called “What You Need to Be Warm.” The poem draws attention to the plight of refugees, as animations in the video, created by more than 900 people, from artists to schoolchildren, depict the hardships many face.
The appeal will mainly try to raise funds for Syrians in Lebanon. Gaiman told the Independent that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had worsened the situation for many refugees, especially those in the Middle East facing a difficult winter.
“It’s very easy when you are dealing with your own nightmares and your own problems — and all of us are dealing with them through 2020 — to forget that there are people out there who have less than you and who need help and who are now having to cope with things like COVID in camps,” he said.
“I think this is, in a lot of ways, the hardest time of all. That was why I loved the idea of us taking the poem I wrote about warmth … and going ‘okay, well, we did a thing about the cold and winter and refugees and this year, it’s worse’,” he added.
“It’s not like any of that is better than it was in winter of 2019. Everything now is 10 times worse, 50 times worse, 100 times worse. So, let’s see what we can do to fix it or at least improve it in some way.”
Gaiman first traveled to the region to raise awareness of the issues faced by refugees in 2014. “I’ve been banging the drum now for refugees for seven years or more,” he said.
“I wound up going in 2014 to Jordan and seeing the camps up close and … talking to refugees and that was life-changing. I came away, there are photos of me coming away from there with this sort of thousand-yard stare. I just realised for myself how incredibly fragile civilisation is.
“These were people from towns, cities and villages who had completely normal lives a year ago, two years ago, four years ago, they had corner shops. They were working selling cars, selling insurance, they were dentists. Everything was normal and then the world fell apart,” he said.
UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled told the Independent that Syrian refugees in Lebanon faced their most difficult winter since fleeing their war-torn homeland, with their temporary shelter undergoing serious social, political and economic issues of its own, not to mention suffering a devastating explosion at the port of Beirut earlier this year.
“On top of the economic crisis, COVID-19 has obviously had a huge impact on the ability of refugees to find work because most of them were working or finding daily labour opportunities and unfortunately, most of them have lost those opportunities during lockdowns and as other confinement measures were taken,” she said.
“Like everyone affected by the explosion, some refugees were living in some of the poorest neighbourhoods affected by the blast and its impacts and will now be exposed to the winter elements.
“The level of depression, attempted suicide and self-harm amongst refugees has increased dramatically in the past few months in Lebanon. We’re aiming to reach 90 percent of Syrian refugees with support with the winter cash program. It’s a lump sum that will help them buy fuel, warm clothes and basically survive this winter,” Abdou Khaled added. “This is considered to be a lifesaving program … but we still don’t have enough money to reach that 90 percent of refugees.”
Gaiman added that people viewing the video should “remember how lucky you are to be warm and remember that there are people out there who aren’t. Just think of what it’s like in the bleak mid-winter for refugees all over the world. Think of them shivering and then reach into your pocket and send something.”