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‘Claiming A New Place On Earth’ – Refugee Charity Breaking Barriers Holds Exhibition In Shoreditch Kabul_Downtown - Credit: Brian Hillegas Full view

‘Claiming A New Place On Earth’ – Refugee Charity Breaking Barriers Holds Exhibition In Shoreditch

Tucked away down a quiet side street in Shoreditch, a unique display of art suddenly appears out of nowhere. Set up in an open room at the Protein Studios is the exhibit ‘Claiming a New Place on Earth’, showcasing the journeys taken by young refugees and asylum seekers in search of a new life in the UK, through photography and interviews.

The exhibition is made up of portraits by Caroline Irby, a British photographer based in London, accompanied with interviews by Veronique Mistiaen, a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist. This combination of portraiture and story-telling allowed the viewer to be taken on the journey alongside the refugees, who are originally from countries like Nigeria and Afghanistan.

In the UK there are over 120,000 refugees ,with 39,000 applying for asylum in 2016. 21,000 of those applicants were turned down by the Home Office. The charity Breaking Barriers helps refugees find employment within the UK – they believe that gaining employment is a crucial factor in helping refugees and asylum seekers build a fresh life in their new country. They have partnered with corporations such as IKEA to provide long-term, sustainable employment. Mathew Powell, Founder and CEO of Breaking Barriers, says: “We offer a unique approach to helping refugees find meaningful employment, therefore rebuilding their lives and integrating into their new home”.

Perviez Wafa is featured in the exhibit with a portrait of himself doing his dream job as a mechanic. He travelled from Kabul, Afghanistan, a poor city with no running water, gas or electricity. His father faced problems with the Taliban, who eventually killed him. Perviez’s mother died of grief. His uncle looked after him and his brother, but when the Taliban came for Perviez, his uncle decided he needed to leave.

It took Perviez six months to get to the UK by car, foot and lorry. He says his journey was long and difficult, but he wanted to get out: “It is important because lots of people did not know about these stories before the exhibit”, Perviez says. Through his brother’s best friends, he managed to get in contact with the care worker Maya Pritchard from the South London Refugee Association.

At the exhibition, Pritchard explains why projects like this encourage more people to reach out and support refugees and asylum seekers. “It puts faces to the big problem and individualises it. Drawing attention to the issues that don’t get reported on as much as they should,” she says. “The issue is complex and this exhibition shows the complexity of it.”

Perviez applied for asylum over two years ago and is still waiting for an answer. He wants to be able to work and train but this is not possible without papers. Creating more awareness around the tough journeys refugees and asylum seekers face may be a small step towards the end of the crisis, but it is certainly an important one.

Written by Manon Dark

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