Do you have #refugenes? 12 celebrities you never knew were refugees

New campaigns asks members of British public: 'Do you have refugenes?'

Adam Withnall
Sunday 04 September 2016 13:17
#REFUGENES feat. Rita Ora, Jamie Cullum, Ben Elton

What do the singers Jamie Cullum and Rita Ora, the authors Ben Elton and Neil Gaiman, the comedian Shappi Khorsandi and the architect Richard Rogers have in common?

All of them have “refugenes”, according to a new campaign launched by the charity Help Refugees, which is seeking to raise awareness of the number of people in Britain who have a family history involving flight from conflict.

Some, like The Voice star Ora, are themselves refugees. Her family fled the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, settling in the UK in 1991 when she was one year old.

Others, like broadcaster and co-founder of Help Refugees Lliana Bird, have ancestors who were forced to leave their home countries. Bird’s grandmother and her family fled Russia in 1919 during the revolution - in part because they were Jews, in part because her great-grandfather was an intellectual.

Help Refugees was born out of #HelpCalais, a social media drive started by Bird, the TV presenter Dawn O’Porter and others, to help refugees stuck in “The Jungle” in Calais.

The charity says it now provides more aid to refugee camps across Europe than any other organisation, and the tagline of its new campaign is “Who do you think refugees are?”

In a video outlining his story, musician Cullum says: “Like many people, I have a complicated family history.

“My mother’s father was Indian, but an orphan, and was brought to Burma and brought up there with his 15 brothers and sisters by Franciscan monks.

“He met my grandmother, and they had my mother and my uncle in the 1950s.

“When Japan invaded they had to flee Burma, and they came to the UK.

“On my father’s side, his mother was Prussian, and Jewish, and at the outset of WW2 and the Nazi invasion she had to flee. A long and complicated journey brought her to Jerusalem, where she found a safe haven and met my grandfather.

“And that’s where my father was born.

“I am the product of refugees who found safe haven.”

The campaign comes as the Government announced enough local authority places have been found to resettle the 20,000 Syrian refugees it committed to give homes to over the next four years.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that 2,800 Syrians had arrived by the end of June and been settled in more than 100 council areas, and said the initiative was on track.

“The hard work will continue throughout this Parliament as we provide those who have been traumatised and damaged by war with a safe environment and the chance to rebuild their lives,” she said.

For more information and the full list of celebrity supporters of the #refugenes campaign, go to the Help Refugees website.

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