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Leave Home, Save Lives: Refugee key workers celebrated in online exhibit

Megan Baynes, PA
·3-min read

The lives of essential workers from refugee backgrounds will be celebrated in a new photography exhibition from one of the world’s most renowned celebrity photographers.

The exhibition – Leave Home, Save Lives – features portraits of seven key workers, including a Covid tester, GP surgery administrator and care home assistant.

It shares their stories, including their journeys to the UK, their lives and their roles in essential frontline services.

A collaboration between photographer Rankin and refugee employment charity Breaking Barriers, the exhibition is due to launch online on January 26.

Kemi, 37, came to the UK six years ago, fleeing domestic violence in Nigeria. She now works as a volunteer with women from migrant backgrounds, helping a variety of charities every single day — including running a project that teaches migrant women how to sew.

Ali, a volunteer from Iran. (Breaking Barriers/Rankin)
Ali, a volunteer from Iran. (Breaking Barriers/Rankin)

She told the PA news agency: “People think being a refugee, you are here to take money. I don’t want benefits. I want to pay my own taxes to the community and I want to be able to help other people, not have the Government helping me.

“That is why I joined the project.”

The mother-of-four, who now lives in London, said she hopes the exhibition will help people learn to accept refugees, having previously been told in the street to ‘go back to your country’, in front of her youngest daughter.

She said: “We can make this country great together if people accept us for who we are.”

Pinar, 25, came to the UK from Turkey in 2019 and works as an HR assistant with a care provider, assisting frontline care staff with PPE.

She said she experienced “hostility” from the Home Office when she first moved here and often refrains from telling people she is a refugee.

“Lots of asylum seekers coming to the UK are really talented people in their own countries,” she said.

“But when they come to the UK, all their success and certificates, everything is just taken away. They are starting a life here from zero. They should be recognised more and their achievements.”

She said she hopes the exhibition will help people “change their viewpoint” on refugees, adding: “That would be enough for me.”

Pinar, a HR Assistant with a Care Home Provider. (Breaking Barriers/Rankin)
Pinar, a HR Assistant with a Care Home Provider. (Breaking Barriers/Rankin)

Photographer Rankin said: “I am always struck by the number of people who work in frontline services who weren’t born in the UK. Many of them are refugees and they all play an essential role in the health and wellbeing of the country, especially during this time.

“We are, after all, a country built on migration and it’s only fitting that these people are celebrated for their bravery and courage, not only in leaving their homes but also helping to save so many people’s lives.”

Juliet Stevenson, Breaking Barriers ambassador and curator of the exhibition, said: “Too often our society greets refugees with suspicion and blame. And yet, despite all that, these brave individuals left everything behind to build new lives in the UK and now, in the middle of a global pandemic many of them are giving something critical back to the UK.

“Their stories inspire us and these photographs by Rankin show the humanity and bravery of these exceptional people.”