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Good morning, this is Abdulaziz Muhamat, a human rights defender, and I am here to question the supposed voicelessness of refugees and of people on the move.

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Abdul Aziz Muhamat,

07.11.2020


Giving a voice back to the voiceless: a call to empower refugees


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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) special envoy, US actress, film-maker Angelina Jolie (C) waves at Rohingya people after her visit to Kutupalong camp for Rohingya refugees in Teknuf, Cox's bazar in Bangladesh. (Photo: EPA/Suman Paul)

I’m tired of hearing celebrities saying they are “voices of the voiceless.” Unfortunately, I hear it often from celebrities with our pictures and stories, rather than from refugees themselves. The so-called “voiceless” are individuals living in poverty and conflict zones, and were forced to leave their countries while they were muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out. But they are not voiceless. They do not need your voices but they do need you to put them behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak up. If we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions for the refugee and migrant crisis, then stop speaking for the so-called voiceless, and start working alongside them to make sure their powerful voices are heard.

Media, the arts and celebrities often say they strive to “give voice to the voiceless”. While this can empower, it can also be a potentially harmful tool for them too. It makes me feel like an object, it discourages me from speaking for myself and most importantly, it is dehumanising because someone else is speaking on my behalf. Being a refugee means more than being an alien, no right, no voice; this can sound trite, clichéd, even patronising. Speaking on our behalf can take away the real voices of the people concerned and replace them with a slogan, “Voice of the Voiceless”. Are they really voiceless? If so, then who took their voices?

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