Life Jacket artwork

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Life jacket with sewn-on patches designed in a workshop by young refugees in the UK to represent their voices. The plight of those attempting to reach Europe by boat has inspired a number of artworks that use life jackets. Some of the sewn-on patches express the fundamental principles of the Red Cross such as unity, independence, humanity, and universality. Others focus on themes considered important in life, like health, dignity, family, a future, education, safety, and coexisting.

Globally, the number of displaced people is the highest it has been since the Second World War. Figures in 2018 showed that over 107,000 people fled to Europe by sea, from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Some people have few other options and travel to Europe on poor quality, overcrowded vessels at risk of sinking. The life jackets worn are often ineffective and offer little protection against long periods in the water.

Tragically, between 2017 and 2019, over 2,700 people are believed to have died or gone missing while crossing the Mediterranean.

The British Red Cross has partnered with other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to support refugees. In the UK, the British Red Cross provides refugee services across the country. The Hackney Destitution Centre run by the British Red Cross provides help to refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants. Relief provided includes food parcels, clothes, toiletries, blankets and baby items. Other services include career and health care advice, adjusting to life in the UK, emotional support and family reunion.

As a Museum Curator, I believe contemporary collecting is important in highlighting issues affecting people today. It is important to connect the past with the present so we can tell the stories of development, change or continuation. These contemporary objects will also become historical, it is therefore vital to collect these objects today and capture people’s stories before they are lost.

Recently, the British Red Cross Museum collection has acquired many objects and works of art made by refugees today. These are very inspiring; they show the strength and resilience of their makers and give us an insight into their brave journey. These artworks are a reminder that refugees are forced to flee.

Audio recording by Mehzebin Adam (Curator, British Red Cross Museum & Archives)
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