Refugee Week runs from 18-24 June 2018, and is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events, which celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages a better understanding between communities.
To tie in with Refugee Week, PositiveNegatives have released Dear Habib, a short animation sharing the true story of a young, unaccompanied migrant called Habib.
Dear Habib is based on one of the true stories from a three-year ESRC-funded project, Becoming Adult: conceptions of futures and wellbeing among migrant young people in the UK. Habib, whose story is featured, worked with academics Dr Elaine Chase (UCL) and Dr Nando Sigona (University of Birmingham) throughout the project, sharing his own story and collecting the stories of others.
The Becoming Adult team worked for over three years with young unaccompanied migrants from Albania, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Vietnam to understand their experiences as they transitioned into adulthood. Much of the support young unaccompanied migrants receive comes to a sudden stop after their 18th birthday (for example foster care, education and social work). This challenging period is further complicated by the threat of deportation. In 2017, 2,206 young unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the UK, and only 55% were granted asylum.
Habib’s story shows his journey from Afghanistan to the UK and the painful losses that he experienced. Like many other unaccompanied child migrants, Habib lived in constant fear of being returned to Afghanistan, waiting nearly seven years for his status to be confirmed. Despite this, Habib was able to become a valuable part of his new community in the UK, participating meaningfully in large and small ways – from supporting his neighbours, to winning a national education competition.
The animation was co-produced by Habib himself, along with PositiveNegatives, a non-profit organisation based at SOAS University of London, which works with people to tell their stories through comics and animations. PositiveNegatives’ storytelling focuses around a range of social and humanitarian issues. To create the animation, PositiveNegatives worked closely with Majid Adin, an artist and an Iranian refugee.
Majid studied Fine Art at University of Tehran, and holds an MA in Animation. He curated an anonymous blog where he criticised Iran’s undemocratic regime through caricature cartoons, until he was arrested, and spent six months in a provincial gulag. Managing to flee, he spent over a year making his way across Europe with thousands of others also escaping wars and mistreatment in their countries. He spent six months in the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, where he reconnected with art, working with Good Chance Theatre. He eventually arrived in the UK and successfully claimed asylum. Since then, he’s been trying to make a life for himself, and pursue art. His friends at Good Chance helped him enter Elton John’s competition to commission music videos for three of his hits. Majid’s personal story for the music video so inspired Elton and Bernie (Taupin) they selected him as the winner to direct ‘Rocket Man’ – which has already been viewed over 16 million times. Majid’s other commissions include Myela by SOAS alumnus Nick Mulvey and Help Refugees: The Journey.
Majid shared his experiences of working on Dear Habib:
Majid, what made you want to become an animator?
“When I was a child, I loved painting. When I was 16 or 17 years old, I became interested in cinema. At university, I was completely confused: I liked cinema and painting and I didn’t know which one to study. Finally, I found a solution: I found both these arts in animation.”
What inspired you when you were younger?
“Comic books are forbidden in my country. When I was 6 or 7 years old and had just started reading, I found an old Tintin book, Cigars of the Pharaoh, from before the revolution. After that I loved the Tintin books and tried to find them where I could.”
Why was the Becoming Adult project meaningful to you?
“To me it means kindness, and that the energy of kindness never disappears so we should share and extend it.”
How did you feel about making an animation based on a true story?
“It’s so enjoyable for me because any real art comes from a truth. It’s also more enjoyable for the audience because they can see where this story comes from.”
What is the main message you want to send people who watch the Becoming Adult animation?
“I think in our world we don’t need anything more than we have. We just need to be a bit more kind to each other, to understand each other and not to judge each other. I hope with this animation the audience will have a better understanding of unaccompanied child refugees. The main character received love and shared it, he made a new positive life for himself and the society he lives in, he made friends and the spirit of his family happy.”
What advice would you give to someone hoping to become an artist?
“We have an old proverb in Farsi about calligraphy, which translates like this: If you want to be a good calligrapher, you should write, write and write well. So, we can say the same thing about all the Arts: If you want to be a good animator, just animate, animate and animate well.”
Find out more
- Watch Dear Habib on Youtube
- MSc Migration, Mobility and Development
- MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies