12 March 2021

Refugee Week: ‘Art has the power to inspire positive social change’

Emma Skeet encourages staff and students at UEA to support refugees.

"I hope the challenges of the past year will encourage people to campaign for change and welcome asylum seekers to give them a safe place to live"

The challenges we’ve faced over the past 12 months is the everyday reality for displaced people with no home to stay safe in. They may not have heard from friends, family and loved ones for months, or they may have lost them through violence, disease or imprisonment. They are used to food shortages, no running water and no work or school to go to.

Giovanna del Sarto - 'A Polaroid for a Refugee' project 

I hope that having to experience just a fraction of these frightening and difficult conditions over the past year will enable us all to be more empathic with those who have lost their homes through war, unsafe political regimes, environmental change or other circumstances outside their control. I hope it will encourage people to campaign for change and welcome asylum seekers to give them a safe place to live.

I had planned to hold an exhibition, ‘I Miss My Mother’s Coffee’, in Strangers cafe in Norwich during Refugee Week last year, however due to the first lockdown from coronavirus, it went online. Named after a drawing by Majid, one of the asylum seekers I met in Athens, the exhibition includes photographs by Mohamad who won the International Children's Peace Prize in 2017 for his amazing work setting up a school for refugee children after he and his family fled Syria. He set up the school in the camp in Lebanon and now helps to run it with the support of Gharsah NGO, from Sweden, his new home.  

For Refugee Week 2021, the Norwich City of Sanctuary Arts Stream ran an art auction with artworks donated by local artists and raised £10,000 to support projects working with refugees in Norwich.  

I started the Norwich Arts Stream in 2018 as part of the Norwich City of Sanctuary. The Arts Stream is managed by a steering group made up of local artists and representatives from organisations and groups including The Common Lot,Norwich Arts Centre,Norwich Theatre, The Norfolk Library Services, UEA and The Friend Ship. All members share a passionate belief that art has the power to inspire positive social change, and play a key role in creating a culture of welcome. 


Find out more

UEA University of Sanctuary  

UEA was awarded University of Sanctuary status in January 2018 in recognition of our offer to sanctuary seekers. UEA promotes a culture of inclusivity, respect and sanctuary through a broad range of schemes and activities, including scholarship programmes, education activities and events, and collaborations with local organisations and groups. 

UEA staff and students have shown an ongoing commitment to increasing understanding of asylum and refugee concerns, and welcoming sanctuary seekers into our university community. Find out more on the website


UEA STAR - student action for refugees  

STAR is a national charity of 34,000 students welcoming refugees to the UK. If you would like to get involved with the UEA student STAR society.

  • Volunteer at local refugee projects 

  • Campaign to improve the lives of refugees 

  • Educate people about refugees and asylum