Music, fatherhood and the view from the largest refugee settlement in the world

A conversation between UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and Miyavi after his visit to Rohingya camps.

Miyavi visits Rohingya refugees who’ve fled Myanmar, in Kutapalong, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. Photo: © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

Five days before Miyavi arrived in Cox’s Bazaar, eight-year-old Nurul and his family arrived at Kutapalong camp. They joined the 688,000 refugees who now call the camp their temporary home. While in Bangladesh, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Miyavi met with Nurul and hundreds of other Rohingya refugees. They told him their stories of desperation, hope, and the desire to safely return home.

Our Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, has been a fierce advocate for people forced to flee their homes for decades. When she heard that her friend Miyavi was travelling to Bangladesh, she wanted his perspective on the people that make up the largest refugee settlement on the planet. A few years earlier, Angelina directed and produced a music video of Miyavi’s song “The Others” which we released in 2016. It features refugees from around the globe including images of Miyavi’s first field with UNHCR.

Here’s the full conversation:

A
ngelina: I always feel when I visit refugees that I wish I could offer more than to speak and help communicate their needs. I have seen the reaction when you are able to share music. It’s important not just because of how music can spread joy or elevate but because so many musicians are within the masses. They have been ripped away from what they love and focus now only on basic survival. I believe, as I’m sure you do that creative expression is a tool in survival. It is an essential part of life. What were your experiences sharing music on this visit?

M
iyavi: First of all, I was scared when I first visited a refugee settlement in Lebanon after I got inspired by you. Since I had no knowledge, experience, even determination like you at that moment. But at the moment I played the guitar, I saw the brightness in children’s eyes. The kids went crazy and I was blown away by their energy. The image that the word “refugee” conjured up — something dark, hopeless, a burden, people always looking down — was totally gone. They are alive. Especially kids, their eyes are NOT dead. They are even brighter and stronger than ours. So I realized that there might be something I could do with my music. Again, I cannot protect people on battle fields facing people who have guns. But I might be able to change the way people think through music. Music cannot change the world right away, but it can change and inspire people and those people may be able to change the world. So that’s one of my missions as a musician no

“The Others” — music performed by Miyavi and video directed and produced by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie

A
ngelina: I know your daughters well. I imagine you are seeing girls our daughters ages. Who have you met? Being a father I imagine it isn’t hard to empathize with the many fathers in the camp who are unable to give their children what they currently need?

M
iyavi: Many innocent kids are not receiving enough education. During an emergency, food, water, health is what they need most but after that, education is one of the most important thing and that’s what most of the parents are concerned about, I believe. In Lebanon, when I played the guitar in a camp, I let kids strum the strings while I was playing chords with my left hand. While the kids were lining up, some of them started to fight each other. Fist fight. That looked pretty serious to me so I was worried and asked refugee adults in the scene if it was okay. Then they said it’s just kids fighting. Yes, it’s just kids fighting. But, if they don’t get the right education, especially to learn the importance of sharing things with people, how to cooperate, accept differences and respect each other, it might cause more conflict in the future.

Miyavi meets young refugees at Seagull primary School in a section of Kutapalong camp, housing Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in the early 1990s. Photo: © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

A
ngelina: Have you met fathers? What was their message to you?

M
iyavi: I met families who just arrived a few days ago. Abul, 30, a father of 3 beautiful children said that they had to pay 100,000 kyat and smugglers took their bags and all the money they had when they arrived. His wife Hamida, 30, told us “we decided to come here to save our lives and the lives of our children.” It’s almost impossible to imagine, but I would do the same thing if it happens to us. I would do ANYTHING to protect my family for sure.

“I was blown away by the scale at the first moment.” — Miyavi

A
ngelina: Could you imagine your family in this situation?

M
iyavi: No. But we need to. Those people who are called refugees used be just like us. They had a home to go back to, an occupation they were proud of, and a dream. Peace is not something we can take for granted. If we can’t stop this crisis, it might reach us in the near future. That’s why I feel it’s really important to deal with this as a global issue. Not only local but global, this is what everyone on this planet needs to deal with and realize that — if we don’t — it will eventually come back to haunt us.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Miyavi visits Rohingya refugees who’ve fled Myanmar, in Kutapalong, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. Photo: © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

A
ngelina: I first met Rohingya refugees when I was in India 11 years ago. Do they feel that the world is finally aware of their plight or that they now have lost all? What is the discussion on the ground? Do the families there feel they have been abandoned?

M
iyavi: Those people have no idea what’s going on outside of their community since basically there is no access to outside I think. But yeah I’m sure they feel they are isolated from the world. No access to work, vote, even go out of the settlement legally. No identity. They are just like a bird in a cage.

A
ngelina: You previously visited refugees in other areas (Thailand, Lebanon). How do those experiences compare with that you found in Bangladesh? It is the largest refugee settlement in the world. What do people most need?

M
iyavi: I was blown away by the scale at the first moment. But at the same time, honestly felt they are now protected by UNHCR, other agencies, NGO groups and also the Bangladesh government. That’s one of the great things I’ve seen this time.

A

ngelina: You must have images stuck in your mind from the people you met. What is the story that sticks out the most?

M
iyavi: I met a gentleman who fled to Bangladesh twice. He came to Bangladesh in 1992 and he went back to Myanmar in 1995. And now he is back after 20 years. Also heard other stories, such as someone who came to Bangladesh three times since the 1970’s. In addition, they were people in a stateless situation to start with. The thing that struck me was that even though they had gone through horrible experiences such as their houses being burned, family members killed in front of them, they got completely traumatized, however, THEY STILL WANT TO GO BACK HOME. That wrenched my heart brutally. They can even see their country from here. Its close as you can reach but it’s really really far.

Miyavi plays some music for young refugees in a child-friendly space in aUNHCR’s transit centre. The centre is a temporary site for newly arrived families who fled Myanmar before they move to the main settlement area. Photo: © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

A
ngelina: What message did you receive from the kids that you met?

M
iyavi: Hope. Their eyes are not dead. And that’s what we need to protect. They are the ones who are going to make our future. We are responsible for passing on a right way to them, an environment and education as an idea of unity.

A
ngelina: How has traveling to meet refugees changed your perspective?

M
iyavi: More determination and responsibility. Thank you for this opportunity and mission. I promise to do my best to make things happen.

Learn more about UNHCR’s work to protect and assist Rohingya refugees here.

SOURCE: UN REFUGEE AGENCY

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