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Refugee Week & World Refugee Day 2018

Why Shakespeare’s words mean so much to me as a refugee

This World Refugee Day, we’ve brought together refugees and actors to perform The Strangers’ Case, Shakespeare’s rallying cry for humanity amidst the global refugee crisis. Yasmin Kadi, a singer and actor from Sierra Leone describes why being part of the film meant so much to her.

It was like Shakespeare was in my head. His words were my thoughts.

Understanding The Strangers’ Case was emotional for me. It was like Shakespeare was in my head. His words were my thoughts and I think a lot of other refugees will feel the same when they see the film.

Yasmin Kadi is a singer and actor who fled Sierre Leone with her family when she was 13 years old.

I was 13 years old when the force of the civil war in Sierra Leone came to my front door. It was three in the morning, I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor by my parents’ bed with my brothers. They had wanted us close to them in the night in case anything happened. I remember hearing the windows smash and the door being broken down.

Men with guns surrounded our house. They grabbed us and dragged us outside. It was dark but the moon was so bright that it illuminated the violence in front of me. The men circled my dad, kicking and punching him until he was beaten near-enough to death.

They thought my dad had diamonds. I remember thinking – if we had diamonds, do you think we’d be living like this? Do you think my parents would be struggling to feed us? That I’d have to watch them struggle, aging day-by-day with stress and anxiety? 

They took my dad away and we thought we’d never see him again. He had epilepsy and he didn’t have his medication.

The next morning I scrubbed my dad’s blood off the floor. It was like a dream, like I was watching someone else kneel down with the brush.

Several weeks later, my dad returned. I remember my parents arguing because, even though he’d nearly died, he didn’t want to leave. Sierra Leone was his home – his history – and he believed the war would pass soon.

But my mum won the debate and suddenly we were rushing to the airport. One of my last memories of Sierra Leone is seeing my dogs. They looked so sad, like they knew we were going and wouldn’t come back.

Shakespeare is asking people to reflect on how they would feel if they had to flee their home

From that day, I became a refugee. We started a new life in the UK. It had its challenges when we first moved over. At school people told me to ‘go back to the bush where I came from’ or ‘go swing in a tree like a monkey’.

But it all changed when I started performing. I made friends and people saw beyond the label ‘blood diamond refugee.’ They saw me as a human-being.

And when I think about the reasons people should stand with refugees, it’s as simple as that – because we are human beings.

It’s amazing to think that Shakespeare understood that. I love the opening to The Strangers’ Case where he writes: ‘Imagine that you see… their babies at their backs’. It’s such a powerful image – one that I saw in Sierra Leone and more recently, in Calais when I went there to support refugee women.

Shakespeare is asking people to reflect on how they would feel if they had to flee their home – to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. As much as there are people that have negative views about refugees – there are just as many who feel completely the opposite.

The speech couldn’t be more relevant to today if it tried. It gives me hope in humanity.

Discover Shakespeare's rallying cry for humanity

Watch now to learn more.