An Artist’s Sneaky Origami Project Informs About Refugee Crisis

Bern O’Donoghue aims to counter the prejudice facing refugees.

(Photo: Refugees Crossing/Facebook)

Sep 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

When you first encounter one perched on a windowsill, wedged between the railings of a pedestrian barrier, or atop the walk button on a streetlight, you might think the fact-filled origami boat is a crafty scavenger-hunt clue. But these paper creations posted around U.K. cities and towns are spreading a larger message, about Europe’s refugee crisis.

Conceived as a counter to the degrading language some U.K. government officials have used to describe refugees, artist Bern O’Donoghue created the art project Refugees Crossing as a way to inform people about the challenges facing refugees and migrants.

“As members of the government, they are obviously in a very influential position, yet they’ve used language which is potentially encouraging hostility and prejudice towards people in desperate circumstances,” O’Donoghue told TakePart. “By changing the narrative, I want to get more people in the U.K. to notice what’s happening under their noses.”

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Some of the derogatory terms that angered O’Donoghue included U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s description of refugees as “a swarm” and foreign secretary Philip Hammond’s use of “marauding” in reference to the migrants posted near the Channel Tunnel.

The boats serve as a public reminder of the various struggles facing refugees in Europe, especially to those who may harbor or express feelings of prejudice or fear toward them.

“I want people to see that refugees are in lots of ways just like them,” O’Donoghue said. “I’m hoping this will inspire people to rethink the way they talk about and treat immigration.” She also wants the project to gain the attention of government officials and remind them of the influence they have over public opinion.

O’Donoghue has encouraged people to sign up via Facebook and share pictures of boats they have placed to their own social media accounts. She is asking those who share images of the boats on Twitter to give the location and use the hashtags #refugeecrisis and #MigrantLivesMatter.

Since the launch of the campaign in August, its message has spread across Europe and across the Atlantic. To date, boats have been sent out to cities in Hungary, Italy, Spain, Greece, and the U.S.

“My mantra throughout the project has been: ‘We are the people we’ve been waiting for,’ said O’Donoghue. “All it takes to change things for the better is finding a simple way to do so.”