The importance of a peacefully sleeping child

Actor and influencer Tanya Burr remembers the refugees she has met in her definition of, ‘A refugee is…’

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©UNHCR / Jordi Matas


When I heard about the Refugee Dictionary, I knew instantly what my definition would be. 

Before the pandemic I travelled to Jordan with the UN Refugee Agency and I often find myself thinking about the stories so generously told to me by the refugees I met. There was one family that I particularly remember, headed up by Nisreen, a strong, wonderful mother.  

Nisreen told me about her home city, Damascus, and her husband, who was caught in crossfire on his way home and sadly died. She explained how she felt increasingly helpless in Syria and made the difficult decision to leave – with four children. 

They travelled with little food or water, Nisreen carrying her three-year-old on her back, struggling to keep her toddler quiet in the night so they didn’t attract any attention, or worse. Eventually they came to the no-man’s land between Syria and Jordan, where they hoped to find safety. 

When I met Nisreen and her family they were living in Azraq camp, northern Jordan. Life was challenging, with cramped living conditions and temperatures plummeting to below zero in the winter.  

But despite all the difficulties, Nisreen now knew that her children could sleep in safety – and that made all the difference in the world.  

She told me, “All the hardship doesn’t matter. I’m just very thankful to be here. My children are safe so we’re okay.” 

That’s why my definition is: “A refugee is a peacefully sleeping child in a safe place.” 

A peaceful and safe night’s rest might not seem much, but it is what every family needs and wants for their children.  

You might not have met a refugee personally but I can bet your life has been impacted by a refugee even without you realising it – through the books we read, the music we listen to, the food we eat.   

Refugees aren’t just anonymous people on the news, fleeing for a place of safety, they are authors, singers, entrepreneurs.  One of my favourite books, The Kite Runner, was written by my fellow UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Khaled Hosseini, who is a refugee from Afghanistan; we have French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Eastern European refugees to thank for fish and chips; and performing powerhouses Freddie Mercury and Rita Ora were both refugees.   

So whoever inspires you please write a definition in their honour for the Refugee Dictionary.  


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