UNHCR launched the “Refugees Got Talent!” competition on May 31 in several locations across Sulaymaniyah province hosting large numbers of refugees. Auditions took place in Sulaymaniyah centre, Chamchamal, Bazian, Rania and Arbat Refugee Camp, with a jury of local celebrities presiding over the decisions.
Out of 66 performers who entered the first audition, ten finalists took to the stage for the final to battle it out for top prize. In the end, the event was won by Mzgin Ahmad, 19, a refugee from Kobane in Syria who lives in Arbat refugee camp. During the auditions, Mzgin had wowed the judges with his delicate Oud playing but he left the instrument aside for the final, choosing instead to sing a popular traditional Kurdish song “Kurdistan Azad,” demonstrating the depth of his talent to the judges.
“When Neshan called my name I felt surprised and could not believe I was the winner - I was so happy” said Mzgin. Speaking the day after his victory, he went on to describe the impact that it has had on him “All my neighbors, friends and family are so happy for me. Everyone in the camp is recognizing me and congratulating me. I am now famous in the camp!”
“Show your talent – don’t be afraid. Don’t let being a refugee hold you back.”
When asked about encouraging other artists, he said “Show your talent - don’t be afraid. Don’t let being a refugee hold you back.” He also thanked all the refugees who attended the show and who encouraged him to win.
In keeping with the WRD theme of “Hopes and Dreams,” and focusing on youth and education, UNHCR targeted high school and university-aged refugees for the contest.
Sulaymaniyah governorate hosts around 32,000 refugees, 22% of whom live in camps and education is a major challenge. There are over 7,800 Syrian refugee children and youth living in Sulaymaniyah and many do not attend school, often because their families do not have enough money to pay for school fees and supplies or transportation. As well, the language barrier has led to a high dropout rate. A shortage of spaces in schools also means many children are unable to pursue an education and are forced to stay at home.
While some primary education is provided for children up to the ninth grade, it is very hard for youngsters to get places in secondary schools and universities – mostly due to financial constraints.
“They are excited to learn, but the difficulties they face are huge. International support and funding are very much needed,” said Hawar Juma, Education Assistant from Qandil, UNHCR partner of an education project that targets primary and secondary school students across the governorate.
Speaking about the value of encouraging creativity and enterprise among refugees, UNHCR Country representative in Iraq Bruno Geddo remarked: "The more refugees can be empowered to contribute, the more the communities they live in will welcome them as productive members of society rather than passive recipients of aid.”
"We saw at the finals the tremendous talent and energy of young Syrian refugees; we want to help them unleash their potential" added Geddo.
UNHCR would like give special thanks to sponsors who supported the event and donated the winners’ prizes as well as our partners for their assistance in organising the event; the judges who gave up their time for the show; and volunteers who assisted on the day; Lebanese celebrity Neshan Der Haroutiounian, who presented the show; and, last but certainly not least to all of the talented participants who took part from the very first audition and their families for nurturing their talents.
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