What would you take along if you were forced to become a refugee? Cate Blanchett and other big-name movie stars are lending their faces to a video that entreats viewers to imagine what they would do to survive if they had to flee war.
The Oscar-winning actress and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador headlines the video released Monday. Entitled “What They Took With Them,” the text was drawn from a rhythmic poem of that name by Jenifer Toksvig that was based on real refugees' accounts.
Over an opening image of a helicopter dropping bombs and a cloud from an explosion, the words “If you had to flee your home, what would you take?” flash across the screen. Photographs and video footage of refugees and war appear over the text.
Reading shoulder-to-shoulder inside a studio, Blanchett and actors — including Keira Knightley, Stanley Tucci, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jesse Eisenberg — rattle off the personal possessions fleeing refugees often pack in haste: phones, crackers, water, diapers, money and identity papers.
But the list includes less-obvious items: a sacred book, prayer beads, a rug, a Virgin Mary necklace, a cup, house keys, even face-whitening cream.
“I want my skin to be white, and my hair to be spiked. I don't want them to know I'm a refugee,” read Ejiofor. “What if somebody spots me, and calls the police because I'm illegal? But not if I'm white. That's right, isn't it?”
The script also highlights the desperate survival tactics some refugees resort to during their flights. “And I carried my virginity out at sea. We rubbed ourselves in vomit, so the pirates wouldn't touch us,” Knightley reads.
Last year, more than 1 million people — mostly from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — migrated to Europe, nearly all by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in overloaded boats.
The United Nations says 65 million people were displaced worldwide at the end of 2015, easily setting a new post-war record.
U.S. President Barack Obama is set to convene a summit on refugees during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.