While prominent singers have raised awareness about the struggles faced by displaced populations and called for government and humanitarian action1, asylum-seekers and refugees themselves contribute to the global soundscape. Most recently, three performers at Eurovision 2021 come from a refugee background – for example, the refugee singer Manizha who represented Russia and is also a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.2 However, refugees are not always given the opportunity for their voices to be heard – in 2012, Malian musicians were forced to flee due to the ban on music from the Islamic extremist group.3 The impact of this type of persecution can be heard sonically, similar to the influence of life experienced heard from non-displaced musicians.4 Nonetheless, refugee voices are deserving of the center stage. Along these lines, musicians who have experienced displacement offer inspiration and unique perspectives for all audiences.

Music provides an interesting and invaluable way to connect people, as evidenced by numerous programs such as an initiative in Germany to bring refugee and local musicians together, to facilitate “intercultural dialogue that would be mutually beneficial to newcomers and locals”.5 A similar program can be found in Chile with the formation of a refugee orchestra, with participants stressing the importance of being able to practice music to maintain and improve upon their skills.6 In addition to programs that seek to bridge communities, music also offers an engaging means for raising awareness and education. The World Health Organization reports that refugees in South Sudan sing about COVID-19, switching between the dialects of the audience, “It will not spare anyone without shelter. We must be careful. We must protect ourselves from this disease by avoiding handshaking and maintaining physical distancing”.

Undoubtedly, music enriches the lives of both those who are singing and who are listening. 

Research has shown that the impacts of music and creative expression are multidimensional and can overcome numerous barriers – for understanding the experience of displacement and resettlement, the processing of trauma, and connecting with other humans.8 In face of displacement or strict government censorship, the ability to create music remains an important expression to be safeguarded.9 In this way, the ability to create art presents an interesting question about the resources made available for displaced populations. Currently, the restriction on artistic production can be seen in the use and management of detention centers for asylum-seekers – Moz, a Kurdish refugee artist was barred from visiting a recording studio while detained on Manus Island.  Especially for children, research has found that the capability for music to create “new musical and social beginnings and avenues for the agency” in the resettlement process.11

Accordingly, access to musical instruments is important at all stages of life, from childhood to old age. The benefits of creative expression cannot be understated, and should not be overlooked while providing support to people experiencing displacement.


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