Yusuf Islam raises plight of child refugees
London - “He was alone when he was 12, only his thoughts, which he kept to himself, but he had a wish that one day he’d fly over the wall up through the sky,” Yusuf Islam sings in his latest single, about a Syrian refugee making the desperate journey to Europe.
Islam, once known as Cat Stevens, has launched the You Are Not Alone campaign to raise money for Syrian child refugees after returning to Britain from a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep.
“People there have lost their homes and are waiting for peace to return but the children still remain bright and hopeful. The visit was much appreciated and they sang for me, a beautiful human experience,” Islam said in a posting about the song.
Islam, 67, famously converted to Islam in 1977 after having a religious experience following an incident in which he almost drowned. He withdrew from the music industry for almost 30 years before returning with a focus on Islamic and humanitarian themes.
The You Are Not Alone campaign is based on a statement made by Pope Francis during a visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in April. The message of unity and openness is one that Islam is trying to spread at a time when the European immigration crisis is worsening and the public response to migrants and refugees in some countries is becoming increasingly unfriendly.
“My hope is to open people’s hearts to the sadness experienced by thousands of young souls whose voices are not heard in the clamour created by the politicians and the media in the midst of the refugee crisis, generated by the wars and conflicts blazing through their homelands,” he added in a statement that accompanied the launch of the campaign.
His new single, He Was Alone, features a video that follows a young Syrian refugee who loses his family before dying on the road. His gravestone bears a single word — walad — Arabic for “boy”.
Through its haunting lyrics and stark imagery, He Was Alone tells the tragic story of one child refugee and through this seeks to tell the story of all refugees. “While the world faces incomprehensible numbers and statistics created by the refugee crisis, the tragedy and story of a single soul gets missed,” Islam said.
Islam’s charity, Small Kindness, is working with the Save the Children and Penny Appeal UK to raise funds for child refugees who have made the perilous journey to Europe. Save the Children estimates that 95,000 refugees and migrant children travelled to Europe on their own or lost their families on the journey in 2015.
Proceeds from the single and an intimate charity event June 14th in London will be combined with an online campaign to assist child refugees.
“It was difficult to stand by just watching this tragedy without trying to do something,” Islam said. “I simply decided to help humanise the narrative and lend my voice to the call for keeping hearts and doors open to every refugee, especially youngsters, who have lost what future they might have once hoped for.”
The charity event saw Islam, wearing a white shirt, strumming an acoustic guitar and backed with a five-piece band, serenade the audience with classics such as Father and Son, Moon Shadow and Peace Train, as well as his newer offerings, including He Was Alone.
The tone of the concert was restrained, with representatives from Save the Children and Penny Appeal UK addressing the audience about the plight of displaced children.
Islam also delivered a soulful cover of Curtis Mayfield’s anthem for change People Get Ready, which resonates with the refugee crisis gripping Europe. “People get ready, there’s a-train a-coming. You don’t need no baggage. You just get on board,” Islam sang.
Given that the concert took place during Ramadan, proceedings ended at 8.30pm, about an hour before iftar.
“A beautiful converging of hearts. Thanks to all that came out tonight in aid of refugee children,” Islam tweeted after the concert.