United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has enlisted several Hollywood heavyweights to help raise awareness of refugees' plight

By Alexis L. Loinaz
Updated September 12, 2016 12:10 PM

“What if somebody spots me and calls the police because I’m illegal?”

That’s just one of many fears that refugees face as they seek safety and asylum in a new land, and those questions are front and center in a powerful new video from the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR that enlists several Hollywood heavyweights to help raise awareness of refugees’ plight.

Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Kit Harington, Stanley Tucci and Jesse Eisenberg are among those featured in the video, titled “What They Took With Them,” in which the actors read a rhythmic poem enumerating the items that refugees snatch at the moment their lives are uprooted.

Among the belongings: wallets, laptops, IDs, diplomas, overseas chargers for phones, painkillers and house keys.

The poem was inspired by first-person accounts from refugees themselves, and draws on images from a photography project by Brian Sokol called “The Most Important Thing” – several photos of which flash onscreen as the actors read the poem.

The video is part of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees campaign, whose primary push involves a petition urging governments to provide refugees with a safe home, a means of livelihood and education. It has garnered nearly a million signatures, as the U.N. gears up for a historic summit on Sept. 19 to address the global refugee crisis.

Blanchett – who is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and has visited refugees in Lebanon and Jordan– also sat down with Chris Hemsworth for a Facebook Live discussion about the crisis, and the agency’s efforts to combat it.

“The refugee crisis that we see unfolding before our eyes is the largest displacement crisis we’ve seen since the Second World War – 65 million people around the world,” Blanchett says in the video, adding that the average displacement time for refugees is between 17 and 19 years.

“For me, certainly, having visited the refugees in the environments which they have found themselves, it’s very humbling,” she explains, “because you realize there’s a lot of similarities between the things they value and the things I value and perhaps the things that people who have never met a refugee value.”