Yasmine Al Massri is lending a voice on behalf of refugees around the globe.
Growing up as a Palestinian refugee, the Quantico star opened up to PEOPLE about the cruel realities and hardships she faced, and her decision to speak at the United Nations World Humanitarian Day Gala on Friday.
“The biggest misconception is that refugees are dirty people who don’t take a shower, who come to your house, eat your food and then spit on you,” the actress said. “There is an inhuman, selfish, uneducated idea of what a refugee is – a very negative image that was built because of lack of information, miscommunication to make people, in the West especially, to think that refugees are bad people.”
Born in Lebanon to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother, Al Massri always considered herself “privileged” due to the fact that she was able to get an education. However, she was restricted from enjoying basic human privileges.
“We weren’t allowed to go to the park and play,” the actress, 37, said of her childhood. “I didn’t really have that outdoor chill that kids have. Everything was very protective. I remember that my family avoided talking any politics in the house. We just had to focus on our school, our homework and just getting very good grades. They never really told me that I’m different.”
As she grew older, Al Massri discovered her passion for law, but was quickly denied the ability to practice.
“I went to Lebanese Law University and I remember the director of the university telling me, ‘Yasmine, you’re a very smart kind but I just want to tell you – I don’t know if you’re aware that even if you graduate with a law degree, you will never be able to become a lawyer in Lebanon because you are a Palestinian refugee,'” she recalled. “I was shocked and very angry.”
At the age of 20, Al Massri moved to Paris, France in effort to pursue a higher education – turning to the arts.
“I wanted to be an artist because I cannot stand to be limited or conditioned by a space in order to work and think,” she said.
After graduating from L’Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris in 2007, the same year she made her film debut in the Lebanese LGBT-themed dramatic comedy Caramel, Al Massri went on to star in numerous international films.
After becoming a U.S. citizen in May 2016, which Al Massri described as “humanly humbling,” she was invited to speak at the United Nations World Humanitarian Day Gala on behalf of a Syrian refugee family.
“Human beings are in need of help in order to survive,” she said. “Everybody around the world is responsible of you when you are in this situation. Whenever I saw politicians speak against Syrian refugees, the funny thing about it, those people have the same agenda against everybody else. Those people always are just against any kind of equal human right because this will affect their small businesses and small interest and that’s sad.”
Having interacted with refugees around the world, Al Massri continues to stay true to her childhood lessons.
“From a very young age, I learned that I have to speak up,” she said. “I am only intimidated by watching someone suffer. This gives me a lot of pain. Since I was a child, I really wanted to speak out at these kinds of injustices.”
Now, a mother to a beautiful little boy, Al Massri hopes to further spread the message of compassion.
“Doing what I’m going to do on Friday is really what I hope to dedicate myself to in the future as an actress,” said Al Massri. “I hope that I’m going to have more following so I can give my voice to as much people as possible and inspire as much people as possible around the world.”