Arts and Culture

Neil Gaiman's poem on a scarf: warm words for refugees

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Neil Gaiman speaks with a volunteer nurse in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. Image: © UNHCR/Jordi Matas

Beatrice Di Caro
Social Media and Live Communications Lead, Digital Media, World Economic Forum
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The UNHCR's Global Refugee Forum kicks off this Monday 16 December 2019. Their first ever global forum aims at discussing best practices and showcasing impactful actions around the subject of refugees. This is key, as their total number has risen to over 25 million people worldwide in this decade alone.

As their event starts, campaigns all over the world in support of refugees have also launched. British author and UNHCR ambassador Neil Gaiman worked with the international organisation and Twitter UK to ask people to tell him what reminds them of warmth. The UNHCR wants to raise funds for refugees having to face harsh winter conditions, and donations will include blankets, warm clothing, thermal insulation for shelters and more.


Using people's submissions via Twitter, Neil Gaiman wrote an original story (which you can read below) which was knitted onto a 'solidarity scarf'. The scarf was created by refugees, and aims to help raise funds for this campaign. Celebrities such as Ben Stiller came out in support of the campaign.

Read the story here:

What You Need to be Warm

A baked potato of a winter's night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.

A blanket knitted by your mother's cunning fingers. Or your grandmother's.

A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow

or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.

The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.

To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,

the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think

just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.

Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.

We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace

or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,

to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.

Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.

Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.

An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,

a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You're safe now.

A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.

Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.

A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug

and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began

as we walked away from our grandparents' houses

away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,

to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,

while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.

Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,

to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say

we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.

You have the right to be here.


Click here to find out more about the Global Refugee Forum.

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