I would like to invite you to imagine yourselves in the shoes of a refugee, forced to flee your homeland and the horrors of war. Consider what it would feel to have lost loved ones, your home and all that is known; plunged into the unknown, desperately seeking a place of refuge. 

There are over 65 million people across the world who have been forced to flee their homes. 

Too often we lose sight of the people affected by this global crisis, whose personal stories are otherwise shrouded by statistics. We forget that these are people and not just numbers.

It is easy to perceive these people solely as refugees, an economic burden or terrorist threat. Yet these men, women and children have lives like yours and mine, defined by the same basic human needs, hopes and aspirations.

Over the last few years I’ve spent time in camps in Calais and Jordan, where I partnered with UNHCR and Relief International to organise art projects for Syrian refugees. 

My unusual position as an English artist fluent in Arabic has enabled me to cross cultural barriers and communicate their stories. Stepping so far out of my comfort zone has not been easy, but through reaching out and seeking to understand my life has been enriched.

It is human nature to fear those who are different to us, especially in the current tense political climate that accentuates difference and fear. However, when we close down the borders of our hearts to those who are different we impoverish ourselves and restrict and limit our own lives.

It is important, now more than ever, to recognise our common humanity with the people fleeing their homes across the world. As Jo Cox said in her maiden speech; we have more in common than what divides us. 

I believe that nothing is more important than compassion for one another. Through my portrait paintings of refugees I seek to convey that each of us are created in the image of God and equally valuable in His eyes, regardless of race, religion, economic circumstance or social status. 

Let us seek to keep the borders of our heart open to those who are different from us. This is essential if we are to overcome the distorted agendas of violence and extremism that seek to divide us.

Watch Hannah's speech here and view her work here