Design Story: Refugees Welcome T-Shirt Challenge

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Messages of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Northern Ireland and ARE making this place their home. 


Refugees Welcome is a grassroots, volunteer organisation that taps into the goodwill of locals. We introduce hosts with a spare room to refugees and asylum seekers who are homeless. We believe that both hosts and guests learn and benefits from sharing their cultures and living together. We are part of a European movement and network of similar projects.

At Belfast Design Week 2017, Refugees Welcome NI ran a T-Shirt Challenge with the aims of:

  • To spread positive messages of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in N. Ireland.


  • To build awareness in students of the challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers.


  • To create an interest and curiosity about refugee issues that might lead to researching the topic further.


We caught up with Claire McCauley to ask her more about Refugees Welcome NI as well as the T-shirt Design project:

Please introduce yourself and your organisation

I am one of the Trustees for the charity Refugees Welcome Northern Ireland. We are a grassroots volunteer-run organisation and aim to provide relief to asylum seekers and refugees.

We do this by tapping in to the goodwill of locals and introduce hosts with a spare room to refugees and asylum seekers who are homeless. We believe that both hosts and guests learn and benefit from sharing their cultures and living together.

As an organisation, we also aim to educate and raise awareness amongst the general public about the current refugee crisis - by hosting talks, film screenings and through facilitating workshops.

Refugees Welcome NI is part of an international network, made up of similar organisations across 16 countries, and my role as a Trustee is largely to manage communications and organise events.

Can you tell us a bit about your T-Shirt Design project?

Last year we joined forces with Belfast Design Week for the Refugees Welcome T-Shirt Challenge –with a number of local designers joining us for a workshop where they created their own ‘refugees welcome’ t-shirts.

We wanted to do something more with their designs, so selected the best to be printed for BDW 18.

What do you hope to bring to Belfast Design Week?

Something a little different! The aim of the T-Shirt Design Challenge is to spread a positive message to the refugee and asylum community in Northern Ireland and let them know that they are truly welcome here.

The t-shirts themselves are making a bold statement and we hope through them to build awareness around the challenges refugees and asylum seekers face and just get people to question their own views and preconceptions.

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How does design help your organisation?

In so many ways – but for me, the most important is its awareness-raising properties.

Refugees Welcome NI is a fairly new organisation, so it’s important for us to get our message out and for people to know more about what we do and how they can help.

In this project for example, a simple white t-shirt has a lot of power and can have a massive role to play in communication. Historically, ‘t-shirt activism’ has had some major cultural and historical sway and we hope through simple, direct and immediate means to say something loud and clear – that we welcome refugees with open arms in Northern Ireland.

What is/was your goal with this project?

To create messages of welcome and inclusion and show that what we wear can make a positive statement.

 Do you have plans for future projects, and if so what are they?

In the future we would like the t-shirt challenge to become bigger and better and also have the chance to work with a larger number of designers – ideally with some kind of activism fashion show to really spread the message!

As an organisation, we are also hoping to officially launch in January - so all being well – we’ll have plenty more projects in the pipeline for 2019!