June 20th is World Refugee Day. Every year, the United Nations and their partners mark this day to remind the world of the plight of refugees. Who are these people that never cease to have a plight year after year? Why are there still refugees to this day in a world like ours, where trips to outer space are becoming a tourist attraction, where the internet rules our lives, where advances in science make science fiction movies seem lame by comparison? While the world is advancing on one front, we are as an international community unable to solve our poverty, AIDS, malaria, and other preventable problems affecting millions including refugees. We seem to be schizophrenic as a humanity, the more we discover, invent and excel in one area, the more we are hopeless, shortsighted and apathetic in the other. Our environmental problems, the ones that could affect the future of our planet, seem to take center stage once in a while, then are filed somewhere, gathering dust. So do our hunger problems, children dying of severe malnutrition while hundreds of millions of the world’s population are suffering from obesity.
We are a schizophrenic humanity. With ADD.
Our attention span is severely short. We get excited about something, until the next best thing comes along. Haiti was in the news while the news was hot, exciting, dramatic. Now the Haitians are picking up the pieces, it will take them a decade to go back to the level of poverty they were at before the earthquake. But the world lost interest. Similarly, there are refugees that have been forcibly living outside their countries for decades. Iraqis have been waiting to go home for close to seven years now. They live in neighboring countries, waiting for a situation that they are not responsible for to be solved, for a crisis they did not cause to be settled, and still they wait. Do you remember Iraq and what caused the refugee situation there? What about Somalia? Congo? Kyrgyzstan is in the news now, I wonder how long that will last. Then our ADD selves will soon forget it, the media will lose interest, the international community will lose interest because it is no longer a hot topic, and people are left to deal with their lives. Everyone will go home, everyone except the refugees and the people who are mandated to help them. The UN has a refugee agency, since 1951, UNHCR has been putting out fires in the wake of conflicts forcing people out of their land, helping refugees survive forced movement, keeping them alive until durable solutions are found, and sometimes the conflict is so protracted that durable solutions are out of reach. But who are these people, how do they live, what is their situation. Think about this: We all wake up in the morning, check our emails, take a shower, have our coffees, glance at our flatscreen TV, see a news flash about refugees and their nameless faces on CNN, go to work, do our own thing, come back home, go to nice restaurants for dinner, check our email before we go to sleep in our comfortable warm bed, wake up the next day, do the same thing until we have to go on vacation with our families or our friends.
We take all what we do for granted.
If you were to be told that as of tomorrow, suddenly, and with no advance warning whatsoever, war will break out where you live, where you are reading this now, you will be forced to leave your house, your car, your job, your kids’ schools, and take whoever survived, and walk to the next safe haven, and that could be across the border kilometers away. You and your kids are hungry, forced to stay in the same clothes, shower is a thing of the past, your wife gets ill, but no doctor is in sight, you feel abandoned, persecuted, you’re scared to go back home with all the fighting, your only choice is to walk with the masses fleeing the fighting. Those UN guys come and start taking stock of the thousands of you who had to leave, their main preoccupation is protecting you and your family, putting you up with a roof over your head, it is called a tent.
Welcome to the real world. You are now a refugee.
How does it feel? Do you miss your home? Your work? Your belongings? What about your car? You miss your nice car? TV? All those gadgets? What about money? Your office? Paychecks? You will have no more paychecks since you are no longer able to work, so you will need to depend on aid, food rations, until the situation is either stable enough to go back to your country and start again, or you could be resettled in another country, most likely in the West, where you know no one, and you have to start your life from scratch, or be given citizenship of the host country you are in if your stay is long enough in the camp that it becomes a reality that you belong in the new country, with your children having grown up there as refugees.
This is who those people are, the faces you see on the news every time their news bores you and you change the channel. This is how they live. This is their reality, through no fault of their own. When you next are asked to contribute to a refugee fundraiser, please take a moment and think, would you have liked someone to have helped you had you been in that virtual camp I described for you? Or would you have liked whoever could help you to change the channel, look away when someone asks them for a donation to a refugee cause.
It’s World Refugee Day. Think about what that means. Tell the world to stop being schizophrenic, with ADD.