It’s easy to think that any sort of help is a positive step forward. It’s part of our whiteness. We seem to think that any time we can use our privilege to “help” others we are making a positive change in their lives. After all, we know best right? If there is one thing that I have taken away from this week, it’s that the solution isn’t simple. We tried to make it simple. Just take them out of the violence and give them the essentials to survive, and there you have it—we just saved an entire group of people. But that sort of solution doesn’t recognize them as people. It meets their animalistic needs—food, water, shelter. But what about their needs as human beings? What about their need for belonging, purpose, and growth? What about the things we take away from them when we take them away?
This week’s readings open my eyes to the reality of refugee camps. Originally, it seemed to me that refugee camps were the answer to protecting people from genocide. I think many bystanders would agree with that too. However, with just a slightly closer look and by educating myself a little more, it became easy to see how many problems camps create of their own. There are people in charge who abuse their power. There is little room for advancement and growth, leaving refugees feeling useless and suicidal.They are excluded for society and hidden in these “bare towns.” So although these camps have given refugees a greater chance of survival and minimum protection, I argue that they are not the answer to the problem. Instead they are creating another problem—they hiding and suppressing refugees from satisfying their needs as human beings and being valuable parts of society. The camps are keeping refugees suppressed.
So what is our next step? We resettle them. On the outside this looks promising. The U.S. has resettled 3 million refugees, and most of them have been very successful. When watching the movie “God Grew Tired of Us,” we saw a handful of examples of such successful resettlements. However, also in that movie, and in our readings, we saw the drawbacks and the challenges to resettlement. We saw all the expectations they were burdened with: get a job, pay back the government for travel expenses, learn a new culture, get an education, pay the bills, send money back to family and friends, and to personally keep growing and succeeding. It is a lot to demand of someone that is “privileged” such as ourselves, let alone someone who is starting all over by themselves. They also have to face challenges of race and our racial history on a daily basis. They miss their culture and their life back home. They have to fight for a public voice. So I have to ask, is resettlement really the right answer? These people have already gone through so much, and we want to make them jump through more hoops?
This is not to say that I don’t believe refugee camps and refugee resettlements haven’t made any sort of positive impact. But I do believe that there are holes and broken pieces of the solution that need to be fixed. I also believe the problem is more complex than the solutions we have created. We need to start talking to the people we want to help and hear what they need, instead of deciding for them. We need to start communicating so we can build a better solution together. I believe dialogue can make a difference.