Alive but No Longer Existing

It is easy to forget how our identity is defined by our everyday lives. Many in refugee camps have lost this identity, “they are alive but they no longer exist”. Their everyday lives become something that they do not know. From the 1951 Refugee Convention establishing UNHCR, we know that a refugee is:

-Someone who is outside the country of his/her nationality

-Has fled owing to a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

-Is unable to, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of their country.

Refugees are people who have had their entire lives destroyed and are forced to flee all they know and love. Refugees leave their homes because of conflict, economic issues, and environmental problems. Yet how is it possible that they are sometimes worse off within places of sanctuary? Refugee camps are among one of the most talked about issues within the spectrum of humanitarian aid. They often end up being dangerous and dirty places that breed more animosity than peace. For instance, the camp that was set up in Goma, Zaire after the Rwandan genocide had major problems with ex-genocidaires and with epidemic diseases. Where people sought refuge, they were met with more oppression and more death.

What breaks my heart is that refugees come to camps with so much hope that things will be better and they are often immensely disappointed. There are exceptions to this, but in most cases, the population of refugees that flock to aid camps are often much larger than can be accommodated. They are given the bare minimum, and sometimes not even that. Refugees rarely have an outlet to use the skills or education they posses, and their lives turn into a repetitious cycle of a camp reinvention of how they can live at the bare-minimum.

The hope for every refugee is that they will one day be able to return home. The sad reality however, is that this will probably never happen. Therefore, we turn to alternatives. But what is the alternative and how can we give people who had no choice but to flee something that’s good? A refugee camp is something I believe should always be temporary. We cannot permanently herd victims into fenced off areas like animals while they wait for a answer on where they can go. There have to be better choices than to make refugees establish such mundane lives for a period as long as fourteen years (as we saw in the case of the Bhutanese refugees). The trouble lies in that these alternatives are not easily accomplished.

The first, and more viable option is if we cannot place the refugees anywhere else, then we must make refugee camps better places to live. This means, there should be a major focus on security and health, as well as determining those who are running the camp are not corrupt. These changes would make a world of difference and I think would be very meaningful to refugees. In this option, the refugees should also have a chance to potentially apply for jobs within the camp or nearby area. Quotas would be acceptable and necessary, but it would add a bit of meaning back into their lives.

The second option is to try and help refugees integrate into existing communities. Ideally, this would mean a re-establishment of their new lives in a safe and welcoming society. The refugees would be able to offer extra labor for certain areas, and could even set up their own business to add diversity. If the issue of their refugee status were based on a race, religion, nationality, or social group issue, it would be ideal if they would be able to re-settle into another community where their persuasion is accepted. Realistically though, no one wants refugees. As sad as it is, they fear the difference and competition. But what the majority of the world fails to see is that “we can all be refugees”. All it takes is someone disliking you for a small reason, and then you could potentially be exiled. The human capacity for love is far greater than that of evil, and refugees need our love more than most.

-Genny

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