Saving the World, One Refugee at a Time

So it's been awhile since I posted about what's going on in my world.  A few things have changed in the last month and a half.  First off, I"ve returned from exile from small *town* (I use that word loosely) Tanzania.  I am back (based, anyway) in Nairobi.  My contract with Skillshare/Kenya Rainwater Association ended in mid-August and I am now working for RSC (Resettlement Support Center), better known as JVA. 

RSC's objective is to process refugees for potential resettlement to the US.  As a caseworker, my job entails collecting biographical data and preparing case histories describing individuals' flight stories and persecution accounts to compose testimonies describing why people cannot return to their country of origin or integrate into their country of asylum.  We do not decide who gets to be resettled.  We are contracted by the US government to process claims given to us by UNHCR and partner agencies and to forward the information on to the State Department for them to determine who will be approved for resettlement. 

Less than 1% of the world's refugees get resettled. It is the very last resort for refugees to be able to apply for resettlement to another country. The first option is always voluntary repatriation followed by integration into the host community. In many countries refugees are given status but are not given any sort of rights so they are unable to gain citizenship or work in their first country of asylum. Moving to the US, Canada, UK, Australia, the countries that accept the largest numbers of refugees, gives the refugees in the worst case scenarios a chance to live a "normal" life and make something for themselves and their families.

Before you go off on some tirade in my comments about how refugees are ruining the US or other countries around the world, draining the nations' resources, or are potential terrorists; stop.  I'm not saying these aren't valid arguments, but I'm suggesting you look at it from a diferent perspective.  First, think about what these people have been through in their country of origin; many have been attacked, tortured, or had family members killed.  Second, consider the people in your political party/religion/community that you consider completely crazy and would never associate with and think about how you would feel if you were being compared to them; not everyone who is a Muslim believes in terrorism.  Just like not everyone who is Republican thinks Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, or Sarah Palin is God's gift to the GOP.  And not every Christian is a judgmental, hypocritical jerk.  Third, think about how even though the refugees have survived one bad situation they're in a new situation, far from home, and not much better than the one they left. 

Refugees are people too; they deserve a chance to have a life, just like anyone else.  Think about how fortunate you are to have been born anywhere in the West.  If you were born in the US, no matter what your economic situation, you have been afforded more opportunities than most people in the world.  Do not begrudge refugees the opportunity to join you in bettering themselves and/or possibly you.  Think of what scientific discoveries we would have missed out on if Albert Einstein had not been granted refugee status during the Holocaust and allowed to resettle to the US.  Sigmund Freud and Hans Kreb fled during WWII and have contributed greatly to their scientific communities as well.  Some other names you might recognize include: Andy Garcia, Mika, Wyclef Jean, M.I.A., Bob Marley, K'Naan, Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Karl Marx, Sitting Bull, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Claude Levi-Strauss.  These men and women have affected different aspects of popular culture, politics, and science due to the fact that they were able to survive terrible conditions and escape against all possible odds to relocate to a new country and begin a new life.  The refugee the US admits in today may be the next Albert Einstein tomorrow. 

I am currently in Dadaab, Kenya.  It is in the Northeast province of the country, bordering Somalia.  Refugees are flooding across the border due not only to the instability of the current regime and insecurity with Al-Shabaab, but also because of the persistent drought and famine.  Consider the desperation these people must feel to leave their homes to cross the border into a foreign country in search of food and safety.  These people are not able to return to their home country and cannot stay in their country of asylum.  Most are not allowed to leave the camps and move freely throughout the country; they are vulnerable and targeted by corrupt police and preyed on by bandits.  Living conditions in the camps is not easy; there are food ration shortages, a lack of clean drinking water, and not enough shelter to house everyone.

So before you jump to the offense and argue that the US should not be accepting refugees while our country is in the economic state they face today, think about how maybe one of these refugees may hold the key to solving the financial crisis.  Not all refugees are poor and uneducated, they are people just like you who just had the bad luck of being born into a country in the midst of a civil war, uprising, whatever. 

Again, I've heard the arguments before, I'm not saying they're not logical.  I'm not even saying that the US and other countries shouldn't be focusing on fixing themselves before fixing other countries problems, but if we do that all the time and ignore the people who are suffering it won't make your life any better.  Ignoring problems and pretending like they don't exisit is how hate spreads and terrorism is bred.  It's a cycle that begins with one suffering person seeing how uncaring others were to his plight.  He watches while those others focus on themselves and strive to make themselves richer with no thought of the struggle of others.  He is then corrupted by hate mongers into believing that the way to fix these people is to turn to terrorism.   Now, think about how this affects your world.  Terrorism is a threat to us all, no matter where we live or who we are.  If you can't get on board with helping others to have a better life, then be altruistic, think of it as one link to helping keep your world a safer place.