World Refugee Day 2012: Refugees have no choice. You do.

Sometimes I forget that I live in a world where genocide, refugee camps, and poverty are commonplace and that many people glide through life never hearing a testimony of torture endured or never watching a perfect stranger break down in tears while recounting the day they watched their family massacred.  This daily reminder of what type of world much of this planet's population lives in is wearing at times and I admit that I am just as guilty as the next development worker at dropping acronyms, acting shocked when people haven't heard of the latest genocide brewing in Kazwhatistan, and going on holidays to the first world feeling jaded and unable to fit back into the society that raised me.  While sometimes I'd like to live in oblivion to the atrocities taking place throughout the globe (and I actually am quite oblivious on details of what's going on in really anywhere other than sub-Saharan Africa, don't even ask me about northern Africa for that matter), I have chosen the field I am in because it's fulfilling and even a small glimmer of hope is sometimes enough for survival.

While voluntary repatriation is not always so voluntary or even an option for many refugees whose countries are still in turmoil, local integration into their country of asylum isn't always the solution either.  Kenya, for one, while it shoulders the burden of many more refugees than other nearby countries, also limits refugees' freedom of movement, limits access to higher education, and prevents refugees from legally working to supplement the small amount of aid they do receive.  Refugees cannot legally live outside Kenya's camps without special permission and are not only harrassed by police if they risk leaving the camp to find a job, but also risk persecution by the local communities and the dangers associated with human trafficking. 

Less than 1% of the world's refugees are resettled and many refugees live their entire lives in refugee camps or hiding from the law in their country of asylum.

This music video was filmed in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya
I know there are many debates about the benefits of resettlement and people are divided over whether refugees should be given the opportunity to move to a third country in an attempt to start a new life, but while you think about those very valid issues, consider this report by Medecins Sans Frontieres about life in  Dadaab, one of Kenya's refugee camps. It's not an easy life; refugees are forced to become completely dependent on a small amount of aid to ensure their family's survival.
That said, today is World Refugee Day.  I know that the plight of refugees isn't everyone's fight, but I ask you to take a moment today to think about what your life would be like if you were forced to become a refugee. 
  • What you would do if the shelter over your head and was taken away in a mortar shell bombing?
  • What would you do if you were forced to flee the only home you've ever known because of a never-ending war you don't support? 
  • What would you do if you had to walk/run/swim/boat/drive/fly to a new country where you don't speak the language? 
  • What would you do if the place you fled to is no safer than the home you left and the local community despises you for your camp encroaching on their land and also harasses and attacks your family? 
  • What would you do if you had no rights and no capability to feed or support your family? 
Ponder on these thoughts today. World Refugee Day Events throughout the US can be found here.

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