June 20th is World Refugee Day, an effort to raise awareness of the “situation” of refugees* throughout the world.
World Refugee Day isn’t well known. In fact, I don’t know anyone outside the community of people who work with refugees who knows about this day. Perhaps that says more about how little governments care about refugees. Most people are wrapped up in their lives, and they little desire to look beyond their borders. It is a duty of specialists — the media, governments, and NGOs — to make a fuss about the lives of refugees, and why anyone who isn’t a refugee should care at all. If you haven’t heard of this day, I feel it is that the powers that be don’t really care that much about refugees.
This website is all about refugees, however. This project is designed to get people to care about refugees. Our goal is to make connections between you (not a refugee) and them (refugee).
There are intellectual reasons to care about refugees — politics, economics, etc. — but in the end, I feel the best “argument” is simply that we should care about other people in need. Basic empathy matters.
Most arguments to “care” are appeals to our own needs and desires. The Syrian refugee crisis is leading to the destabilization of the Middle East, and that leads to oil price hikes, economic damage, wars, increased military spending, etc., etc. Large numbers of poor, disenfranchised, people pouring into neighboring countries have significant ripple effects.
Such arguments have never attracted much following among the general public. They don’t speak to us as human beings. And, they don’t speak of refugees as human beings, but as something closer in nature to an epidemic.
For me, refugees are important because I feel empathy. Refugees are simply people, usually in a terrible situation that I absolutely would not like to find myself in. It is not so hard to imagine myself in their shoes, because, like many Americans, I have family who fled a war, who were refugees. Of course, I’ve met many refugees, so I’ve had the experience of connecting faces to the legal status of “refugee.”
In short, I’ve met a lot of people who have fled their homelands, who have lost love ones, jobs, houses, belongings, friends, and neighborhoods. These are people who often have no money and find themselves stuck in places where they are neither helped, nor wanted. In general, war and disaster happened to them — they did not cause it.
This isn’t their fault. At all. Imagine that. Now, imagine yourself there. That’s the easiest way for me to understand and empathize with refugees.
So, when you think about people who are refugees, think of the girl shown at the top of this post (her name is Gazal). Just think of a normal person, like someone you know, in a bad situation, who might need a helping hand. Those are the refugees.
* Of course, this should include IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), but most people don’t know there is a difference between IDPs and refugees. IDPs are people who have moved inside their own country, while refugees are people who have left their own country.