Definition of a refugee: Someone who has been forced to flee their country and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion.” – 1951 Refugee Convention.
There are over 43 million refugees and displaced people worldwide. The sheer number overwhelms. One day out of the year people come together from around the world to honor refugees. Honor them for their courage. Honor them for their strength. Honor them for their resilience.
- Refugees have no choice. They leave their homes because of violence, conflict, or persecution.
- There are three “durable solutions” for refugees: Repatriation (going back to their homes once a level of stability is reached and the threat is over); local integration (rebuilding their lives in the place where they first sought refuge);resettlement (relocation to a third country where they can settle)
- In a refugee crisis 75 percent of those displaced are women and children.
- The main source of refugee law is the 1951 Geneva Convention. This gives guidelines on legal protection, assistance and rights of the refugee.
- Currently globally displaced people are at an all time 18-year high “More people are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994, with the crisis in Syria having emerged as a major new factor in global displacement.” UNHCR Global Trends Report. The report doesn’t include the increase in numbers from the last few months of war in Syria.
- 55% of the refugees cited in the report come from war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.
Those are facts.
But facts live better in our minds through stories. So here’s a story:
In a small refugee clinic just blocks from Taksim Square I meet a woman from Syria. She came from Syria a year before. She is one of the 1.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled Syria in the past year. She is carrying a beautiful, but heavy, eight-year old boy. He can’t walk himself, he has cerebral palsy. She has been unable to get him seen by a doctor, unable to get him much-needed physical therapy for over a year. She knows that physical therapy is critical to his muscles, to make sure they don’t weaken but stay as strong as possible.
She’s doing what she can, trying to remember all the muscle strengthening exercises she was taught before coming, but she is worried. She carries him up four flights of stairs in order to have him seen by a motley group of nurses with no supplies. When we compliment her on her care, she looks surprised. “Why wouldn’t I care for him? He’s my son”. There’s little thought of herself, it’s about this child and her other children, their welfare. It’s about rebuilding and finding a life for themselves in a new place with a new language. It’s about taking one step after another, without thinking about how heavy the steps are, how painful – just one step after another.
Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be able to get him physical therapy. Tomorrow, God willing – there’s always a tomorrow.
It makes the dictionary definition of resilience look positively foolish. The real meaning of resilience lies in people — in their faces, in their eyes, in their tears, in their day by day willingness to go on.
So today I honor the resilience of refugees – those who day on day get up, try to understand paper work, wait for their asylum papers, seek health care, wait for a chance to rebuild and heal.
“In all the years I have worked on behalf of refugees, this is the most worrying I have ever witnessed. The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable. Today, there are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees. More than one million of them arrived just in the last six months, and thousands more come every day, seeking places to stay, sustenance, someone who will listen and help them heal.” excerpt from statement for World Refugee Day 2013 by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
- 45.2 million displaced people worldwide: UN (globalnews.ca)
- Stories from a Refugee Clinic
- Churches Too Empty, Mosques Too Far
- Adjusting to the New World through Stories of the Old
- Your Manicure Will Never be the Same – World Refugee Day 2012
- New Roots for Refugees
- “Our Wasted Days are the Days We Never Laugh“