Back in 2016, there had been several videos circulating in social media demonstrating the casualties of war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Here, we see the stories of children such as Omran Daqneesh, better known as “The Ambulance Boy” from Aleppo, robbed of his innocent childhood by their war-stricken nation.
This instance, however, was not only limited to the children of Aleppo. On another corner of the globe, we find at least 6.9 million Colombians internally displaced within their country this 2016. In these scenarios, we find people robbed of their old lives, leaving them to fend for themselves for basic necessities like food and water. Meanwhile, I’m here living comfortably with my family, with only having to worry about my classes. I then come to ask, how is it that I am able to live in this peace while others have lived their whole lives without it? How can I truly be the “man for others” my university builds me up to be, when distance defines my capability to help another in need?
By the end of 2015, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had identified over 63 million persons of concern, primarily individuals forcibly displaced from their homes out of their fear of persecution, and violence. Among these individuals, over 19 million had been identified as refugees and asylum seekers, relying on whatever form of sanctuary foreign nations could offer. Meanwhile, at least 37 million people had been identified as internally-displaced persons (IDPs) who have yet to cross the international border and seek this sanctuary. To all these individuals, their homelands had become so perilous that the only option for them would be to cross international borders and seek whatever form of security they can acquire. They seek to be freed from any oppression and persecution pertaining to their race, socioeconomic position, or beliefs and instead be given fair opportunities for their own recuperation.
These foreign lands, however, may not be so welcoming. To some, refugees are considered just burdens on their government and economy, taking up resources and space without supposedly providing much return. These immigrants are seen as a danger to their society, even when they had already been crippled by their own. They are branded as savages, terrorists, and traffickers when it had been these very people the refugees themselves have tried to escape from in their country of origin. The refugees, meanwhile, have little power or agency to go against this brandishing. They often have neither the certification or resources to return to whatever privilege they may have had in their old lives and likewise, whoever may have once been a successful man or prominent figure is simply reduced to a derogatory of “alien” or “illegal.”
By reducing them to these terms, refugees are then effectively stratified from foreign societies, creating a disparity between “us” and “them.” They are excluded from their place of refuge when in fact, they must both work hand in hand to create a mutually inclusive society—one that provides refugees the capacity to receive help and in return, give help.
Given the stratification of these refugees, however, they are deprived of their social mobility and agency to be productive of their situations. They are denied the basic freedom to become more than their situation allows them to, simply because no one else gives them the opportunity to.
For these reasons, making a difference in the lives of these refugees does not merely rely on proximity. Like the satyagraha movement, change relies on a unified insistence of the truth: that the dignity of these refugees remains intact regardless of their situation. Thus, we must collectively and continually call attention to that truth—that these refugees are still people who possess dignity and rights, and are able to strive for more. We must call on governments and societies to take responsibility for these refugees and provide them the best service possible.
Written by Richard Labao, current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office. Applications for Batch 2 internships are now open! Check www.wya.net/apinternships to find out more.