Today is #WorldRefugeeDay. As we think of the millions around the world who everyday are attempting to ground themselves and find meaning in their lives, hundreds and often thousands of miles away from the place they used to call home, I would like to invite you to join the #WithRefugees campaign. http://www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/us/petition/
Internally displaced persons and refugees do not create wars or natural disasters. In their vast majority, they had absolutely nothing to do with the policies and decisions that brought catastrophe to their homes. However, when violence and disaster come charging into your home, you are often faced between the choice of dying or leaving your home in order to survive. No human being should be faced with such a choice. Yet millions are, every single day. So the question we who have been privileged not to be faced with such a choice must ask ourselves, is, how do we respond? How do we respond to fellow human beings who have had to choose survival over home? What is our individual and collective responsibility as human beings?
Europe and the West as a whole, as they are wont to do, have captured world attention as they agonize over what to do with the millions who are arriving at their doorsteps. We, in those countries where disaster and tragedy have a higher percentage of occurrence than elsewhere in the world, have watched aghast as the rich, “developed”, sometimes self-proclaimed “culturally superior” West has turned its back on fellow human beings. People worry about how they will preserve their goods and services if all these other human beings come in to share them. Curious humanity indeed.
What people in western countries do not perhaps know, is that the majority of African and Arab refugees are found in African and Arab countries. The Middle East and North Africa host 39% of refugees while Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 29%. That is a combined 68% of the human beings seeking refuge due to forced displacement.
In countries where half of the population survives on less than $2 per day, people, humans, have found a way to welcome and share with humans from neighboring countries, not because they are precisely sure how to share their meager goods and services, but because that is what they believe that is what human beings should do.
My country, Cameroon, currently hosts over 350 000 Central Africans and Nigerians despite the fact that 190 000 of our own citizens are displaced persons. This would be the equivalent of the United States taking in 4.7 million refugees, close to 4 times the number it currently hosts, at a time when over 2.6 million of its own citizens are displaced from their homes. One shudders to think of the verbal vitriol we would all be subjected to by Trump and Co. were such numbers to even be evoked in American public discourse.
Jordan provides refuge for over 689,000 people, a full 10.4% of its population. One can only imagine how quickly Angela Merkel would have been deposed, had she dared to ask Germans to host 8 million refugees!
We all understand the notion of benefitting from the work you and/or your ancestors have done. Wanting to keep these gains for oneself is also human nature. However, wanting to keep them at the expense of the very survival of other human beings, begs the very notion of our humanity.
This is especially true when we can no longer ignore the fact that the “gains” of the West, which it is so reluctant to share with others today, were often made at the expense of the Global South, our mutually shared environment and with extreme abuse of the rights of other humans. We can no longer ignore that the wars and conflicts in the Global South, which are the major cause of forced displacement, have entrenched tentacles to the Global North whose cynicism in creating and maintaining conflict in order to preserve its “interests” have only begun to be deciphered.
There is no us and them. When conflict and disaster push human beings who did not cause them from their homes, there is only a WE! The displaced or refugee child, woman, man is you and me.
The woman in the Extreme North of my country, Cameroon, who lives on 75 cents per day and who has to walk 3 kilometers to carry water for her family teaches us a lesson. When she hears the knock of the refugee, she does not begin to calculate what this will do to her meager resources. She simply opens the door and says come in. We will share the little food and water we have, and together we will survive. She knows no them, only WE. Thanks to her, we are reminded of who we are as human beings. However, it is only if we apply her lesson and apply it well, that our collective humanity will survive.
I am so thankful for the countries who host refugees, the UNHCR, its dedicated staff, the donors who contribute to its important work as well as the refugees and host communities who give us all reason to hope on a daily basis. I am honored to be a member of the UNHCR Advisory Group. Please stand #WithRefugees sign this petition and donate. http://www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/us/petition/
© Credit photo: UNHCR/D. Mbaiorem, http://www.unhcr.org