Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Refugee Is Not A Foreign Term

Source: JRS Int. 
 Refugee Is Not A Foreign Term
By Angeliqa Bridgett, MSOD

Before this academic global immersion (AGI) to Italy, the word “refugee” rarely crossed my lips and thoughts. Knowingly sheltered since a young age from some of the tragedies of the world and our history, I was comforted in thinking that some incidences would not apply to me if I lived a morale and Christ-like life. As I reflect on a time where the term refugee even became relevant to me, I remember when a well-respected comedian and political activist stated “I was watching the news and saw all these Black people wading the water of Hurricane Katrina, and the news kept referring to them as refugees. These weren’t refugees! These are American citizens!” Now, after just one week I see how loosely the misconception of what a refugee really is and where many people create a bubble for themselves. This could happen to me, or you, and any of us; and yes, we could be considered refugees or internally displaced people (IDP) depending on the situation.

On our first day in Italy, we were visited by Father Thomas Smolich with Jesuit Refugee Service. In his presentation he engaged the class by having us guess which countries were the biggest hosts of refugees. Only one person out of fifteen of us accurately knew only one of the biggest host countries. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Ethiopia are doing their part in helping someone who is forced to flee his or her home. I do not think any of us were surprised that America did not make the list. According to the UNHCR 2015 documentation regarding global leaders and statistics on refugees, America is doing well in the new asylum-seekers category. However, with new government representation taking office how long will that even last? The fourth day of our AGI when guest speaker, Christopher Hein, came to talk with us about the geological versus legal and political issues of the refugee crisis is when my aha moment materialized.

Christopher Hein representing the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) was very informative and knowledgeable about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Both Christopher and Father Thomas emphasized the need for letting immigrants work legally and the importance of integration. Their thoughts were confirmed on our last day with UNHCR representatives Andrea De Bonis and her colleagues when they echoed the same sentiment, but delivered it with a more direct messaging in that “we pray that another tragedy doesn’t happen soon because we would not be able to assist. There needs to be more opportunity for immigrants legally so that the resources are able to grow in a time of need.”

So, what can I do? Throughout my work history and experiences with people over the years, I am learning that we all connect on a human and emotional level, everything comes down to dollars and cents, and there will always be politics around decisions. My first step to understanding and helping with our worldwide refugee crisis can be to understand my U.S. government and what we are voting for and who we are electing into offices at the lowest levels. I can sign up to see our government take action with immigrant reform. I can educate myself and pay attention to issues outside of my bubble since we may never know what can make it burst. I will be more aware, spread the word, and not keep quiet.