Monday, February 5, 2018

“Saving Lives, Not Border Patrol”

Photo credit: Save the Children
“Saving Lives, Not Border Patrol”
By: Mercedes Reed, MNA

As a youth developer in programming, my career has been focused on creating spaces for youth to be heard and feel safe. My work has been solely in the United States and previous to attending the AGI-Rome trip, my knowledge on the refugee crisis was extremely low.

While moving through and learning about the organizations and all the amazing work they are doing in refugee resettlement, I was continuously impacted by the high rising statistics and human stories that we were shared with us. But the presentation that impacted me the most was with attorney Guisy D’Alconzo from Save the Children. Much of the storytelling and information we had learned about up until this presentation was from the perspective of an adult. Adults, who have experienced trauma, but are semi-equipped with skills and knowledge on how to navigate and advocate for themselves in this horrendous process. But when learning that over 4,500 children crossed the Mediterranean in 2017, with 4000 of them unaccompanied, these statistics and stories hit even closer to my heart. To be on this earth for such a short period of time and to have much of your life experience be fleeing from your country of origin to some place new, on your own, without the maturity and understanding of what is happening around you is incomprehensible. “Children are children, first and foremost. Conflict, poverty, persecution and the impact of climate change are all driving children from their homes, only for them to drown in European waters,” said Rob MacGillivray, Director of Operations for the VOS HESTIA, Save the Children’s Search & Rescue Ship.

Upon reflection of our experience in Rome, the motivator that I will bring back most into my everyday life is remembering that each of the statistics I read regarding the refugee crisis includes a human story that deserves attention and to be listened to. While going through the AGI program, we were continuously hit with statistics that were mind-blowing. One from NPR reports that that over 3,100 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in 2017, surpassing the previous year’s number for the fourth year in the row. Truly trying to comprehend that number is unbearable but it is essential to take a moment to think about every story that was lost.

In my work, my driving force is to give youth the floor. To build them up and convince them that they are worthy and their voices matter. But when thinking about what many of these refugee children have been through, it is hard from them to even think about their thoughts when they are just aching to survive. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save the Children International CEO, captured my thoughts best, “On land, children need proper reception centers where they can regain their childhood –somewhere they’re safe, protected, fed, educated and given access to psychological support.” This is a world crisis and all hands have to come on deck to create the spaces for all refugees to be heard and feel safe.