We spend our entire lives trying to belong. In school, we try to belong to a group while trying to find our identity. We either belong to a family or end up being the black sheep. We belong to a significant other. We belong to a job, a career, a school, a religion, a gym…
We spend our entire lives trying to belong so we don’t feel alone but what if we didn’t belong anywhere?
What if we couldn’t call ourselves Americans, British, Egyptian, Canadian, French, Japanese or any other nationality? What if you were separated from your family, your home, your land and your identity, stripped of anything you could identify with and left stateless?
What if you were a refugee?
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who
Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.
As of right now, there are around 32.9 million uprooted and/or stateless people who have nowhere to belong. They face persecution in their home country, mostly for just being who they are, so they have to seek asylum elsewhere. They don’t belong anywhere, with anyone and most of the time, they are ripped away from their families. They have no legal rights anywhere. They are citizens of no land.
How would you feel if you were left with nothing?
According to UNHCR spokesperson Rod Redmond, Iraqis remain the top nationality seeking asylum in industrialized countries in the first half of 2008.
Among other things, UNHCR’s report shows that the number of asylum claims made by Iraqis (19,500), was higher than the combined number of asylum claims submitted by citizens of the Russian Federation (9,400) and China (8,700), the second and third most important source countries. Other important countries of origin of asylum seekers were Somalia (7,400), Pakistan and Afghanistan (6,300 each).
Overall, an estimated 165,100 asylum claims were submitted by all nationalities in the industrialised countries during the first half of 2008.
The number of asylum claims submitted in industrialised countries in 2007 rose by 9 per cent compared to 2006. This upward trend has continued during the first half of 2008 with data showing an increase of 3 percent compared to the first half of 2007. Assuming that current patterns remain unchanged during the next six months, UNHCR expects the number of asylum claims lodged during the whole of 2008 to reach up to 360,000, or 10 percent higher than in 2007.
Among the major source countries of asylum-seekers, significant increases were registered by asylum applicants from Mali, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
You may think, in the comfort of your national identity, that refugees don’t effect you. Why should you know about this phenomenon that is affecting 32.9 million people? They’re halfway across the world, away from your comfort zone.
Or are they?
The United States remained the largest single recipient of new claims by asylum seekers of all nationalities during the first six months of 2008. An estimated 25,400 individuals submitted asylum applications in the USA, representing 15 percent of all applications lodged in the 44 industrialized countries covered by the report.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Fugees, haven’t you? Did you ever wonder what inspired the name for this group? How about the fact that Wyclef Jean, a Haitian refugee started the group and named it Fugees (short for refugee).
We all know Sandy in Grease, the wholesome addition to the Pink Ladies, played by Olivia Newton John…who wouldn’t have been dancing across John Travolta on screen if her grandfather, refugee Max Born, who was a German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics, hadn’t found asylum.
Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become the United States Secretary of State…a refugee.
Henry Kissinger, another former US Secretary of State, another refugee.
Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Sigmund Freud, the current Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, Jackie Chan, Jerry Springer, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Conrad, Victor Hugo & Merhan Karimi Nasseri who was an Iranian refugee who had been living in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport from August 8, 1988 to July 2006, and who may have been the basis for the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal.
Being a refugee doesn’t mean shame. Being a refugee means trying to protect yourself and your loved ones from persecution from oppression.
Educate yourself. See what you can do to help. It’s a small world and it’s getting smaller and it is no time to be living in a bubble.
For more info, you can check out these links:
UK Refugee Services
Lutheran Refugee Services
Aotearoa-New Zealand Refugee Services
United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrant Children
Church World Service Immigrant & Refugee Program
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women & Children
Learn more about the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (www.refugees.org)
Iraqi refugees and what is being done. (www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/82184.htm)