Refugees: “They are just like us”

A few weeks ago, I scrambled to evacuate my area with the only five items I could grab–my phone, passport, water, money, and medicine–in the 30 seconds before I had to flee.

Many of the roughly 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people around the world today have had to make panicked choices like these. But my own “escape” was far away from that. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had organized the Forced From Home exhibit. The aim was, in part, to put the staggering numbers of the crisis into tangible terms for those of us who don’t have to contemplate actually being forced from home.

We got on a raft like the ones in which so many have risked, and lost, their lives in recent years–though this one stayed on dry land–and later, we were detained at a fenced border where our various legal classifications determined our future. At each stop, hardships from the journey forced us to give up one item, until we were left empty-handed in front of staged refugee tents–where in real life another series of ordeals await those who make it that far.

MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, the international aid group and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is touring the exhibit through five U.S. cities this fall, with a series of West Coast stops planned for next year. With the Forced From Home exhibit, MSF is trying to communicate, in concrete terms, the reality of people fleeing.

Tatiana Chiarella, an MSF nurse from Brazil who has been touring with the exhibit, explained: “For people living in the U.S., or even my people in Brazil, we are so far from the situation that you may hear their stories but you don’t realize it could happen to any one of us.” The people she treated “were just like us, they were doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, and suddenly this happened–they have war in their countries and they have to flee for their life and for their families–and they lost everything.”

On the tour I took, I met a student from Charleston, South Carolina, who said: “It pains me to see how unaccepting communities can be of refugees especially when a good amount of people in the U.S. can trace their ancestry to people who left their home because of economic or political issues.”

[Anna Diamond, The Atlantic]

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