Image from: http://education-for-solidarity.blogspot.com
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Behind the Scenes of Conflict
‘I am always scared that the police will nab and take me back to my home country or a refugee camp because I don’t have any legal papers’
‘When I fled my home country, I had to walk many days without food or water to get to a place of safety’
‘They rape us and our girls and there is nothing I can do about it because we are at their mercy’
‘I don’t understand why foreigners have to be allowed in our country. They are now taking our jobs. Why can’t they just go back to where they came from?’
These are some of the sentiments that I have come across from a number of refugees, all affected in one way of the other by prolonged conflict either in Somalia or another Africa country. It is always easier to quantify and qualify some of the effects of war like instabilities, increased vulnerabilities by minority groups, and economic stagnation. But very often, effects that war has on the family unit, social interactions within communities, and integration of refugees or asylum seekers in their newly found and sometimes temporary homes are ignored.
I have never been a refugee. What I write here is solely based on my interactions with Somali refugees in various parts of the world, and my knowledge from what Kenya faces, with an ever increasing number of refugees in the country.
The refugee status in any country has its own limitations regarding how integrated one can be. For instance, it stipulates that one can only work (if allowed) for so many hours and often the wage is perhaps not good enough for one to be able to feed a family. I am aware that a lot of refugees prefer to run away from the refugee camps and take on jobs that may sometimes be very demeaning so that they can be able to take care of their own. And in doing these jobs, the refugees often do not have legitimate legal working papers, are abused by employers in the name conditions of employment, do not have the same rights of recourse like citizens when they are abused by employers, and often have to live with the fear of the police arresting them.
Many refugees today were once upon a time successful people in their countries of origin. I know of people that were teachers, lawyers, public servants, doctors, nurses, accountants, police or defence officers that have now taken up jobs as parking attendants, waitresses/ waitrons, domestic workers and other jobs that they would not have otherwise done if their countries were safe and peaceful (not to say that the jobs mentioned above are not important). A few weeks ago, I watched a programme where a man, originally from the DRC had been a parking attendant in South Africa despite being fully qualified as a Maths and Science teacher (and he was very passionate). He began offering after school tuition to learners on the parking lot where he worked and was eventually hired by a school in Johannesburg. Because refugees often do not have legal status in the adopted countries, have often run away from home without any proof of their qualifications, it becomes very difficult to secure jobs.
Then there are the constant nightmares that many refugees have to deal with at night as a result of their experiences during times of conflict. It is very easy to heal the physical, and even when one gets their life together in a foreign country, there will always be those ghosts that they have to confront. When one witnessed their entire family being killed, it is very hard to get over that trauma. When a woman has been raped multiple times or been kept as a sex slave for prolonged periods of time, something about their sense of humanness is lost, and it is hard for them to comprehend life. Refugee aid agencies do a lot of work, and are too inundated to offer the psychological support most refugees need, and therefore a proper healing process is never initiated.
Other silent consequences of war include xenophobia like we have witnessed in South Africa. A lot of Somalis continue to face this problem within the communities they live and this increases their vulnerabilities. I have heard of cases where a school would not allow children of a refugee to attend school because the school could not ascertain what grades the children were to be placed. Refugees also suffer from problems involving integrating themselves in the societies that adopt them, and often face social rejection. This problem partly explains why they will tend to associate with those that are like them rather than integrate.
Our societies are not properly informed of what the word, ‘refugee’ actually means.
Our societies do not understand the circumstances that force people into the life of being refugees.
Our societies do not understand that refugees, more than anything, need our love and understanding as they struggle to integrate in our societies.
Part of our responsibilities as humans, first and foremost, is to identify and care for those amongst us that a most vulnerable. This is a responsibility that goes beyond caring for only our own. It is a responsibility that should be extended to those amongst us that really need our friendships; those that have faced far much worse circumstances due to conflict and war.
Next time you see a refugee or a foreigner in your society, smile at and befriend them. Sometimes, that is all they need to keep going!