August 21, 2019 3 min read
Let's talk about some of the refugee myths, shall we?
So let's start this post with a definition of what a refugee is. This term is defined by the Refugee Convention which was ratified in 1951 by 145 States who signed that convention. This document defines what a refugee is and what are the obligations of the States to protect them. You can read the actual document here but in short:
Notice the words "forced" "persecution" "war" and "violence" which are key to the concept. Those people are not "migrants" like they are wrongly colled so often in the media those days, they did not have the choice, they flee for their and their family's lives.
Semantics matter! They do not migrate by choice or for a better future or opportunity, they are forced out of their homes by war and violence! And more often than not their choice is to go or die. Confusing those two distinct groups of people or blurring the lines between the two concepts can have dramatic consequences not only for the safety of refugees but also on how they are treated and perceived in their host communities.
Of the many misconceptions about refugees, this is the one that shocks me the most.
Unfortunately, there are many many more common misconceptions about refugees I would like to address in this post.
Another myth about refugees is that the general public thinks that most of the refugees flee to the USA, Europe or Australia. Well of curse how would you not? All the media is talking about is the European refugee Crisis or what is happening at the US border!!! Did you know the USA does not even make the top 10 list of refugee host countries? Or that Germany is the only European country on that same list? When you look at the numbers most of refugee host countries that welcome the most refugees are places you don't often hear about in the news. Most refugees end up in their neighbor countries. Those who are resettled to USA Canada or Europe are as lucky as lottery winners, and while I love to see their success stories and they are the inspiration for others you must keep in mind those are the lucky few.
Have a look at the graphic by UNHCR
I used to think that most of the refugee people live in camps. Where they are provided by humanitarian organizations with all necessities. Well, there are places where it is true, in others a "camp" might just be a make chief settlement, but from what I could have observed here in Turkey is that the majority of refugees live in urban areas. Official numbers state that only about 8% of all Syrian refugees are in camps. Often they will settle in the poorest neighborhoods where they face so many challenges to integrating the local host communities who are facing difficulties themselves.
I came to Turkey before the Syrian war and before the 4 million refugees were welcomed here. I witnessed many neighborhoods and families in need and in a difficult situation, now with the arrival of the refugees, the whole situation is even more exacerbated. This harsh situation transformed me from a volunteer and a humanitarian to more of an activist, where I believe that only programs destined to help those communities as a whole (refugee and host) are viable and will make the most impact. I know the same situation exists in Lebanon where 1 out of 3 of all people is a refugee. I did not have the chance to travel to African countries but I can bet you the situation is similar there too: host communities in difficult situations welcoming refugees which need to be helped as a whole!
Check out the adorable animals our Moms, refugees, and locals produce together