Yesterday’s announcement that the United States will accept 2,000 Syrian refugees is a welcome piece of good news for the nearly two million Syrians now living in exile. Many have spent more than two years trying to eke out an existence in neighboring countries that offer varying degrees of hospitality and support.
Omar, 24, lives in the Goudebo refugee camp on the outskirts of Dori, Burkina Faso. Like thousands of other Malian Tuaregs, Omar and his family sought refuge in neighboring Burkina after fighting broke out between Tuareg separatists, Islamic extremists, and the Malian government. In fact, he and his family have been displaced since February 2012, the very onset of the crisis.
This weekend, while many of us in the United States were outside enjoying the summer weather, 66,000 civilians fled across the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern border into Uganda. The exodus came after an attack by a Ugandan rebel group known as the Allied Democratic Forces - National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), who on Thursday briefly took control of the Congolese town of Kamango.
A little more than a week ago, June 20th, was World Refugee Day. The occasion seeks to raise awareness of, and funds for, the continued international work to support those displaced from their home countries. It furthermore is an opportunity to show solidarity with people who may still suffer from the consequences of persecution and the challenges of exile and exclusion.
However, the universal context of such a campaign raises questions about the transcendental nature of refugee identity and experience, and the possible existence of a global “refugee community.”
Nila is tired. Two weeks ago, she arrived in Yida camp, South Sudan, with her three young children in search of safety and food. Like the many people that fled before her, Nila and her family escaped from their homes in the middle of the night after relentless bombings by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) made it impossible for them to harvest their crops. As they hid in the caves away from the bombs, hunger set in, and finally they were forced to flee.
Samuel totters on uneven footing in the doorway of the thatch hut and gapes, open-mouthed, at the strangers in his house. He’s just a year old and has lived his entire life here in Yida, a transit camp for refugees in Unity State, South Sudan.
My Refugees International colleague and I perch on the edge of the bed that Samuel shares with his mom, Halima. When Samuel starts to whimper, Halima rises from her metal chair, held together by twine, scoops up the naked baby, and then returns to her chair and continues her story.
Right now, the shell-shocked residents of Moore, Oklahoma, are grappling with the loss of 24 lives and the destruction of entire neighborhoods following a devastating tornado on May 20. Meanwhile, across the globe, tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Burma are returning to damaged homes and villages in the wake of Cyclone Mahasen, which thankfully proved more merciful than anticipated.
While in Myanmar's Kachin State last month, I visited a number of displacement camps around Myitkyina and Waingmaw, and I also met with Kachin community-based organizations (CBOs) who deliver aid in both government and non-government controlled areas.