What is a Refugee?
This is the first question I was asked upon entering the simulated “Doctor’s without borders” (MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES) Refugee Camp set up at Christie Pitts Park.
The question was actually, “What is a Refugee as opposed to an internally displaced person?” (never thought about it before)
Imagine if armed men forced their way into your home declaring the house now belonged to them and that you had 3 minutes to leave by foot – what would you take?
Imagine the fleeing process, carrying your few possessions, not knowing where you were going or what was to become of you.
Imagine also that your party of however many had been attacked whilst fleeing; in fact some members of your party had been shot or raped!
Now you have to try to cross the border, but without any “official” papers because (and just imagine this too) you live in a country that is not evolved enough to be able to provide that sort of social identity infrastructure.
You need to get across; the guard asks for money, and when you pay him, he only lets in 6 out of the 7 of you, demanding extra payment for the seventh member. You don’t want to antagonize him, so you comply as you’ve heard that just beyond the border there is a refugee camp with a western aid organization running it.
You get to the camp, you are disorientated, in shock, exhausted and probably mal nourished. Members of your family have been killed during the journey. You have to wait in line to get into the camp and once in you are told you need to build your own shelter out of whatever you can find or have to hand.
Life has been reduced to you, the family members that made it, the few possessions you managed to bring with you and whatever shelter you can fashion within the confines of this muddy chaotic noisy camp.
On the plus side, you are probably relatively safe, given 2100 calories of food each day represented by rice/grain; beans; salt; sugar and oil and occasionally a square supplement tablet. You are also allocated 5 litres of water per day that you need to collect from the standpipes connected to the huge water tank bladders. In your previous life you probably used over 300 litres of water each day. There is medical aid to hand, psychological counseling and therapy, and your children are provided with inoculations and if malnourished are put on a strict feeding regime.
This is the reality of any refugee happening upon a “Doctors without Borders” camp in any one of the 61 or so countries that this organization has set up in. Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, these camps operate independently of government and without prejudice of any kind, the premise being that ALL human beings displaced by conflict or natural disaster are entitled to the sort of assistance that will lessen their trauma and discomfort.
It took about an hour in the sweltering heat to be shown around the various camp stations by a volunteer who had “served’ at many camps around the globe and more recently in Haiti after the 2009 earthquake. I felt thoroughly in awe of what this organization and its people were doing every day of every year for people dehumanized by conflict, some of whom will spend most of their lives in refugee camps.
PS- According to metronews. ca this morning in their article about the camp, there are 42 Million people worldwide who are refugees or through conflict in their own countries, internally displaced persons.
Makes you think
Over and Out