Who Is a Refugee Today?
What’s the difference between an immigrant and an expat? Or between a refugee and you and I?
Imagine one day you must flee your country A for another country B to be able to earn enough money to eat. Upon arriving, country B will decide if you are voluntarily choosing to leave your homeland or you were forced to leave. Most often, refugees are allowed to stay and economic immigrants (as they are often called) must go back home. For many people coming from wartown or famine ridden countries, the difference between the label immigrant (voluntarily emigrated) and the label refugee (forced out) can be life or death. But that is not to say that being called a refugee doesn’t have its many drawbacks as well.
What images come to mind when you think of a refugee? In most cases, refugees are viewed as the desperate, poor and uneducated masses encroaching neighboring countries. Immigrants, or even more so expats, can come in many more varieties. When I recently visited the Zataari Refugee Camp in Jordan, I learned what the term refugee truly meant.
Who are the refugees I met in Jordan?
They are some of the most resilient, adaptive people I’ve ever met. Poor and uneducated? Of course many refugees become poor after fleeing their homelands, but while I was in Zataari I met former doctors, professors, lawyers - the opposite of who we often think of as “refugees”. I met entire families who had uprooted themselves in hopes of not just a better future, but any future at all.
In Zataari, they aren’t just waiting for that future - they are making it a reality now. The migrants I found were not the destitute masses sensationalized in the media, but innovative entrepreneurs and strong leaders with a determination to build a better future. Being labeled as refugees may have helped these migrants enter into Jordan, but remaking the negative imagery associated with the term is the true challenge. Recognizing refugees as real people with histories and hopes like anyone else would change how society treats refugees and the opportunities they have within the host society.
Programs like the World Food Program Building Block help give migrants in refugee camps money to purchase food, allowing individuals to have some autonomy over their lives. Other great programs offer education for refugees of all ages. Interested in learning more? Then the documentary, Human Flow, is a must watch. And it’s worth learning more about the objective of the Humanized Internet, which works to use new technologies to defend the rights of vulnerable people, and give every human secure, sovereign control over their own digital identity. These programs and initiatives help give these individuals back the dignity they lost in the dehumanizing process of becoming an official refugee…. to take back the dignity they deserve, like everyone else.