By Jamie Gabriel
It is human nature to put greater emphasis on things we, as individuals, find significant within our own lives. In the process, we sometimes inadvertently give less significance to the concerns of our neighbors. Such indifference doesn’t seem relevant when the thing in question is material or replaceable with currency, but what about when the thing in question is a human life? How much indifference is allotted toward the plight of human suffering? It is suspected such indifference is a consequence of desensitization to the occurrences of human atrocities we often see. But individualism caused by indifference should not be the end-all, be-all raison d'etre of man, but some of us across the globe have normalized our inability to empathize with the misfortunes of others unless it permeates our own sphere of self-interest. This indifference toward human suffering has occurred at various points throughout our history; the Crusades, during the Holocaust, during the genocide in Rwanda, and it’s happening all over again with the refugee crisis. We as individuals must find a way to embrace more than the inherent self-interest of our human nature and bring an end to the pandemic of indifference that has plagued us for hundreds of years.
On February 23rd, 2017, the United Nations hosted the event Refugees and the Culture of Peace: What Spirituality Has to Offer, which shed light on the plight of refugees through firsthand experience from speakers such as Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s Latifa Woodhouse from Kandahar, Afghanistan and Iraqi Christian Relief Council’s Juliana Taimoorazy from Iran. Both spoke to the dehumanizing conditions those seeking asylum are forced to live under in camps; overcrowding, a lack of basic amenities such as heat or electricity, insufficient amounts of clean water, no nutritious foods, and children who have lost years of education with no alternative being provided to them. Many refugees don’t even make it to these camps, either having died in a desperate attempt to reach safety or denied entry into a country. “A refugee has the right to safe asylum. However, international protection comprises more than physical safety. Refugees should receive at least the same rights and basic help as any other foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, of movement, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment.” Despite the dictates of international law, some refugees are turned away at the border of countries they seek asylum in, or worse, risk refoulement to a country which is typically dangerous or war ridden under conditions they fled for their own safety and the safety of their children. For a significant portion of the world, information regarding the plight of refugees is either unheard of or unnoticed. Did you know:
1. According to UNHCR there are over 21 million refugees throughout the world.
2. 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.
3. It is estimated 50% of refugees are under the age of 18.
4. A refugee and a migrant are not the same thing.
5. It is estimated that 3 million (43%) Syrian refugee children are not in school.
6. Conditions in refugee camps in the Middle East and Europe vary widely: some camps provide shelter, food, school, drinking water and sanitation while others do not.
7. This year alone, more than 2,500 refugees and migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
We, as individuals, should strive to place greater importance on the tribulations of one another, especially those in need who suffer from deprivation of basic human rights. In order to do this, we must first seek to overcome the pandemic of indifference that still plagues us until this day. It is our responsibility to keep the conversation going across civil society, government, and the public to raise greater awareness to the plight of refugees. As Elie Wiesel once said, "indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”
ReferencesImage - Google (Commercial use) - http://i.imgur.com/KchD5vs.png "Protecting Refugees: questions and answers." UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency. February 1, 2002. http://www.unhcr.org/publications/brochures/3b779dfe2/protecting-refugees-questions-answers.html. Wiesel, Elie. "The Perils of Indifference." http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/wiesel.htm. April 12, 1999.