June 15, 2015
Boats in the Andaman Sea wandering off the coast of Thailand carrying Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants from Myanmar. Estimations had eight thousand people stranded at sea. (Thapanee Letsrichai)
(Rome) June 15, 2015 — For World Refugee Day this weekend, Jesuit Refugee Service urges you to remember that the key to change is within each of us. While governments decide to accept or reject refugees, only we have the power to truly welcome them. We must change our fixed view of refugees as 'the other.'
Refugees around the world are being pushed back and pushed out. Australia is pushing refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Colombians are being kicked out of Venezuela. Kenya has threatened to expel nearly half a million Somali and other refugees. Boats with Rohingya asylum seekers are turned away again and again by countries in Asia Pacific, left stranded at sea. Thousands of people are drowning attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East and North Africa.
Even where refugees are not literally expelled, they are often shunned, mistreated or jailed. Their very presence is criminalised and they are often excluded from their host communities. In South Africa, foreigners are facing violence and riots, forcing them to flee their homes. In Europe, refugees are forced to rely on the informal labour and housing markets. In the United States, refugees fleeing widespread violence in Central America are held in detention.
The key to change need not always be a top-down approach. German and Swedish policy makers have exemplified that leaders can encourage this shift in our societal perception, but we must start with our own individual perceptions. Refugees are the 'we,' the 'us,' as opposed to 'they' or 'them.' Let’s not just save lives; let's save dignity.