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Why I will always stand #WithRefugees

18 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance.

More than 3.3 million Iraqis are internally displaced.

400,000 Syrians have lost their lives since the eruption of the civil war in 2011.

Many of us are now numb to these facts and figures. Is it because you’ve seen them splattered all over the news and on social media too often? Or is it because you find this all unfathomable?

Screenshot from a video by Aleppo Media Coverage of Omran Daqneesh after being rescued from an airstrike.

Perhaps you’ve seen a video of a Syrian mother with bloodstained hair, stumbling towards a pile of rubble. You’ve watched as she frantically pushed away each brick, piece by piece, in the hopes of hearing a whimper from her two-month-old baby, despite being told that all five of her children had died from the airstrike. Others cannot bear dragging her away from the debris, ripping her away from the bricks of hope she clutched onto so desperately. As the mother uncovers the last piece, there lies the limp, lifeless body of her baby son. She reaches out to caress her child’s dust-covered face with her shaky hands, as she lets out a harrowing wail.

Maybe you’ve stopped yourself from thinking of the mother and her son when you look at these figures. Seeing these facts as pure numbers makes it easier. It allows your mind to push the painful reality away, to dismiss the severity of such conflicts, and to ignore the fact that all of this is happening now.

Re-read these three facts, and try to envision the humanity behind these numbers. Keep in mind the many videos you've watched of families grieving for the loved ones they lost during a mass slaughter at a wedding celebration; keep in mind the countless photographs you've seen of the bodies of young children being washed up on shore; keep in mind the articles you've read about severely malnourished children who struggle to even swallow a gulp of water.

It is easy to react strongly to a photograph of a blood-soaked, expressionless child for only a minute or so. What is distressing is how easily we let this depressing reality slip away from our minds, without giving it much thought until another picture manages to catch the world’s attention temporarily.

Last Friday, many were disgusted by Trump’s executive order, titled ‘protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States’. This banned nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the US for 90 days, suspended the US Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days and halted the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The reasons behind these bans as stated in the executive order range from such people being ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States’, and that the US should not ‘admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who place violent ideologies over American law’.

Studies show that American citizens have a 1 in a 3 billionth chance of dying from an attack by a foreign-born terrorist, whilst major terrorist attacks that have occurred in America in the most recent years were actually carried out by US-born citizens or legal residents who originated from countries that were not included in the ban. These facts were cited in many news articles, as journalists criticised the ineffectiveness of Trump’s unjustified travel ban.

It is heart-warming to see the mass demonstrations that occurred over the weekend as a response, with protesters preaching compassion, love and sympathy. For many, the ban is intolerable because the very targets of it are themselves the most vulnerable victims of extremist terrorists groups, and not because evidence shows that refugees pose little danger to Americans. Millions of children, men and women are refugees not by choice, but as a consequence of civil and proxy wars. They do not choose to embark on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean in poorly-made and overcrowded boats; they do not choose to sleep in makeshift tents, with little to help them endure the freezing sub-zero European winter nights; these children do not choose to be separated from their mothers and fathers, and call an uninhabitable refugee camp their home for years on end, without any access to education.

What motivates asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons is the hope of reaching safety, and Warsan Shire describes this perfectly in his poem Home, ‘you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land’. Imagine making a 3000km journey from Syria to Hungary by foot, only to be greeted by a 500km long razor-wired fence. Imagine facing constant suspicion and speculation upon entry, having the extent of your desperation questioned just for being in possession of a smartphone, an essential device not only for functions such as GPS translation and currency exchange apps, but for you to keep in contact with the family that you have not seen in months. Imagine sitting through a lengthy in-person interview with a Homeland Security officer, or having your background checked by multiple intelligence agencies when all you seek is refuge. In the words of Nayyirah Waheed from her book salt., ‘You broke the ocean in half to be here. Only to meet nothing that wants you.’

It is easy for us all to forget Trump’s executive order in the next two weeks, as easy as it was to overlook the ongoing civil war in Syria after the end of the Battle of Aleppo, and this travel ban can become even more extensive if we let it. As individuals, we often feel helpless in the face of global issues. You often wonder whether that £10 donation to a charity helped, or whether signing that petition will come to any good. The answer is yes, it will. Every word and action amounts to something, even if it only raises awareness. Nothing is as dangerous as letting tragedies go by unheard of, and unjust actions slip by unnoticed.

To quote Rupi Kaur in her book Milk & Honey - ‘They have no idea what it is like to lose home at the risk of never finding home again, have you entire life split between two lands and become the bridge between two countries’. And this is why I will always stand #WithRefugees.


Links to charities and petitions:

More reading:

  • Read Home by Warsan Shire

  • Read President Trump's Immigration Order, Annotated (The New York Times)

  • Read Trump’s full executive order

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