What Isn’t Being Said About Refugees

This is a short, but pointed reflection. I have been following the comments made by refugees and recorded by journalists. I have also empathized with the various refugee populations to better understand their experience and through their eyes.

A refugee is someone who is fleeing intense and violent life conditions. Unlike most immigrants, refugees have experienced war, famine, kidnapping, separation from their families, and atrocities. Thus, refugees are likely to be suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Some refugees will take the position of detachment, while others will identify with their aggressors and perpetrate the same aggressive acts.

When a country takes in refugees, this country takes on a tremendous responsibility to resuscitate these people to feeling like peace and trust are possible. It does not make any sense to mainstream a refugee population with the country population and expect all to be at ease. In fact, the refugee population requires tremendous resources, including medication, to restore the chemical imbalances induced by trauma.

Instead of being treated like a population with extreme and resource-intensive needs, refugees are either placed in squalor-ridden refugee camps and in close quarters, or left on the city streets to camp out and create squalor for the citizens. Whatever treatment is provided to refugees is minimal. In which universe does this approach make any sense?

Some humanitarians will say: “Taking refugees in is better than nothing.” I challenge this claim. This view is short-sighted and very much represents in-the-box thinking.

Refugee camps may in fact exacerbate the people’s existing trauma, while mainstreaming refugees may cause trauma to current country citizens. Both cases are well documented.

This issue of bringing in massive numbers of traumatized individuals is a difficult one. Countries may already lack the resources to take care of their poor, hungry, sick, and elderly populations. Where will these countries suddenly get the resources to attend to large numbers of people in critical condition?

I am all for efforts that relieve humanity’s suffering. However, I am opposed to doing something in half-assed, poorly planned ways that do not consider the welfare of all affected.

How about we step back from the simple-minded rhetoric sighting humanitarian slogans and consider ways to triage and provide proper care to people:

  • Keep traumatized refugee populations separate from current country citizens.
  • Set up refugee camps in nature with plenty of space to give people “elbow room.”
  • Train refugees to provide counseling and medication within camps.
  • Assess which refugees need medication and determine how to pay for and distribute this medication so that the medication does not get abused.
  • Provide cultural norms training to refugees about the country into which they are placed.
  • Provide widespread information to citizens about the strategies employed to address refugees. Offer a hotline for citizen questions and concerns.
  • Designate effective teams of liaisons between refugees and government officials to monitor progress and communicate with officials, care providers, refugees, and citizens.
  • For those refugees told they will have to go back, figure out how to have their PTSD not kick in while they are being given the news.

Sounds like a lot? It is. Get creative in finding resources to address the needs. Sometimes solving one problem creatively also solves a slew of existing problems.

I do not see the UN working creativity with countries to address issues even after the refugees are taken in. It’s almost as if everyone is saying “You’ll take ’em? Good. Someone needs to.” Or, “You won’t take ’em? You heartless piece of shit…” And the discussion stops there. It doesn’t need to!

Meanwhile, take a second look at your own citizens. What do they need? Can you learn from what you have done to help refugees and help your own teens, elderly, unemployed, homeless, hungry, mentally ill, handicapped, and abused people?

Start a humanitarian movement for real, accounting for the big picture and shuffling resources. Stop parroting self-righteousness – if you haven’t noticed, talk doesn’t usually help, nor does mindless labeling.

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