For over a year now I’ve been working with Their Story is Our Story, to design and build their website. Their Story is Our Story publishes refugee stories to help people who are curious or concerned about the refugee crisis get to know the actual people who have fled from their homes and are building new lives in new lands. It’s a group of writers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, lawyers, and a designer who came together out of concern for what was happening and a desire to apply their talents in trying to help. I joined them for this year’s trip to Europe and ran the video camera as we filmed interviews with refugees and volunteers in Paris, France and Frankfurt, Germany. It was a week full of hard work, sadness at the stories we heard, and inspiration at the people who are doing their best to help.
It is hard to write a single coherent post of my thoughts from the trip, so I’m just writing a few words about whatever comes to mind.
The refugees my team spoke to were largely men from Afghanistan and women from various countries in Africa. The common theme in their reasons for leaving their homelands was violence. Violence is used as a tool to drive out people who will not comply, practice different faiths, demonstrate unwanted success, or threaten your wanted order. Violence splits families, in death or by forcing abandonment. Violence leaves scars, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Violence shocks people into action.
One of the biggest dichotomies I noticed was in how refugees were received in France and Germany. Germany has implemented systems to incorporate refugees into their new homelands while France seems to just want the problem to go away and pursues its goal through a combination of forced removal and a daunting asylum process. The difference in the lives of the refugees in these nations is immense. One approach encourages integration, while the other prolongs desperation and, at times, resentment. The way we welcome people has a great deal to do with how successfully they can build new lives. The face to face contact with refugees in both nations is done by volunteers and civil servants, but the tone is set from the top. As with so many things, politics can’t help but effect people’s lives.
The most hopeful thing in the trip for me was my interaction with volunteers who donate a tremendous amount of time and energy to helping refugees in their own nations. They have different reasons for doing it, but they are all made better by their work, and, in the process, give people who have nothing an opportunity to begin again. I want to be like them, and am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with Their Story is Our Story and meet these people in person.
If you want to help refugees there are several ways you can do it. Share a refugee’s story with people you know, contact your representatives to ask them to increase the amount of refugees we accept, donate to refugee relief organizations, or find organizations in your local community that serve refugees and offer to help. Media attention is fickle and moves from one news cycle to the next, but the refugee crisis is ongoing and history will remember us for how we respond.
…I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in…
…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.1
Matthew 25:35,40 (KJV) ↩