This past Wednesday the event “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” hosted by the Center for Human Rights & International Justice and other organizations at BC, transported participants away from the Massachusetts foliage to a desert under the hot Jordanian sun. The event was a simulation inside the dangerously overpopulated and severely underfunded Za’atari Refugee Camp, a camp so big that it has become Jordan’s fourth largest city.
Once inside the simulation, participants were handed a card with their new identity that completed their transportation, leaving behind the million dollar stairs and Gasson and adding one more to the already millions of displaced persons worldwide.
My name is Nader. I am 42 years old, and I am planning to leave Damascus, Syria. My home was destroyed and I have found shelter with other displaced persons in an abandoned school building. There aren’t many safe areas in Damascus—a mortar can land at anytime. Every morning when I leave my house to go to work, I know it could be the last time I see my daughter. But life goes on. We do what we can when we can, and the only thing left for me to do is leave. Death has become our daily reality.
Za’atari houses millions of refugees from all over the world but Syrian refugees are by far the highest with 79,713 within the camp. Due to the proximity of Jordan and Syria, the fact that there are thousands of Syrians already there and that Damascus has become too unsafe for my daughter and me, I have decided to leave Syria, uprooting my life to live in Za’atari. Upon our arrival, BC’s GlobeMed diagnosed me with mania, a psychotic disorder of which there is no medication available at the camp. Along with no medication for my condition, I have been deemed inadmissible by the U.S. government as a result of my mania. According to GlobeMed, 3 out of 10 Syrian children are unvaccinated, so there is a good chance my daughter is sick or will become very sick while in the camp.
Some of these issues are being addressed by 3RP, which is a program that was started by The United Nations in an effort to combat poor medical infrastructure in the world’s most vulnerable populations. 3RP works on both a micro and macro level, working in camps to provide proper care and medication to individual refugees while also working to repair infrastructure in support of populations who have little to no access to proper medical care.
Once my medical evaluation was over, I moved to the next station to receive my food and water rations. Due to underfunding and food scarcity, The World Food Programme can only offer 1,300 calories per day, which is significantly less than a person needs to remain healthy. As for water, the United Nations mandates approximately 20 liters of water per person per day, but, in reality, most families are given one gallon of water per day. For reference, an 8.5 minute shower equates to about 17.2 gallons of water. After receiving my gallon of water, I was told that there is a freshwater source seven miles away that I could fill a barrel with. My family simply won’t survive on a gallon of water, so I must make the seven mile trek in the blistering sun to get water from this freshwater source, which almost certainly is unclean and shared with wild animals, leading to sometimes fatal waterborne diseases. Once my barrel is filled, it can weigh upwards of 40 pounds, and I begin the seven mile trek back to camp. Exhausted, I finally return and pack into a tent with multiple other families in a space that has been converted from a kitchen, study, and living room into a bedroom where we will sleep for the night. As a result of conflict, human rights violations, and famine, the average refugee can spend up to 17 years in camp, repeating this cycle daily.
At the end of the simulation, the walls were lined with tables discussing education and advocacy for the epidemic of displaced persons around the world. Education in camps is essentially nonexistent, with only 23% of refugee adolescents going on to attend secondary school and 1% moving on to higher education. In the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Northern Uganda, the student-to-teacher ratio is as high as 130:1, sometimes with more than 15 students sharing the same textbook. Some students may not have an opportunity to learn at all. In Lebanon, the curriculum is taught in French and English, while Syrian students learn in Arabic.
At the heart of the issue is the U.S., where the debate has become a centerpiece of political rhetoric on both sides. There is obviously a schism between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue, and it is seen most notably in the refugee caps under Obama and Trump. Of the 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, Trump has slashed the annual number accepted by the United States to 45,000 per year, which is down from the Obama-era limit of 110,000. This reduction comes at a time when fear mongering and hate have become substitutes for genuine political discourse on both sides of congress. But, in the wake of Trump’s travel ban, reports circulated that, despite opinions and feelings, since the Refugee Act of 1980, which set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States, there have been no fatal terror attacks carried out on U.S. soil by refugees.
“The issue has been important for a long time, but we felt it was especially important to bring this to campus at this time given the immense magnitude of the issue. We have have the most people forcibly displaced in the world since World War II and an increasing callousness of governmental responses toward the issue,” said Timothy Karcz, assistant director of CHRIJ.
“With the rise of demonizing political rhetoric around refugees entering the center of public discourse in this country, it was also crucial to provide some real factual information about refugees to help dispel so many of the myths and deliberate misinformation that have been absorbed by many," Karcz explained. "We hope that the experience of the simulation, however brief, helps to bring the reality of refugees’ struggles closer to the realities we live, since many times the maxim 'out of sight, out of mind' can unfortunately prove all too true in our busy day-to-day lives.”