Illustration courtesy Camille Kritzman

By Camille Kritzman

No one chooses to be a refugee. People become refugees as a last option, often a matter of life or death. Observed annually on June 20th, World Refugee Day is a day devoted to raising awareness of people forced to leave their country because they fear persecution, war, or violence.  World Refugee Day also acknowledges Internally Displaced People (IDP) who are forced to flee their homes for the same reasons people become refugees, but do not cross any international borders.

My first experience with refugees occurred while working with Amnesty International in Santiago, Chile. A year ago, a few other volunteers and I put on an event in Quilicura, the neighborhood with the highest concentration of refugees in Santiago. Throughout the day, I met many Haitian refugees who fled from the destruction caused by the massive earthquake of 2010. These people were lucky, in a sense, to escape the inhospitable conditions in their home country. However, they had to leave behind their family members, professions, community, and all possessions to arrive at a country where they did not even know the language.

People described to me difficulties in adjusting to a new language, climate, and culture.  They also described frustrations in getting loved ones to join them in Chile.  The refugees’ unconditional positivity and determination left the largest impression on me. Jean, a Haitian refugee I worked with, explained to me, “I can lose everything.  I have lost everything.  My possessions, money, family, but love is universal. I can find love everywhere.  And that’s what keeps me alive.” Jean reminded me of the strength that we humans have to find hope in the most deplorable situations.

To highlight the stories of people like Jean, one of over 40 million people displaced worldwide, we created a Human Rights Channel playlist:

The playlist focuses on refugee crises from Syria, Colombia, Burma, Haiti, and Sudan. The stories shared include violent situations in which government forces murder civilians; a century-old conflict that continues to displace innocent people; dilapidated, makeshift homes serving as the only shelter for thousands over three years after a major natural disaster; and people constantly fleeing ethnically targeted violence.

The majority of the 40 million people displaced are women and children. Refugee status, if it is granted, does not mark the end of struggle.  Families are torn apart, children die daily in refugee camps, and in some cases, people are sent back to the violence they attempted to escape from. People endure lingering psychological trauma from experiences in their home countries, and few receive adequate care. Children are born, raised and die in refugee camps, waiting to go “home,” a place many have never been to or don’t remember.  Unable to return to their homeland, people become trapped by poverty because many countries don’t allow refugees to earn wages.

As bleak a picture as the statistics paint, the videos in this playlist – made by refugees and people living and working with them – bring the viewer on a journey. Despite many hardships, the videos ultimately capture the resiliency of human nature to survive and make the most of abject conditions.

For more information about the legal status of refugees, check out the UNHCR website.

Camille is an intern with WITNESS’ Social Media Team.

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