Desperation looks like little Aylan, faced-down on the Turkish shore. That horrific image circulating the web is the human face of a missed opportunity: a life lost while bound for a second chance at flourishing. At RIF, we experience first hand what a humane first-response can do for those who are desperate enough to flee by any means necessary. Many of us are now witnessing the tragic loss of life and dignity brought on by a poor or nonexistent response to this dire despair.
Over 3,500 people were reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014, and this does not account for the many more who die everyday, walking through deserts, attempting to cross borders, and suffocating in trucks. 2014 saw the highest net increase in refugees ever recorded since the existence of the UNHCR, at over 2.7 million additional individuals. We're approaching 2016, and despite this reality, many governments are only now scrambling to organize reception mechanisms. A response commensurate with this level of human suffering is past due.
Fences and detention camps set up by wealthy nations like the U.S, Australia, and European countries are not only appalling, but they will no longer hold back the tide of the desperate, and they will no longer allow these nations to remain fortresses of privilege.
It is our duty, and well within our means to create both refugee resettlement and asylum seeker reception mechanisms that are as effective as they are human. While Europe dismally debates how, or whether at all to receive the 300,000 asylum seekers that have fled to its borders in 2015, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon have taken in a combined 3.5 million. Just this week, the prime minister of Hungary asserted that the nation should defend its borders to “keep Europe Christian.” Meanwhile, the suffering continues, and the total loss of hope in peace and security, coupled with the lack of legal avenues for asylum seekers, has created a massive network of smugglers that offer desperate people what they perceive to be their only chance for survival.
In the U.S, we saw comparable blunders in 2014 when over 68,000 Central American children overwhelmed our dysfunctional system of seeking asylum. Currently, funding for organizations that support asylum seekers as opposed to resettled refugees, is extremely limited, so for those who flee and end up on our shores rather than a refugee camp, there is no organized reception mechanism.
For those fleeing war, or life-threatening droughts brought on by climate change, or both, waiting idly for these mechanisms is a matter of life or death.
These asylum seekers arrive in the U.S and are faced with a shortage of legal representation, and a 3-5 year waiting period for their interviews. So while they may be “safe,” they still suffer from the mental and physical repercussions of trauma, and they begin to lose hope as they struggle to take root in foreign lands, and their children grow up without a mother. At this time, when they are most vulnerable, there is little to no support.
We at RIF, will continue to serve and support these individuals with a human approach.
We too often experience the way that paralyzing systems of bureaucracy exacerbate trauma. Grassroots organizations like RIF, and civil society movements like those welcoming refugees into their homes in Iceland and Germany, should be encouraged and supported because they're agile, they're inexpensive, and they are well equipped to offer asylum seekers what they crave most upon landing on foreign shores: a helping hand to get back on their feet.
By Ellie Alter