Update: as the economy hovers around rock bottom, the domestic environment for refugees will only get worse. Economically, this may be the worst time ever to survive in a new country — especially if your language, education, and cultural skills are drastically different from that of your new home.
Worse yet, the economic pressures tend to inspire some of the least-welcoming attitudes. We’ve been getting verification to many of the rumors of escalating tensions and even violence directed at refugees, as well as immigrants (of any legal status) and even second- or third-generation citizens who appear to resemble immigrants in some way.
We don’t say this to frighten off any prospective refugees, and we strongly urge anyone at any point in the asylum process to complete the process as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible. The possible risks can be dealt with, and in all but the most unusual circumstances are still most likely preferable to the situation from which you are escaping.
For many of us, the plight of the refugee is nearly impossible to imagine. Consider the horrors of war and the daily struggle to merely survive in many developing countries — and then subtract the country itself.
Historically, refugees have been compelled to leave their country either due to persecution or a more impersonal disaster (with war and violence a common link between the two categories). While there have probably been refugees as long as there has been conflicts within societies, the concept was mainly formalized during the 20th century.
The first real international effort was the League of Nations’ Commission for Refugees, which addressed the 1.5 million who fled the Russian Revolution of 1917. Despite (or because of) many countries tightening restrictions on immigration during the half-century leading up to World War II, international cooperation and procedures regarding displaced persons developed and became more defined. Still, though asylum and sanctuary are positive and progressive messages, even the nations that had agreed to the plan were more likely to obstruct emigration, via bureaucratic or even military means.
Ultimately, the main entity overseeing refugee issues was the United Nations — interestingly, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was established several years before the United Nations itself. In both cases, the obvious motivation was the severe disruption surrounding World War II, which created over 40 million refugees in Europe alone.
Today’s refugees are much more likely to come from Central Asia or Africa than Eastern Europe, but the policies and procedures were constructed to focus upon solutions for the victims rather than the specific circumstances of their origins. Today, the main debate is less about humanitarian assistance (though implementation of such assistance remains a constant struggle) than about what are called “economic” or “climate” refugees. The former can be seen as ‘displaced’ by an economic crisis, rendering them unable to seek basic survival necessities. The latter are in the same position due to the effects of climate change (typically, sea level and temperature changes).
Take action, form committees and have a meeting. Bring both food for thought as well as gift baskets delivery to feed your stomachs and your minds.