Article Community Service

The Individual Refugee

The Individual Refugee

Author Soleen Karim by

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Upon the turmoils of war, individuals and families find themselves needing to make a life changing decision, to either stay amongst the remnants they once called home or to leave with only necessities in hand.

The summer of 2015 offered the world a glimpse into the life of some of these families and individuals, whom the UN terms as “refugees,” as they made the grueling journey towards safety. Now topics of debate amongst politicians around the globe, the 13.1 million refugees are addressed as a mass of people under this one term, yet forgotten as individuals.

Dignity is no longer afforded to each individual seeking refuge within urban centers, makeshift settlements, and most importantly in refugee camps.

Well-intentioned design challenges surface amongst privileged societies attempting to offer prescribed dehumanizing solutions for housing and mobile shelters. Aid workers are challenged by blockades put forth by political and ideological regimes, limiting their reach or having to compromise their ethics to deliver aid. The conversation again becomes that of the collective refugee “problem” rather than a proactive discussion of understanding of each individual and reclamation of their dignity.

Design4Refugees, Corp founder and executive, Kurdeen Karim, visited two refugee camps in Iraq in October of 2015. Both camps displayed the stark reality that, while all refugees are faced with the same challenge of finding a sense of security and permanence in their life, they also can each contribute individually to finding that permanence if afforded the opportunity to do so.

With technology at their fingertips and television screens placed centrally within each tent, each new image of war and the constant discussion of the prolonging of the war creates psychological barriers emphasized by the physical barrier of the camp boundary and fence.

Politicians remark that refugee camps, particularly the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan are “pleasant” without acknowledging that there is an utter lack of freedom for each individual within the camp. It is this lack of freedom, the treatment of refugees as prisoners of war, and the addressing of refugees as burdens on host countries that is the “problem” that continues to peel away each individual’s dignity and humanity. This is all compounded by our lack of sensitivity to the understanding that each refugee is aware of how they are perceived and treated by the unaffected populace.

As designers, planners, engineers, entrepreneurs, and humanitarians, we are trained to offer creative solutions to complex problems. The problem here is not refugees but the system under which refugees are placed. Our solutions need to be resolved hand in hand with each individual refugee rather than prescribed in a top down manner.

Our support from the US should emphasize that dignity should be reinstated. We need to iterate that the living conditions in refugee camps need to stop being addressed as quick emergency responses but as prolonged states of limbo that could lead to the creation of a lost generation. We need to direct our attention to each refugee camp and stress the need for better infrastructure and a political authority that can limit crime and self-policing within the camps to make it safer for everyone living in these micro-cities. We need to listen to refugees and give them their voice back.

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