You may have heard about the refugee crisis going on right now. Something about Syrians fleeing their war torn country because the world failed to take the civil war seriously when it first started, you know? The regular ol’ news story that’s been circulating the media as of late. While Europe might be thinking about where to house those incoming refugees, or if they’re even welcome in their countries, there are other things that we as human beings fail to think about. We fail to put ourselves in the shoes of a people risking their lives to save their loved ones. Ironically, we fail to think about the human aspect of this humanitarian crisis and instead focus more on the politics of immigration and asylum seeking.
So here’s an idea. Imagine for a moment that you are a refugee, fleeing your home as a result of a civil war that claimed the lives of many of your neighbors, your friends and even some family members. Imagine being a young college student whose education has been put on hold for the past four years, because either Assad or ISIS or rebel groups have destroyed your campus. Imagine being that student when you decide to leave your country behind in hopes of reaching a safer destination. What would you pack in your bag? Many refugees are being forced to pack their whole lives in backpacks so they can easily carry them while crossing country borders on their way to Europe.
Here are a few things I would take, both material and sentimental.
Dignity: I would take my dignity with me. I would keep my head up knowing that I am no less human than someone whose country has been kind to them. A refugee is a survivor and not a burden.
Faith: Whether that be faith in God, or in humanity – or in hope. The hope that I can sleep knowing that things will be better when I wake up and if they’re not, that they’ll be better one day. Being hopeful gives people a reason to continue through their struggles. Both my hope and faith would give me purpose on journey such as this one.
Paper and pen: To write down whatever aspirations I have as I cross from country to country. To document what I learn on my journey from the many people I will meet. This is important not only so that I can remember names and places, but so that I can take these lessons beyond my current refugee status.
A souvenir: To remind myself of where I came from so that I don’t lose my heritage. A refugee leaves everything behind with hope of one day returning to their homes. As a refugee, I would pack a small souvenir that can keep me grounded in my culture and give me hope of one day returning to my homeland.
Music from my country: To lift me up when I’m feeling down. As an Egyptian, I can say that Egyptian music definitely has a way of reaffirming my love for my country and putting me in good spirits.
A book: For when I need a break from reality while waiting at a train station in Budapest. Not only do books engage your imagination, but they can inspire you to persevere.
This list obviously doesn’t include medication or foods I would take, but those are the things that first came to mind when thinking about packing my life to travel into unknown territory – and even that was a hard to think of. We take advantage of our comfortable lifestyles, taking for granted the luxuries we have while others struggle to survive. If you were told to pack up your whole life, essentially your identity and culture, what would you take? And would trying to choose make you view refugees in a different light? These objects and sentiments might be what I take as a young woman, but imagine the many mothers who have to take care of their infants. Imagine the fathers who have to gather whatever they can in small bags in an effort to temporarily support their families. These are situations I hope politicians and regular citizens alike think about when discussing the refugee crisis. Keep in mind: we will all one day face hardships that we will need help and sympathy to deal with.