© Martyn Carruthers
Think Globally – Act Locally
As you read this – right now – about 20 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes. They are displaced by wars, famine and governments. About 7 million are in Southwest Asia (mostly Iran and Pakistan), North Africa and the Middle East; another 5 million in sub-Saharan Africa; 5 million in Europe and North America; a million more in Latin America and the Caribbean; and another million in the remaining countries of Asia, and in Oceania. (Encarta Encyclopedia 2003) These refugees are ordinary people, much like you or I, worrying about their families.
|As you read this – right now – these displaced persons live in tents, ramshackle communities and shacks. People with university degrees and professional experience may be forbidden to work. Families live with limited food and little clean water, and restricted contact with the outside world. Their conditions may resemble concentration camp inmates more than ordinary people displaced by some disaster.|
Imagine yourself in their position – you suddenly find yourself without a home, property or “rights”. You cannot work or move outside a camp. You are trapped in a dull, hopeless existence. Your nutrition may be poor and your ability to think clearly is diminished. You may have watched children die, you may have encouraged children to collect garbage and you may have stolen from other refugees – so that your family might survive.
If Human Rights continue to be ignored; if wars and terrorism continue; food, if oil and other resources continue to diminish; then large-scale movement of refugees can only increase … especially in those countries least able to provide for their people. (If current trends continue, our beautiful planet could become a network of refugee camps – with no rich nations to help us).
Refugees, displaced people and evacuees highlight the failure of governments to provide peace and prosperity, they also offer ordinary people the possibility to provide an extra-ordinary service. We can support and care for these displaced persons during crises and help them integrate into communities.
What can YOU do?
Refugee and evacuee management involves many cultural, economic, political and religious factors. A crisis may be acute (natural or national disasters), chronic (housing shortage, mental ill-health or unemployment) or forever (large construction projects or government programs). All result in displaced people who urgently need food, shelter and medical aid – as a first step towards resettlement.
Some refugee management models are based on Darwin’s (1809-1882) theories of natural selection and Malthus’ (1766-1834) theories of social evolution. Malthus argued that if population growth outstrips food production; poverty and suffering are inevitable. These models support “survival of the richest” and policies that “ignore victims”.
Other approaches to refugees focus on understanding and measuring needs. How they can contribute to their own survival and development? Refugees can be encouraged to develop their own strategies, whether they were forcibly displaced by government projects or by persecution.
Relief agencies can provide incredible resources to those refugees fortunate enough to receive these benefits. However relief workers may impose their definitions of “peace and order” or “good behavior” on distressed people. Untrained relief workers often communicate cultural superiority.
Refugees need resources, and relief agencies provide resources, yet refugees may at best tolerate relief workers who are well-meaning but incomprehensible. We coach and train relief workers in the dynamics of refugee management and relocation, and in quality cross-cultural communication skills.
In an emergency or crisis, our systemic coaching follows the sequence:
CRISIS > RESOURCES > REFUGEES > CONFLICTS > TRAUMA > MENTORSHIP > RECOVERY
|Current crisis||Assess situation, provide triage, food and medical aid, reassurance and hope|
|Define goals & evaluate resources||Make basic decisions and negotiate resources|
|Assign shelter & transport||Evacuate people to safe shelter / food / medical aid|
|Dissolve cultural, economic & religious conflicts||Resolve community conflicts in culturally-acceptable ways|
|Dissolve trauma||Resolve trauma & post traumatic stress (PTSD)|
|Coaching, training & mentorship||Provide skills and train community leaders|
|Repatriate, integrate & resettle||Transport / damage control / re-build communities|
1. Crisis Management
A critical factor in refugee management is the time in which evacuees or refugees can return safely to their communities. Examples of a short return-home time are the 1984 evacuation of Bhopal following the Union Carbide accident; and the rejection of Burmese refugees from Bangladesh in 1991. Following the Israeli occupation of Palestinian – about eight million Palestinians remain refugees after 45 years.
Forcible relocation can triggered by:
- Famines & droughts
- Plagues & epidemics
- Wars, riots & terrorism
- Major construction projects
- Industrial & nuclear accidents
- Hurricanes, cyclones & tornados
- Storms, floods, tidal waves & tsunamis
- Genocide, ethnic cleansing & terrorism
- Depleted natural resources & climate change
- Avalanches, earthquakes & volcanic eruptions
While each crisis may require different resources, the best preparation is contingency planning. Appropriate planning may include stockpiling emergency reserves, training disaster control, relief agency and community leaders in decision making during emergencies, and emergency exercises.
2. Refugee Resource Management
You may want to assist refugees. But not all assistance reaches distressed people. Donated resources offer power and wealth. Some officials demand special taxes (large bribes) to allow relief supplies to be delivered. Other officials may liberate (steal) emergency resources.
The distribution of relief requires difficult decisions. Who receives how much? Should limited resources be given to people who may die soon – or to the strongest? How many people are still struggling to reach the distribution center? Expect refugees to challenge and test every decision you make.
Volunteer helpers can be a blessing if they bring needed expertise to crisis situations. Or they can be a curse – consuming food and other supplies without providing value. Trained emergency workers are of most value if they can speak the local language and can empathize with local values and customs.
Volunteers who lack emergency skills or training can still provide a wonderful coaching service to refugees. Read on …
Continued – Refugee Management (2)