Last month saw the observance of World Refugee Day, and as the Swedish Organization for Global Health’s Girls’ Globe Blog Writer, I had planned to write a piece on the health issues migrants and refugees face.
Instead, I was silenced by outrage, anger, overwhelm, and shock – which is rare for me and also a privilege not available to all amidst crisis. The (often forced) mobility of humans around the world in 2018 has been responded to in every single wrong way possible from countries with the ability to help.
As a living, breathing human being, I feel connected to others – and not just those who have the same passport as I do. This is what makes the refugee crisis so raw, and the policies that endanger fellow human lives so disgusting, unacceptable, and devastating. Humans should be saved from drowning, empowered out of poverty, saved from war and death, maintained as a family.
I cannot and will never be okay with ‘othering’, or with seeing precious lives in danger, exploited, separated, willingly left in dangerous waters – both literally and figuratively. We know that women and girls, in all their diversities, are disproportionately at risk whether or not they leave their homes or stay in places that feel like the “mouth of a shark”. We have felt, all of us, that visceral need to respond when another human is struggling.
So, after some moments of action, phone calls with my friends and family, and inspiration from people like the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E. Tendayi Achiume, I write these words both to regain my own voice and ignite yours. There is much to say about the refugee crisis and the treatment of people across the world in 2018.
The truth is, health does not discriminate. It does not check passports, ask age, or inquire if one can afford the staggering cost to pay for simple care.
Globally, there are 258 million cross-border migrants and 753 million internal border migrants (according to the World Health Organization). The physical and mental well-being of migrants, refugees, immigrants, and all people who are mobile, is an enormous concern. These risks are present whether or not a migrant or refugee stays in their country, resides in a camp, or travels to a new country. The risks are present in each place. Like all health threats, if left unaddressed, the contagion effect will continue within vulnerable populations in a cyclical manner.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reminds us that “Individuals who are stateless face grave and often insurmountable barriers”, especially regarding healthcare. Health risks for women include sexual violence and reproductive health, in addition to “accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiovascular events, pregnancy- and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension”, which the WHO regional office in Europe has documented.
Conditions where life and death are two close alternatives make luxuries like safety, care, protection, health, and hygiene hard to prioritize – especially without help. Though physical health care has traditionally been the main priority, mental health care for migrants and refugees must now become equally important.
As I finish writing this long-awaited post, I see a news alert pop up on my screen with a picture of a woman clutching her toddler in reunification. The headline reads: “My Son is Not the Same”. This woman’s son was stolen from her arms at the border of the United States and Mexico, and kept from her for eighty-five days.
Trauma lives in the body and is embedded in the mind. While refugees, migrants and humans who face difficulty in life are incredibly resilient, they are not without scars. Our work now must be two-fold: prevent more atrocities and help our brothers and sisters, our fellow humans, to heal.
This is a reminder that we are not without agency to help change things. We do not need to be an elected official or head of an organization to help. I’ve compiled a short list of organizations to consider getting involved with. Please comment below to add!
- World Health Organization
- Doctors Without Borders
- International Medical Corps
- Hand in Hand for Syria
Rescue and Advocacy
- Women’s Refugee Commission
- Refugees International
- Refugee One
- War Child
- Refugees Welcome
- The Global Compact for Migration was finally adopted after months of deliberation, on July 13, 2018. The word “health” does not appear at all in the three page document. This is a problem and needs to be changed.
- Videos to share
- Follow the above organizations on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other favorite platforms