The Centre College community gathered on April 6 for a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the 25 million refugees in the world, as part of Refugee Week, a series of events and discussions hosted by CentrePeace to draw awareness and support for refugees.
During the event, Dahabo Kerow ’20 and Eh Nay Thaw ’18 shared their personal experiences.
Thaw, a former refugee from Myanmar (Burma), traced his mother’s journey away from their war-torn home and his experience living in a refugee camp for 10 years.
For Thaw, sharing his story is often difficult due to communication barriers – not those rooted in language, but in privilege.
“Whenever someone asks what life was like in a refugee camp, I often struggle coming up with words and trying to explain so that others would understand me … we each have a different level of understanding of what it means to be homeless, a refugee and a person who lives in a system decided by outsiders.”
Kerow is a refugee whose family fled ethnic violence in Somalia, traveling on foot to Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. She asked the audience what comes to mind when we hear the word ‘refugee.’ For many, she says, the connotation is a negative one, of “invasive” people “taking advantage” and “taking our scholarships.”
At the root of this common misconception is a misunderstanding of the difference in meaning between refugee and immigrant–while it is true that many immigrants are propelled to move to the United States due to inadequate living and working conditions in their home countries, refugees are forced to leave their country to escape war, political or religious persecution, or natural disaster, and they are unable to return due to well-grounded fear of threats to life, physical integrity or freedom.
Thaw expresses the lack of free will that permeates the reality of life as a refugee, saying that, “We, as refugees, simply want you to know that we cannot live in our native country.
“Had we decided to stay in our country, attempted to preserve our valuables, livestocks and resources that we have built for decades, I can almost guarantee you that I will not be here, standing in front of you, going to classes with you, dining with you and sharing my story with you,” he explained.
Like Thaw, Kerow placed an emphasis on the value of listening to and connecting with refugees.
“My story is just one out of so many,” Kerow said, “a lot of people simply disregard the situation [refugees] are going through.”
According to Thaw and Kerow, change can start with events like this and other conversations.
“Listen to a refugee,” Thaw said. “Get to know one, befriend one. You have no idea what this may bring to the life of a refugee and what it means to one and may be in return, you might realize that these people are no different than you.
“At the end of the day, you and I are the same living organism trying to survive in this world,” he concluded.
by Madison Stuart ’17
April 18, 2017