"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, August 10, 2007

Refugees in the News

Imagine for a moment what it must be like to be a refugee. To have to leave your home and nearly everything in it, not knowing if or when you will ever return, and completely rely on charity from governments or communities just to survive.

It amazes me that there are still displaced U.S. citizens from hurricane Katrina, and it's even worse that so many of them have nowhere to go but chemical-ridden FEMA trailers that are making them sick.

"Many residents suffering from symptoms, however, are afraid to complain to FEMA, fearing the agency will take away the only housing they can afford. It was complaints of respiratory problems to the Sierra Club that led the organization to test fifty-two FEMA trailers last April, June and July. Some 83 percent of the thirteen different types tested had formaldehyde in the indoor air at levels above the EPA recommended limit."

My heart went out to Riverbend back in April when I read what could be her final blog post on Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq, where she announced that she and her family had finally decided to leave their beloved home in Iraq for safety. I check her site often to see if she has been able to update to let us know they made it somewhere safely, but there has been no word.

"We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

"The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends. And to what?

"It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain."

And today, the New York Times has a strory, video, and slide show that scrape the surface of what life is like for some of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have left their home country for safety from the war in nearby Jordan.

"Aseel Qaradaghi, a 25-year-old software engineer, was pregnant when she brought her small daughter here last summer after receiving threats from Islamic extremists. Her husband, a translator for a South African security firm, stayed in Baghdad to earn money. But when he did not call on her birthday, she knew something was wrong, and only after pressing his friends on a crackling phone line did she learn that he had been kidnapped.

"Now, eight months later, she is earning a small wage at a nursery, but without his salary it is not enough, and she has applied for refugee status. If she is rejected, she will have to return to Baghdad. She does not know her husband's fate, but worries that it will be the same as her brother's, killed for working as a translator for the American military."

I feel so helpless. I don't even know what to say.

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