For some people, a passport is a portal to the world. For others, it is a barrier to the travel freedom they seek.
-The Henley Passport Index
I have a great passport. In 2019, it’s the most powerful in the world. I travel at will, and can sail effortlessly through most international immigration checkpoints without a visa. Where I am obliged to apply for a visa, I assume that the relevant foreign office is going to say “yes” to my application. And they normally do.
Many borders in the world are nonexistent to me. I come from a nation that is stable, prosperous, and has good economic and political relations with much of the world. My passport speaks of my country’s wealth and global standing. My tourist dollars are highly valued inside most foreign nations. National tourism agencies spend a lot of money marketing to people just like me.
It is the same fortune that allows me to migrate with relative ease. As a citizen of Singapore, moving countries to find a better life is easier because of what the little red and gold passport represents. When I present it to an immigration department for consideration, I am assumed to have:
In a new host country, I am considered a potential asset, not a liability. I’m expected to be able to integrate, to embrace my new home’s values, to have earning power, work hard and contribute to the society I’ve chosen to be a part of. I am assumed to have something positive to bring to the table. This assumption has an immediate and powerful effect on my life. It means I receive opportunities, access, friendship, and support while seeking to realize my aspirations, goals, and dreams.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re in the same boat—or luxury yacht, as the case may be.
But that’s not the case for more than 65 million people in the world who have been exiled from their homes today. War, violence, persecution, and climate change are displacing people at staggering rates all over the world.
Exile is not a short term circumstance. Most of the people you’ve created a future for here in Iraq have been in it for years. Beyda’s family left their home in 2013, when the Syrian civil war destroyed their city. Ileen has spent 5 of her 6 years of life in a refugee camp with her family. Khadeeja also spent half a decade in camp, providing for all of her children alone. So many of the women whom you’ve helped to find jobs have similar stories. Most have lost their homes, and material possessions. Others, their husbands, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. There are those who have lost children, and others still who have lost everything, and everyone.
Security and stability are fundamental to thriving: having the freedom of mind to think ahead, make plans, and work towards a good future. It is a human right.
25 million exiled people are refugees: people who have fled war, persecution or violence across international borders. Some, like Khadeeja and Jameela, are reunited with their families through successful asylum application. Others will eventually return to rebuild. But many more refugees and internally displaced will spend years in refugee camps, and these camps are the only home that many children know.
Children under the age of 18 make up half of those 25 million refugees, according to the United Nations. That’s more than 12.5 million children in the world, who should be experiencing the joys of childhood as our own children do, who cannot. Instead, they grow up fearing for their safety, unsure if they belong, with many facing incredible deprivation—no school, no medical care, no emotional support, insufficient food, at incredible risk of exploitation—and suffering the terrible effects of isolation. Imagine if it was your child, in that situation.
Traumatic experiences have a distinct and jarring ability to alter the way a child learns, plays, and grows… one of the largest public health studies ever done in the United States recently provided the scientific evidence to confirm what we long suspected: trauma in early childhood is directly linked to a multitude of mental, physical, and social health challenges for adults.
From behavior disorders to early-onset cardiovascular disease to cycles of family and community violence, traumatic experiences are woven into the very fabric of our lives.
In any conflict, it is the children who are most vulnerable in every possible way, and they suffer the most. The emotional, psychological, and mental damage that war has on a child lasts his or her entire life. When this trauma affects a generation of children, then the community suffers as a whole, over generations.
As the history of the Jewish diaspora teaches us, trauma embeds itself in collective memory and is transmitted down the generations. It has a very real effect on how descendants of the exiled live. Persecution teaches people to be wary, to always anticipate danger because it can come from anywhere, at any time. That constant, overarching stress is a primary shaper of perspective and sense of self. It takes a lifetime to erase the limitations that this fear imposes… if that is even possible.
We talk about remaking home a lot here. Some of us are lucky to choose where and how we live. Others, like our displaced sisters and brothers, cannot, because when war and terrorism destroyed their homes, they had to flee to where they were not wanted.
Many of the refugee men and women we’ve worked with were teachers, doctors, shop owners, stay-at-home-moms, taxi drivers, writers, farmers, dentists, students—all the busy and productive things you and I are—before war forced them to abandon their lives. But once displaced, it can take newly-arrived refugees up to 20 years—the span of an entire childhood, or a quarter of a lifetime—to achieve the employment rate of local residents.
And why should a refugee not be considered as much of an asset as you or I? Most of the refugees who’ve started businesses with your help have had their lives devastated by war, and found the grit to get back up and build their lives again. That resilience, combined with the existing and newly-acquired skills, is an enormous economic asset. They just need a little help to flourish, as Khadeeja, Jameela, and Salamat have.
To build home and community again is difficult enough for those of us who migrate willingly, with the right permissions, financial support, and welcome. Forced migration—with no money, papers, assistance, or safe passage—to another place, that builds walls of all kinds to keep you out, that denies your right to work and ability to provide for yourself and your family, and then dismisses who you are, and the trauma of everything you’ve been through, is unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t been through it.
Every person deserves a home—whether it’s going back and rebuilding where they’ve come from, starting over somewhere new, or providing a base in the refugee/displacement camps where home is right now.
And every person needs meaningful work—for a positive sense of self, as well as to feed their families. Security and stability are fundamental to thriving: having the freedom of mind to think ahead, make plans, and work towards a good future. It is a human right.